Although I have certainly felt from time to time that I was burning in the fires of my own private hell, it turns out that as the term “sandwich generation” suggests, I am not the only piece of lunchmeat on the grill of caregiving.
And it turns out that none of us are completely satisfied with how we’re doing the eldercare slice. Those who have lost a parent (or two) are burdened with regrets that can never be resolved—a father’s pain that went unaddressed, say, or a mother’s loneliness a daughter was too busy to assuage.
Both my parents are still alive, so I have an opportunity to avoid such regrets. My trouble is that I still struggle with adolescent anger. I continue to repeat to myself and others the story of the abusive behavior of one parent and the enabling of the other. But those horrors are now more than half a century old. The people who inflicted them on me were younger than I am now, and every cell of their bodies has been replaced since then many times over. They are no longer the people who did me wrong. (Though they sure do look like them.)
So lately I’ve been trying not so much to forgive the people that they were but to love the people that they’ve become. Ironically, love in this case means maintaining emotional distance. I can appreciate my mother’s rampant stubbornness and my father’s tax-time OCD only when I don’t feel trapped by them. So I professionalize my relationship with them—when I have the wherewithal—by refusing to rise to provocation or, really, engage on any level. Oddly, this has allowed me to say—for the first time in decades—“I love you.” And mostly, I mean it.