A year and a half ago I was moving along through life as a mom, a wife, a friend, a mere foot or so on the path that is my forties and thinking, even with the day to day stresses that face us all, it wasn’t so hard, this thing called life. My oldest son was just starting his sophomore year of high school, the two that followed behind were enjoying elementary school, and the future, their future, seemed far enough out of reach that it was easy to keep it there.
Long divorced and both remaining single, my parents lived over a thousand miles away from us, each living relatively healthy, productive lives. After retiring, my mom decided to volunteer to keep herself active and engaged and my dad, with a life-long love affair with the road, continued solo travel to places new and old. Our frequent chats on the phone informed me of their lives, but I rarely gave a thought about their future or their aging process, as they were, in my mind, still young and doing fine.
But all of that changed one day.
My father arrived uninvited and unannounced. When I saw him approach, I noticed first the graying of his skin, a pallor reserved for the unhealthy. Then I noticed his small, leather duffel bag – a long-time companion on his many journeys had been carelessly packed for this, an unplanned, trip. But what struck me most were his eyes. At seven I watched my father divorce my mother. At seventeen I saw him bury his father. All of my life I have looked at him as he told stories of his mother, a woman who died in childbirth when he was just nine, and in all of my years of knowing my dad, in witnessing his life’s pain, I had never seen such a heartbreaking sadness in those eyes. He looked at me, tears on the verge of spilling down his face, and said, “Kathleen, what have I done?”
It was with those words that I knew something was critically wrong and that my life, that life that I had determined was not so difficult, was about to be upended like a tree in a storm, exposed roots and all. I was on the verge of being the caregiver not only to my children, but to an aging parent. I was about to become a member of the sandwich generation.