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Canadian Mennonite Vol. 17 No. 14
Women Walking Together in Faith
Part of a sweet, sweet sandwich
By Myrna Sawatzky
A few years ago, when I was considering retirement from my work as a palliative care nurse, I wondered how I would find challenging new things to do. I laugh about that now, for when I retired in March 2012, several months after my mother had her second stroke, in the blink of an eye I was sandwiched!
Yes, sandwiched: That time in mid-life when you find yourself caring for, and providing the “filling”/connecting point between the older and younger generations within your family, as you parent your parents and your teenaged/young adult children, and are often also honing new skills as a grandparent. That means you don’t have a lot of extra time for yourself, which can result in some negative feelings in our me-centred society.
Finding the “sweetness” in that sandwich filling is quite a challenging step-by-step process. You feel your way minute-by-minute at times, and then slowly, very slowly, you start a new rhythm.
In my case, my mother’s second stroke in 2012 was far more devastating than the first one, a year earlier. Suddenly, our family, me in particular, needed to be there for her a lot, and it wasn't an easy transition, because, as my mother’s doctor stated, she was “tenaciously independent.” She loved to drive, entertain and shop; after her first stroke, she even drove to Manitoba by herself to attend her great-granddaughter’s wedding! So I knew it would be a hard day when she could no longer drive.
Consequently, I was often plagued with questions and tensions about how much I should do for her, or how much say she should have in decision-making, and still be safe. Suddenly, all the on-the-job training related to my palliative care work, and the challenges of raising teenagers a few years earlier, became very helpful. And the hours spent praying for my teenagers at home on their own when I worked the night shift, now shifted to praying for my mother, at home alone, in assisted living.
Increasingly, I relied on the teachings of my mother and grandmother, to always know where my help comes from. Psalm 121 was a favourite scripture text of my grandmother. In the King James version then used, it begins, “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help.” A picture in my bedroom beckons me to pray when challenges arise: “Be still and know that I am God.”
On the day when my mother said, after a longer than usual break between my visits, “I missed you so much,” tears welled up in my eyes and I felt sad for her in her new, very challenging and definitely unchosen life. Suddenly, all the times she was angry because of the changes, which tried my patience, simply melted away, and felt “worth it,” just as they did in similar circumstances while parenting teenagers.
Nowadays, when I’m asked if I miss my former work in palliative care, my reply is, “I haven’t had time to miss it.”
Amazingly, caring for my mother has actually helped me contentedly transition into retirement. My days are now filled with committee work, gardening and travel, as well as being on-call for my mother, now in a nursing home. I also have more time with my grandchildren and enjoy sharing it with them.
It especially touches my heart when my mother, who still enjoys the beauty of a new little person, cuddles my youngest granddaughter.
All around, I have a very rich life, and give thanks for that, knowing that someday there will be a new sandwich, and I’ll be the one being cared for. So I wonder, am I doing a good job of teaching my adult children how to find joy in being part of such a sweet, sweet sandwich?
Myrna Sawatzky is president of Saskatchewan Women in Mission.
Nowadays, when I’m asked if I miss my former work in palliative care, my reply is, ‘I haven’t had time to miss it.’