Kids Find Joy in the Sandwich Situation.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


My 75-year-old mother, known as “Grams” to my three kids, is dying of cancer one thousand miles away in Florida. Three months ago she was playing tennis four hours every day. Now she can barely sit up in bed to watch the Australian Open on television. Last Monday her oncology team referred her to hospice care, meaning they are halting the chemo and radiation and transitioning to palliative care.


After tears and reflection, my siblings, Grams and I decided the next right step would be for her to move in with my family in DC. We are not an ideal choice. Our household is noisy and nutty and I clearly reached the bottom of my lifetime allotment of patience long ago. But Grams lived in our neighborhood for over 30 years, raised four kids here, worked as a special education teacher at a school a few miles away, and has many relatives within 200 miles of our house. She will be with family and have many, many loving visitors. It is the right thing.


As we made the decision, my husband and I grappled with what this will mean for our family. Our household is loud and chaotic – how can our three kids, ages 12, 11 and 7, learn to respect Grams’ need for rest and quiet? How will I cope with caring for the kids, a household full of pets, and a dying mother without losing my sanity? How can we get a woman with no appetite to eat? Can we fit a hospital bed into the guest room? Can my husband jerry-rig the Tennis Channel in her room?


Then I broke the news to my kids with no small amount of trepidation. Would they resent Grams coming here? Be traumatized for life by early exposure to death? Run away to a new home free of dying relatives?


To my surprise, my 12-year-old son’s reaction was a HUGE smile. “She’s coming to live with us?”


He looked like I’d given him a new iPod.


“I’m in charge of feeding her M&Ms!” he shouted.


I have been part of the Sandwich Generation, off and on, for over 30 years. First when I helped my mom with her parents when they were ill, while caring for my baby. Now it's my senor parents and grandkids. :) At one point, I had a pregnant daughter who spent each day on the couch in the living room on bedrest, after her husband dropped off her and her first two children so I could help take care of them. At the same time, my dad and mom had moved into our master bedroom so I could help my mom care for him while he was on hospice. It was a challenge, but there are also so many joyfilled memories: pushing my dad in his wheelchair while he held his great-grandson - huge smiles on both their faces; watching my dad figure out a way to swing two of his great-grandkids using a rope to pull the swing, since his Parkinson's Disease had him too weak to stand; later, after dad had gone to be with the Lord, seeing my mom's sad face light up when the grand-twins would high-tail it down the hall to see her, crawling as fast as they could. They were born two weeks after dad died, giving all of us joy in the midst of sorrow.

It's not the easiest thing in the world, that's true, but it sounds like you have a wonderfully supportive family and what wonderful lessons and legacy you are passing on to your children! As the song goes on Lion King - it's the circle of life. :)


Leslie - Wishing all of your family well in this new journey you're undertaking. I lost my mother to cancer when she was just 59; we found out just before my DD turned 1yo and Mom passed on just after DD turned 2yo. We made many journeys to care for her and be by her bedside. My DD provided an invaluable source of light during what otherwise was a challenging time. No doubt, you will find the same is true having your children around you, even among the more challenging moments.