Empty nest or open face sandwich?

Excuse the (very) mixed metaphor.

As I’ve mentioned before, my spouse and I may have gone into empty nest phase for the final time, with our younger daughter heading off to grad school. Our older daughter is also in grad school – and holding down a job, married, and living 5,000 miles away.  Someone commented to me that empty nest for the sandwich generation is of a somewhat different order than our image of it. Maybe now it’s an open-face sandwich?

Back on July 24th when I wrote the linked post above, I had planned to realign how I use my daytime hours, make some lifestyle adjustments, and readjust how we use some of the space in our home. I anticipated these as some empty nest blessings, although paling in comparison to the biggest blessing, which is that our daughters, both of whom have faced health challenges, are well enough to be off on their own.

And, thank God, our daughters are doing well, finding their way as independent young adults, while still being connected to our family, even with the (considerable) physical distance that separates us.

In the sandwich generation metaphor, one slice of bread is the younger generation, one’s children and sometimes grandchildren. The other slice of bread is the elder generation, with the adult child as the filling squeezed between. Maybe the baby birds eat the top slice of bread to give them strength to leave the nest behind and fly off on their own? Seriously, trying to make these metaphors work together somehow….

My parents, Nana and Paco, and B’s mom, Grandma, live in a nearby senior living complex, my parents in an apartment and Grandma in a cottage. They are all in their 80s and in independent living. As with most people who reach that decade, each was dealing with health issues, but nothing that hadn’t become routine, so, in June and July, anticipating my daughter’s departure for grad school in August, I felt justified in making some plans for myself as an empty nester.

And then, on July 31st, in a coincidence that would have seemed overly contrived if it had been fiction, Nana had a heart attack in the ambulatory surgery unit as Paco was about to be wheeled down to hernia repair surgery.  It sounds dramatic – and it felt dramatic to be in the midst of it – but, after an August filled with doctors’ visits, complications, new medications, and adjustments, Nana and Paco – and I – began to settle into a new normal, with them slowly getting back to their routine of activities, errands, outings, and social time and me back to the daily phone calls, frequent visits, and trying to keep an eye on the medical side of things, especially the complex interplay of all the different diagnoses and meds.

Just as I was thinking that maybe I could get to my own schedule adjustments and other empty-nest projects, Grandma progressed from a September backache to a diagnosis of a lumbar 1 compression fracture to the shattering of that vertebra to a hospital visit to inject bone cement to stabilize it to a period of in-home physical and occupational therapy to increasing trouble with atrial fibrillation to a second hospital stay to being back at home with in-home therapy, all accompanied by problems with pain control, loss of appetite, weight loss, medication changes and side effects, and more worries than I can count. The stress level has been difficult to deal with and, as if to prove it, I developed shingles about a week before Christmas.  I caught it early and got on antivirals right away, so my case was much milder than others I have heard reported, but I am still having some pain along the affected nerve.

This fall, I jettisoned a bunch of what I had planned to do as an empty nester, trying to deal with the ever-changing health challenges of our elders, and, as the new year starts, it is unclear how much of my plans will be feasible/possible/desirable to reclaim.

The amazing thing to me is that I managed to retain one of my original goals, which was to work on my writing, especially my poetry – certainly not perfectly or as much as I had envisioned, but enough that I have made noticeable progress.

July 31st fell toward the end of the summer sessions of the Binghamton Poetry Project and my correspondence with our instructor led to an opportunity to join a biweekly ongoing workshop of established local poets. I knew that what I needed most to grow as a poet was feedback from a group of knowledgeable, creative, and understanding poets so that I could learn to revise my poems to make them stronger. Even though that opportunity came in mid-September just as things with Grandma were beginning to spiral, I would not allow myself to miss it. So, I printed out copies of a poem and showed up, even though my natural introversion makes groups, especially groups where I know no one, daunting and I feared that the other poets, all of whom publish, teach, give readings, etc., would wonder what ever possessed me to think I should be there among them.

And, despite my fears, it has worked beyond what I had thought possible. The other poets have been accepting of me and constructive in their criticism and I am learning so much not only from suggested revisions to my own work but also from reading, listening to comments, and responding to my fellow poets’ work. Despite my lack of experience, I do have things to say about others’ poems, or at least questions to ask.  I am so grateful to each of them for being so welcoming and generous to me.

Now, I need to get my act together to research and submit some of my newly revised poems for publication. Maybe soon?

I am also proud that I managed to keep Top of JC’s Mind going throughout the year. I was never one for making resolutions and this past year shows why, but I will try to keep growing as a poet and as a blogger.

I hope you will keep reading.

(Even though only some of this post was jotted in January, I figured I might as well add the link for the pingback:  http://lindaghill.com/2015/01/01/just-jot-it-january-pingback-post-and-rules/ .)

Author: Joanne Corey

Please come visit my eclectic blog, Top of JC's Mind. You can never be sure what you'll find!

5 thoughts on “Empty nest or open face sandwich?”

  1. I certainly will keep reading! It’s so encouraging to hear that your poetry work is progressing, despite all you’ve been through. There’s the saying that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but I think it goes beyond that, to show us how far our determination can take us.
    Great post, Joanne, and all the best for the year ahead. 🙂


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