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The Panini Press

December 6, 2015 • Laurie Newbound

I am fifty nine years old and I am losing my mind. Ok, I am not technically losing my mind, at least not yet. I see a therapist irregularly, and she assures me of this.

panini1Of course, she is fifty nine, too, so not sure how much she can be trusted.  I just FEEL like I am losing my mind. And, to my defense, I think most of my friends are, too.

As defined by Wikipedia, (yes, this is lazy, but it is as good a definition as any) “the SANDWICH GENERATION is a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children.” The term was officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in July 2006.

They forget to add that most of of us in this situation who are female are, oh yes, also going through menopause at the same time. So, let’s add mood swings, hot flashes and sleep deprivation.  And maybe working harder than we ever have before and making less money. Or in jeopardy of losing our jobs, or just enjoying the work less than we used to. Many of us are just SO tired. And/or, because so many of us had our children late, those pesky teens are still in the house as we careen towards fifty or sixty or beyond. And then you factor in the recession and the “boomerang” generation, many of our “kids,” done with college, possibly in graduate school, some working or far too many not working or doing free internships or selling pressed juice while pursuing an artistic dream (I have one of those) are living at home. Or living in an apartment across town or across the country but being subsidized by us. Because even if our kids are working really hard, some of these cities are impossible to live in with the kind of salaries many if not most college graduates are earning. And at the same time we are navigating the often overwhelming healthcare options for our parents, sometimes subsidizing them as well. Or at least losing sleep over our parent’s dwindling accounts. Some of us have our own little health issues, cancer, auto immune illnesses, heart disease, obesity, shall I go on? And if we have been lucky enough to have been spared, it’s not likely that our spouses are also in perfect shape. Or our best friend, or her husband, or his husband. And maybe, more than we should, we are trying to take care of them, too. As I write this, I have been trying to plan a small lunch in honor of a close friend who is turning sixty this month.  Four women. My friend’s other two friends have schedules that are impossible to predict because one has a husband with pancreatic cancer for whom chemo has stopped working and the other was just diagnosed with breast cancer, this week. I mean, really?  In other words, that time when we just took good health and wellness for granted, when we assumed we were healthy and most people we came across were in the same boat? That time passed when I was thirty seven. I still miss it.

Interestingly enough (or at least interesting to me) my mother, in her early sixties, did, actually, start to lose her mind. After decades of seeming competence and optimism, she descended into a pit of depression and alcoholism that lasted more than two decades. She has since come out of it, but very much the worse for wear. It’s not surprising that as I head towards this time in my life, I can’t help but see her as a warning. Not to do what she did.  But, in any case, she was on a different time frame, similar to most of my parents’ generation. She was married at 23, had had her two kids by 28.  She wasn’t really caught in the sandwich.panini2 My brother and I were out of the house right after college and, except for my brother’s two year graduate school program, pretty much financially independent not long after that.  They helped us but they didn’t support us. More than that, we were emotionally independent of them in a way that my children, and the children of all of my friends, are not. And my mother’s parents were both dead by the time she was fifty. In fact, by the time both my parents were fifty-two (they are the same age), all four of my grandparents were gone.  And even before they died, my parents, for many reasons, were not heavily involved with their care. They lived across the country and for the most part their siblings were doing the day to day, and it wasn’t even all that much. So, basically at fifty-two, my parents, still young and active, had minimal burdens on them in terms of both their own parents and children. My father continued to work with a very flexible schedule, my mother went back to school and started a new career, they went on barge trips down the Seine with eight other similarly unencumbered friends.  They gave and attended a lot of parties.  At fifty-two I had two teens at home, a husband who out of nowhere came down simultaneously with two auto immune illnesses, a mother across town who was drunk a great deal of the time, in and out of rehabs and emergency rooms, a father who was struggling with his own very serious health problems but mostly at that point just miserable being married to my mother. I went along to a lot of doctor appointments and I took my dad out to a lot of sad lunches. I didn’t give a lot of parties.

