Dad calls my name from three rooms away; to me,
it sounds like a bellow. The dear man is hard of
hearing—none of his three hearing aids work, he
says—and he doesn’t know the volume of his own
It’s a wonderful voice—one that soothed me,
comforted me, reprimanded me, advised me, and now
asks me for help.
At 89, he can’t hear his own voice; my ears hear
a pin dropped into feathers.
I walk into the kitchen and see him struggling
with the can opener, frustrated. He looks up at me
helplessly as I gently remove it from his hands and
open the tuna fish.
I leave as he says, “Thank you,” allowing him his
Incidents like these—a lid closed too tightly, an
item on a shelf that’s out of reach except by
stepstool, bags too heavy to carry—happen often to
my octogenarian parents. Now in their beyond-golden
years, they’re blessed to have each other.
What to do? Become a filling in the sandwich
Merriam-Webster describes the sandwich generation
as “a generation of people who are caring for their
aging parents while supporting their own children.”
The Web calls this group of baby boomers “those
who care not only for their own children, but also
act in a caregiver role for their own parent(s).”
Truth be told, I’m not exactly a filling because
being “sandwiched” means being in the middle of
whatever. The term “sandwich generation” refers to
someone caring for both their parents and their
There had to be a logical explanation. Google to
Link upon link appeared. After much
investigation, I learned I’m an open-faced sandwich.
And by this time, I’m really curious because
anything related to food peaks my interest.
Syndicated columnist Carol Abaya, M.A., says
people fall into one of three categories.
Traditional sandwiches describe those who raise
their own families and also care for their parents.
Club sandwiches are people in their 50s and 60s with
aging parents, adult children and grandchildren or
folks in their 30s and 40s with kids, aging parents
and grandparents. Abaya calls us open-faced sandwich
folks “anyone else involved in elder care.”
Some days I feel more like a sardine wedged
between my life then and now.
A few years after college—now a distant memory
revived by anticipated reunions—I moved out and then
moved back, only to move out again until job loss
and life happened.
Part of life happening was Dad’s stroke in
November 2004, which precipitated my decision to
work from home. Mom and I alternated
responsibilities, like driving Dad to and from his
physical therapy and medical appointments.
Contrary to what friends told me, living at home
is not like living with roommates.
“It’s like being back in college,” said Beryn.
Not really. These are my parents, and, frankly, it’s
Who knew from sandwich anything years ago? My
parents’ respective families lived within blocks of
each other—a subway ride at the most—and saw to the
needs of siblings, aunts, uncles and other family
Dad took care of his widowed mother when he came
home from the war. When he and my uncle married, he
assumed much of the responsibility for their mother.
Mom supported her parents through their
respective illnesses and moved Nana close to us
after Papa died.
The only sandwich people they knew worked at the
When Dad retired from a successful career in
2002, he got a part-time job, played golf, enjoyed
free time with Mom and drove himself in his own car.
A few days past his 82nd birthday, and shortly
after Thanksgiving, he woke up and told Mom he was
having difficulty swallowing. I called our local
pharmacist and asked if his medications were
She said, “Get to the ER right away. I think he’s
having a stroke.”
I believe she saved his life.
Little by little, he got stronger. We saw to his
appointments, and made sure he took his medications
correctly and in time. I put “me” on hold and
focused my attention on getting Dad well.
By what definition?
A trip to the eye doctor was telling. One wall of
the waiting room had large plastic canisters of
assorted sweets. He likes hard candies, so I brought
him two and sat down to read a magazine.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Dad
attempt to open one candy. He gave it his all while
I sat there wanting to help without embarrassing
Children want to do things by themselves. My
niece, eight, and my nephew, 12, are fiercely
independent and ask for help only if strength is
required or if something is out of their reach.
“Would you please open this?” Dad asked, his eyes
admitting frustration at his physical limitations.
At that moment, I felt sorry for him—the
once-strapping man who served in the United States
Army and who, fatherless at age 20, was emotionally
strong for his young widowed mother.
“Thank you,” he said, eyes now showing gratitude.
July 4 of this year he had another stroke, and a
little more of his strength disappeared. I know he
struggles to ask for help; more times than not, I
sense his need without his asking.
And although my parents celebrated their 56th
wedding anniversary (October 1955), I worry about
them like they used to—and probably still do—worry
about me. I’ve made plans to move; yet each time,
the gods smile and change them. As one friend says,
“You can get there from here only if you’re happy
with your ‘here.’”
So for now, I remain an open-faced sandwich.
Believing that everyone has a
story and needs someone to tell it, Janie Rosman
writes about community, lifestyles and business for
various media. Her byline appeared in Ulster
Publishing, Gannett newspapers, IN Magazine ( Texas
), Westchester Parent and Westchester Commerce
Magazine. Previously she reported for a weekly
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