I did my best to fulfill my assigned role in the family: calm, rational, level-headed, and above all, unemotional. I tried, like a younger sibling chasing after the older, smarter, cooler child, knowing full well I’d never catch up. I attempted to be what was expected of me, and I may have succeeded on the surface, but internally my emotional cup runneth over. Worry, anger, sadness, love, longing, fear, pity, hopelessness, defeat, outrage, concern, vulnerability all swirled around, encompassing me as I stood before this man I hardly recognized. And the sludge at the bottom of the cup? That constant? That was panic.
What was I going to do? Where was he going to go? Was this a permanent move or was he going back? How did he get here? How did this happen? What is wrong with him? How did I not see this coming? How can I fix it?
If I knew then what I know now I would have caught my breath. I would have forced myself to do a better job of being who everyone thought I was, that calm, capable person who functions from a place of intellect, not emotion. What I didn’t allow him to do, despite his best efforts, was walk away. He planned to leave, intended to continue his journey, to where I don’t think I’ll ever know. But I got him to stay.
What I haven’t mentioned yet, what makes me part of the sandwich generation, is that I have three boys. So while facing this person, my father who three months prior looked healthy, happy and aware when we saw him in his home state, I couldn’t help but wonder how the appearance of this new person, this man who resembled little of the grandfather they knew, was going to impact my boys. And would it shame him to have them see him like this? It became, in that instant, my job to protect them all, individually, collectively, and, heart-breakingly, from each other.
Welcome to the sandwich.