Lest you think I am asking for sympathy, I really am not.  And I am not, for a moment, suggesting that those of us who have already lost our parents, are not pressed in by them at the top, are luckier, or are having an easier time of it. Some of my friends have gone through it, it’s a unique and usually unpredictable nightmare, and I can only imagine what it will be like to watch my parents die. Even “good” deaths (and I do believe there is such a thing) seem to leave them feeling lonely in a way that I don’t think I yet fully understand.   And I know it’s coming soon, and that is one of the many burdens of this time. And I am not even going to get into the fact that the world is literally a big hot mess. I am at the moment only telling my story because it is the one I know best. While I will sometimes use different names and details to protect privacy, I will tell some of my friend’s stories, many of them are doozies.

So, here’s my theory. We are not the “sandwich generation,” we are in a Panini press. We are not just sandwiched, we are pressed, crunched. We can’t breathe. I am paraphrasing, but the Dali Lama said something like this about human suffering–“How can we be expected to care for others if we do not care for ourselves?” Excuse me, but what does he know?  He doesn’t have demented parents who call him up from Beverly Hills thinking they have Ebola (this seriously happened to me last winter), or teenagers who have two fender benders in the same day. But, okay, he definitely has his own tragedy credentials….and he really is on to something. But, flipping this idea slightly, if we need to find a way to take care of ourselves, maybe some of that can be helped by also taking care of each other? Not in a way where it adds to our load , in a way where it lessens it.  I am hoping that perhaps this website and blog can be a place where we come to vent, to support, to advise. Because I sure am up for advice. And to share resources, because it’s not fair that any of us has to start at ground zero when, for instance, your mother gets a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. As common a story as that is fast becoming, it still sends you tumbling backwards when it happens to YOU. And you don’t need to be in the Panini press to hang out here. Some of you are actually in a “half press,” challenged by caregiving of just parents or just children or just a spouse or a partner or a friend, and I hesitate to use the word “just.” And I will certainly explore other subjects that are related to the press but aren’t necessarily directly about it, musings about this time of life. You also don’t necessarily need to be female, although most of us in the press, who are pressed in by life, specifically by caregiving, well, we tend to be women.

panini3But I know that this time of life does have its’ sweetness–so much of it is light, it isn’t all dark. Some of us, for instance, are having grandchildren! Some are starting new careers or vocations or going back to school or discovering or reconnecting with new passions or hobbies. Perhaps we are volunteering in new and meaningful ways, or traveling as travelers rather than tourists. Some of us are (gulp!) dating! I want to hear from those of you who are having all of these kinds of experiences.  I want to hear from those of you who are not only being squeezed by the press but also those who are doing ok and even those who are thriving in it.  Because I have a feeling you are all out there. So feel free to give a holler.

33 thoughts on “The Panini Press

  1. Debbie Alpert says:

    I’m so impressed with your website and your beautifully written articles. I’ve only been through a few of them but now I’ve got my free reading time scheduled. I’m looking forward to more thought provoking articles that strike very close to home.
    You’re such a talent Laurie. I’m excited to follow you on this new creative journey. Much success.

  2. Laurie Newbound says:

    Thank you, Debbie!

  3. Nanci Christopher says:

    What a wonderful website Laurie…so proud of you for bringing it to life! I’ve already read several of the articles and look forward to reading more…I will, of course, be a devoted follower…

    Bravo, sweet friend, Bravo!

    xo Nanci

  4. Seth Cagin says:

    Hi Laurie. I’m right there with you.

  5. Hilary Whitehall says:

    Oh hello, welcome to my world! Well said Laurie. At least I now know I am not going mad alone……….xx

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Yes, Hilary, it is helpful to know you are not going “mad alone”! You probably don’t know this, but we had a conversation several years ago, ours was maybe the earliest, that inspired this website. I am hopeful that those of us in this stage can reach out to each other. If we can’t take a walk with a friend or grab a glass of wine, maybe we can at least feel less isolated!

