It was after 5 p.m. and I had a meeting scheduled with a prospective client. As a full time employee, it was the only time of the day she could meet with me. We exchanged pleasantries, I offered her a choice of tea or coffee and waited with abated breath, hoping that she would say tea – I can’t make coffee to save my life. “Tea” she said, “that should help me to relax.” Shoot, I am not as prepared as I am normally – I had forgotten to put the kettle on before her arrival.
There was no point going back and forth to the meeting room while the water boiled, so I stayed in the kitchen, while my visitor was in the meeting room – alone. Have you ever noticed how long water for two cups of tea takes to boil when you are waiting on it?
With the tea ready, I was back in the meeting room. “That took a long time,” she said. Was it really a long time? I thought it was my imagination, now I felt badly. She proceeded to tell me that she couldn’t recall the last time she was left alone with her thoughts and how frightening it was. She couldn’t recall the last time she had a chance to really exhale – the time left alone, though scary, was like paradise.
My prospect was only in her 30’s but she was one of many women commonly referred to as the “Sandwich Generation.” She was married, with three children, and was the primary caregiver for her mother. Four months prior to our meeting, she called to check on her mother one morning and after several unsuccessful attempts, called 911 for fear something was wrong. Her mother was found suffering from a heart attack and had been in the hospital since then. She was later diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother also had a stroke three years before, and it took another several years before she regained partial independence.
This was the first time she was telling the story in its entirety. She had not had the time to sit and think about it, much less discuss it. Needless to say, she felt like she was drowning as she struggled to cope with her many different roles and she was now worried that her own health was at risk.
She had come to us to find out how we could help her mother after she was discharged from the hospital. She had 101 questions, and had no idea where to find the answers. She was relieved to know that we provided free, no obligation consultation to people who are caring for the sick or the elderly.
My heart went out to this woman, because she could have been my sister and not for a moment could I imagine what it would be like in her shoes. The sad fact remains however, that there is a growing number of women in this situation. I say women, not to imply that men are not caught between caring for two generations as well, but because it is a statistical fact that women are the primary caregivers for both children and the elderly.
It is also a fact that women suffer from more stress induced illnesses than men. As an employer of mainly women who are providing care to people with mental or physical disabilities, I often tell my staff, “There’s no point caring to death, because when you are dead, you are no good to anyone.” To the many women who are also care providers, I say the same, “Take care of number one – YOU!”
Opal Rowe, MSc, MBA, CPCA is Director of Living Assistance Services, GTA North.