When you found out you’d become an official caregiver for two generations of people (one older, one younger), and hence a member of the “sandwich” generation, did the news come via a phone call?
Mine did, as I sat writing in the deceptively soft, grey light of a winter morning.
It made me perilously close to becoming a cliché, too, for when I hung up, I remained at my desk as my coffee grew cold. If another person had been present to notice, or I’d had convenient access to a mirror, no doubt my gaze would have been recorded as “vacant.” For you see, among all the pressing concerns of that morning, I worried about my writing time. Would it be lost when only just claimed?
But that phone call happened a while ago and I’m doing much better than anticipated—on all counts—which is why I’m reaching out to you.
Are you out the other side of your grief yet?
I hope you know that’s what you’re experiencing at first: simple, honest grief.
All that shock, rage, guilt; all that difficulty sorting out what’s given through duty and what’s offered through love—all those emotions, especially the dark, socially-unacceptable ones that roil in your belly—those are grief, my dear. If you don’t cling to them out of misguided shame, they will pass.
Soon, life will regain most of its former texture. Soon you’ll be as irritated as you once were by the sight of dirty dishes in the morning sink. (Mr. Nobody continues to prefer the lemon squares reserved for school lunches over the fresh fruit on the counter.) You’ll still feel a stabbing chest pain when you hear teenagers squeal over Snooki’s book. You’ll thrill to see a romance friend’s new cover art with its gratuitous display of man-candy, particularly if his biceps are sculpted.
As for writing, maybe you’ll be like me in that your word count will creep up to its pre-existing level and you’ll surprise yourself, on occasion, with a well-turned phrase.
So, dear Fellow Sandwicher, right now, though you might feel like falling to your knees, casting your gaze to the sky and shouting, “Nooooo,” refrain for two reasons:
- Except in Jim Carrey movies, nobody appreciates this kind of overacting.
- You’ll want to save this gesture for the first time one of your kids brings home a dubious partner. Don’t tip your hand.
Have you decided to choose the role? If you’re going to take on the care-giving, it’ll go easier if you embrace the decision. Own it. Trust that the same qualities which allow you to be present as a care-giver will provide depth, complexity, and maturity to your writing.
If you don’t choose, you’ll risk becoming a victim. That mindset doesn’t vanish when you sit to write, read critical reviews, or receive rejections from agents and publishers.
In addition, self-pity is a convenient way to avoid putting butt in chair. Know when you’re milking the drama llama as a means of bowing to Resistance.