  6. Janice Fejarang says:

    Laurie,
    Thank you!!! I am a friend of Jolie, I myself am losing my mind. My mother is in the hospital and I’ve been caring for her for years, sadly she has been in and out of hospitals, rehab for various injuries, such as a brain hemorrhage, etc, and nursing homes. My youngest daughter is just completing her masters and has recently moved out a month ago. My oldest completed her masters last year. I’m exhausted, depleted, and certainly done. And yes, I too have had menopause. Not to mention I cared for my father for 15 years prior to all that, RIP. What I’m left to know is this: it’s highly unlikely there will be anyone left to care for me and nor do I want to put anyone in that position. I would rather jump off a cliff. So panini press is exactly what this feels like. Thanks for sharing, misery loves company.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Hi Janice,
      Wow, you have really been in it, from the sound of it, for DECADES. So not fair! Your concern about who will take care of you as you age is an important topic that I plan to attack soon. But I think there is a balance of preparing vs. worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet and may never happen. I hope, however, you don’t have to jump off a cliff! Please continue to read and share your story. Thank you.

  7. Nancye Ramser Visser says:

    Enjoyed your article and you might remember me growing up on the same street. I live a million miles from there now and have been in the pannini press with my husbands family. It does get easier when in nursing homes,although a hard decision to make.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Hi, Nancye, I totally remember you. What you may not know is I actually went back and lived at the same house on that street with my family just recently, for seven years. We moved three years ago. In any case, thanks for your comment. Another subject I plan to bring up here is how to best make that difficult decision in terms of nursing homes. I have seen the gamut in terms of my friends and their parents, it can be unexpectedly great or just awful, and, like so much in this Panini Press stage, very hard to predict. Again, I think we need to talk to each other to help us reach these kinds of decisions.

  8. alex haining says:

    Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, just good to read someone writing what is going on in your head. Thank you, love the Panini Press image! xx

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Thank you so much, Alex! Hope you’ll continue to visit the site and share your own experiences.

  9. Michele Modugno says:

    LOVE IT, LOVE IT and did I say…I LOVE IT! You have read my mind and written about the life we are all are experiencing…thank you…so, continue to share and I will continue to read!

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Hi Michele, So NICE to see your comment! Thanks so much for your kind words. I will be putting out a new piece at least once a week. There is now an option to subscribe to new posts (envelope at top right corner) which will alert you to new posts. Please continue to check in as The Panini Press evolves, and I hope you will suggest topics you would like to see covered. In addition, please feel free to spread the word to anyone you know who you think might enjoy or benefit from the site.

  10. Jessica Cosio says:

    This is a great website and resource! I’m not part of the panini (yet!) but with parents almost 70 and a 3.5 year old, that time will come soon enough. Thanks for paving the way and offering a new perspective. I will be sharing your site with my friends on Facebook.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Thanks so much, Jessica. One of the people who let me know how much he liked the site is a 40 year old father with a six year old and parents right around your parent’s age. He said that he felt he was already in The Panini Press but at the very, very beginning and thought this site could give him help as he went through it. I am trying to give people the advice and perspective and links to information that I wish I had when I was, well, not much older than you! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Pat Frazer says:

    Laurie,
    This is a great idea for a much needed site! I was squeezed so flat from being care giver for Mom, Dad, Brother, and two aunts while nurturing and supporting my son. But I saw each person through this end of life thing and got better and better at it! By the time my last aunt had passed, I was an expert! Laughing not judging, smiling not crying, and always trying to keep my sensitivity. I will never forget my dad arriving at my home by car and claiming what a terrible trip it had been with everyone yelling at him, “You are going the wrong way!!!” That was when the driver’s license had to go. The first of many tough tasks to come. But I am not in the Panini Press any more. The olders have passed on and my son is launched. Ebb and flow.

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Pat, thanks so much for your comments. “Squeezed flat” is right! What you bring up is a whole other topic that I want to explore, which is helping people to move towards and experience death. As you know, I am not there yet but I will be soon and will want to hear more from those, like you, who have been through it. Interesting that you say you got better at it, I guess there is learning curve to everything. My biggest issue has been dissolving my own fear around the subject, and I am making progress. More to come! Your dad’s story is so funny, but thank God nobody got hurt! My Dad has never really forgiven me for “taking away” his car. Thanks so much for reading and sharing. You sound like you have MANY stories, love hearing them.

  12. Berenice says:

    Excellent web site. Plenty of useful info here. I am sending it to a few friends!

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Thanks Berenice, hope you’ll continue to check in.

