I am an egg salad sandwich. As a member of the “Sandwich Generation,” I decided naming myself after a sandwich that I can’t stand seemed fitting.
What does it mean to be a member of the Sandwich Generation?
It means that in addition to still caring for my own kids, I am also responsible for the care of my aging parents.
In my case that would be my stubborn, independent, and completely “with it” 96-year-old father who has insisted on living alone and adamantly refuses to discuss anything that had to do with his mortality.
The other side of the sandwich is my two teenage daughters. Even though, for the most part, my 15-year-old (my baby) can fend for herself. At a minimum, rides to school, food in the refrigerator, paper signing, and other basic things still needed to happen.
But regardless, it’s hard feeling like a distant, distracted parent and not being able to give my kids my all.
For years, my father and I have been at a stand-off, arguing about his refusal to get his affairs in order. Recognizing he would need my help one day, I pleaded with him to take certain steps, including signing legal papers such as a will and power of attorney, to give me the ability to properly take care of him should something happen.
I explained until I was blue in the face that contrary to his belief, simply telling doctors and landlords that I was his daughter would not be sufficient. And I wasted hours trying to counter his superstitions that he would drop dead if he signed a will.
But a few months ago, everything changed.
My father ended up in the hospital. The hospital stay, his first time ever, was a dramatic “come to Jesus” moment in my father’s life. After years of holding on to his independence for dear life, he finally called mercy and asked for help.
I had been waiting for years for my father to let me help him. But once it happened, it happened fast and boy did I have a lot of catch-up work to do.
All I have to say is thank goodness my dad was conscious when he ended up in the hospital.
First, getting his legal papers signed was not going to be an easy task. Our first option, to use a notary, had to be ruled out as my dad was pretty sure he had accidentally thrown his identification card in the trash with the rest of his wallet. The other option in California, to get it signed by two witnesses, would be challenging as due to COVID, visitors weren’t allowed. After days of campaigning, I finally got permission from the hospital supervisor to allow two witnesses in. My dear friend led the charge, hurrying to the hospital, patiently explaining the papers to my father, and accomplishing the impossible – getting my dad to sign.
But that was only the beginning of joining the Sandwich Generation.
My dad, a World War II Air Force Veteran, has no savings and was surviving off a measly monthly Social Security check. He had never applied for Veteran’s benefits or Medi-Cal, benefits which we were desperate to receive in order to provide him with care.
So, in addition to advocating for him in the hospital and ensuring his proper care (all from a distance thanks to COVID safety protocols), I was actually spending more time navigating the world of social services, Veteran’s Affairs, Medi-Cal, and more. And yes, I am proud to tell you I can now explain the difference between Medicare, Medicaid, and Medi-Cal! Go me!
From contacting the banks to strategically “spend down” his measly savings account (Medi-Cal’s total maximum to qualify is $2000 – don’t even get me started), to trying to arrange an in-person video call for my father at the skilled nursing home with a VA doctor for a benefit assessment, to digging around my father’s apartment to find unpaid bills and some sort of photo ID (spoiler – he didn’t throw out his ID after all!), to interviewing caregivers and late night fire drills to move my father after finding out our appeal for a later discharge wasn’t approved…. All while still parenting my children at the same time. It was a lot.
Talking to your parents about their future isn’t easy.
Believe me, I know it can be tough to get parents on board, especially when they are as quirky as my dad about aging and dying.
But these conversations are necessary.
For those of you who may have parents that hesitant to cooperate, or even listen, show them this article. Use my experience as a cautionary tale. If you yourself don’t have papers in order, do it now. (I mean unless you want your crazy aunt getting custody of your children one day).
And if you’re thinking, “Uh oh, I may be the next member of the Sandwich Generation,” don’t fret. I have you covered.
Below are a few tips to start laying down the foundation for a smooth transition to the Sandwich Generation:
- Have your parents sign a Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and Medical Power of Attorney. Notarized is preferable.
- Have joint bank accounts set up with your name on it so money can easily and quickly be accessed. (Being named as beneficiary is second choice, but won’t allow you to access money while your parents are still alive.)
- If your parents may qualify for Medi-Cal, Veteran’s benefits, etc. start that process now. It takes time, a lot of time.
- Have plans in place for where you would go for care takers, assisted living, food deliveries, etc. so when the time comes, even if it’s just a short term need for care they have, you’ll be ready. If possible, take your parents to these places to get their buy in – before they need it.
- Make sure you have a spare key to their home and a set of their car keys.
- Keep a record of any information you can get access to – social security numbers, bank names and account number, medical insurance information, doctors names – the more information you have the better.
- Know where your parents’ important papers are kept so you know where you need to go to find what you need.
- Encourage your parents to have a support group in place. Have contact information for their churches, synagogues, closest friends, neighbors…. People in place you can reach out to help with rides, doctor appointments, food, visits, and so on make a huge difference. It takes a village.
You may not be able to avoid joining the Sandwich Generation club, but you can start preparing now. You don’t want to be an egg salad sandwich.