  13. Lynne says:

    Laurie,
    This is great! Wonderful articles. I knew it would be good. Also love the way it is set up on the website. I think it works very well. Can’t wait to read more. Thank you. Can’t wait to see you in person!

    x

    Lynne

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Thanks, Lynne. More will be coming soon!

  14. Diana says:

    This is a terrific website. Great articles that really resonate. Congratulations!!!

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Diana, Thanks so much. On one hand I feel like nobody wants to talk about this (my first guest post writer Roni Cohen-Sandler does a very good job of describing this phenomenon) but on the other hand we really NEED to share our stories. Hope you’ll continue to read and share.

  15. Alicia Radford says:

    Congrats, Laurie!

  16. sdf says:

    Hey there. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article.
    I’ll make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks
    for the post. I’ll certainly come back.

  17. Malcolm says:

    Hi Laurie, thank you for bringing all these issues to light and inviting discussion on these things that we are all facing in one way or another. So much of the time we endure these losses silently, and you have very eloquently opened the conversation with your own stories. My heart goes out to you. I am a member of the group that has already lost both parents, but there was the press impinging from the two sides of raising a young child while seeing my father in neurological decline and wishing he and my by mother who was by then long gone could be there to appreciate and participate in the moments they had so looked forward to. It was a bittersweet time, but ultimately the joys of parenting won the day. They come to mind just about every day. I have often wondered what life would be like now if they were still here to share the joys and heartaches of the years gone by since their passing. I do miss their presence and their counsel, especially as I get older and understand better the aspects of life they tried to prepare me for, but I have gotten pretty good at hearing in my head in their voices the things they might have said, and it is indeed a comfort. I very much enjoyed the immersion in your beautiful and poignant writing on your own experience, and I look forward to perusing more of your writings here and elsewhere. With much Aloha to you and all who have engaged in this discussion, Mal

  18. Laurie Newbound says:

    Malcolm, Thank you so much for your insightful and beautiful response. Your story is an important reminder of the other side of this, the side where you lose your parents before you have children or while those children are still very young. Hope you will continue to check in.

  19. Hailey Newbound says:

    So exciting to see this website come up! Such a great idea and beautiful design! Can’t wait to read more as the site continues to grow. Keep up the great work!!

  20. marta tarbell says:

    I knew we weren’t alone – we live in a town where most of our friends are a decade older than we are, so I’ve seen many examples of the trials of doing the right thing by your aging parents – but this blog truly nails it.
    I spend a lot of time in my mother’s memory wing at a Minnesota nursing home, and despite my initial horror at being there, I’ve come to enjoy it as a geriatric version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The daily dramas are sad, funny, touching – and a warning of what we can expect for ourselves someday – a day that will come sooner than I can fathom, given that time speeds up exponentially as we age, I’ve discovered. But while the Minnesota memory wing scenario can be entertaining, it’s heartbreaking, as well (“Mother, Mother, please help me” screams one inmate, as she roams the halls). And it’s a place I merely visit, whereas we’re now dividing our time between Colorado and South Florida, where both of my in-laws are determined to live at home as they’re dying – so it’s a daily challenge.
    We just rented a house from a woman who has THREE MORE COUPLES renting places from her because they too are dealing with dying parents; we’ve joked about starting a support group, but we probably should. As one decade-older friend warned me, even with terminal diagnoses, it takes a long time for people to die.
    All this prompts a lot of thoughts about the future – thank god for yoga, Buddhism, friends, exercise, travel – not to mention great music, theater, food and wine, which our parents never really became acquainted with.
    So please, keep me posted as this develops. It’s a great service. Way to go, Laurie Partridge!

    1. Laurie Newbound says:

      Marta,
      Thanks so much for your comment, you hit on so many things that resonate. I hope you’ll keep checking in, please subscribe and you’ll get new posts, a new one actually just went up. I think you’ve hit on something with the support group idea, and my concept for this site is to kind of create a virtual support group for those who maybe (like you) don’t have a real one, formal or informal, in their lives. Right now as I have posted, I have so many friends going through their own versions so we do lean on each other, but when I was going through the worst part, again, as I have written, I was alone, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I will email you—-

  21. I truly value your work, Great post.

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