Expat Youth In Aging and Disability: Why It’s Not Just about the Elderly

"Hold On To Your Children" Photo Credit - Spiesteleviv Used with Creative Commons license

“Hold On To Your Children” Photo Credit – Spiesteleviv Used with Creative Commons license

We see families at the airports, at times perhaps with more than two generations represented, briskly walking through the terminals in long single file or as a wide marching band at a parade with various carry-on luggage as musical instruments.

While middle aged adults that pass through the airport corridors seem to begin to resemble one another in attire, the younger passengers tend to show more individuality:

…the teen girl with a partly shaved head with purple tips wearing a Ramones t-shirt, the tween boy with one eye covered by his long hair dressed in black or grey clothes, the cosmopolitan little lady wearing her kid sized tweed travel jacket with suede elbow patches, the toddler with a bowl haircut in the stroller calmly snacking on soft cookies while the mom is dashing for the connecting flight, and the baby in the infant carrier kicking the air and giggling at strangers behind his father who enlarge their eyes as part of their big open-mouthed, head nodding smile.

If we could see a floating bubble attached to each family member narrating a summary of each person’s story or reason for the trip, we’d probably be amazed by the depth of what we don’t know about strangers.  Out of these stories are trips adults make to tend to a family member experiencing a sudden health crisis, and their children, whether they travel with their parent(s), stay behind or end up following after, are affected.

Photo Credits: Yogendra Joshi  Used with Creative Commons license

“Granny… I Am Coming!” Photo Credits: Yogendra Joshi, used with Creative Commons license

My son and I lived one of these stories.  I received the call that my mother had a stroke the night after my son attended his first day at kindergarten.  We were in Los Angeles, California.  My parents were in Manama, Bahrain.  I was preparing to start my second year for my Masters in Social Welfare at UCLA.  I had just met my supervisors for my second year internship placement.  I was about to serve as one of two co-presidents who tied in elections for the Social Welfare Asian Caucus that upcoming year.  That would have been my final year for a graduate program that accepted only 20% of its applicants.  My son had to take leave of absence after just one day in kindergarten and I had to file for leave of absence before my second year orientation even started.

Since that phone call, our lives as a collective family as well as each of our lives individually, were never to be the same or “normal” again.

I had no idea that the photos I took of my son’s first day of kindergarten were not going to be the first in a series of photos representing the traditional path of education most children living in one country take.  I had no idea it would take me several years to finish my masters degree for a program that usually lasts for two years.

When my son and I left to go to Manama, I only knew a portion of what I was about to find out as soon as I landed.  It turned out that what I thought was a mild stroke for a 57-year-old woman was actually a severe stroke, involving the cerebellum and a coma. My mother’s doctors did not hold back from preparing my dad for funeral arrangements.

It was a long journey itself to watch my mother in her coma.  People did not dare to raise our hopes about her situation and I could see in some of the eyes of my parents’ friends at the hospital that they themselves were scared to hope.   Most of my mother’s siblings were there visiting, but it is a world of a difference when a health crisis like this happens continents away from the larger family.  My father described the days before my mother’s siblings, my son and I arrived in Bahrain as the loneliest and longest days in his life.

My family went through a rough, dark, faith-testing journey while visiting my mother daily in her comatose state.  However, after three weeks, she came out of that coma that was supposed to take her mental alertness, memory, speech, and overall capacity to interact with us again if she even survived.  Never in a million years did I have a clue I could ever find strength though an experience like that, but I found it through prayer.

When she woke up, our small family, consisting of my father, my son and myself, were about to live the rest of our lives with a family member who would be disabled without the ability to walk, sit on her own, go to the bathroom by herself and  swallow food and liquid completely.  Yet my mother was so filled with life and a desire to be around us that she mustered up enough strength, faith and passion that she survived that stroke for almost 12 years.   It may sound like torture to some of my readers, but it is a gift when the survivor is your  loved one.  It is a gift when you see your loved one’s eagerness to keep waking up to see another morning with and say another “good night” to her husband, only daughter and only grandson, and enjoy everything that can happen in between.

This drastic life change came much earlier than I had anticipated.  I had imagined that if I were to experience a sudden onset of disabling illness of one of my parents, that my son would perhaps be in high school or college.  My son was four years old,  about to turn five.

Photo Credit: Rajesh Pamnani, Used with Creative Commons LicenseUp to that point, what my son knew about his grandmother after the time she stayed with us when he was born and during the few months after, were our visits to the Middle East, my parents’ visits with us in the US, letters with photos, and gift packages filled with books, snacks, clothes and toys.  After this point, the one he used to know as his active grandmother excited and delighted to meet him at airports and who threw big celebrations for his birthdays became someone  who spent the majority of her days lying down in a hospital bed if not in a wheelchair.

One of the areas a middle aged or  elderly person’s health crisis can affect grandchildren is their education.  In our situation, my son’s education involved various twists and turns because of the series of relocations necessary to accommodate for my mother’s caregiving needs as well as the transitory nature of my father’s career.  The temporary leaves of absence we had in our perspective schools became permanent withdrawals.

By the time my son turned five, when it became clear that we were going to live in Bahrain for some time, he started attending the Philippine School in Manama.  He was nicknamed “Little Ambassador” after my father, who helped secure a much larger property for the campus together with the Prime Minister of Bahrain.  By the time my son turned six in the Midwest, where my mother temporarily stayed with a sister while my father’s assignment was in transition, I was homeschooling my son.  The timing of my parents’ relocation and the availability of caregiving resources did not align with school semesters.  After living in Bahrain, my son and I lived back and forth between the Midwest and California until my father’s next assignment to Mexico.

The rest of my son’s education involved a quilt of educational settings that involved difficult decisions, paying for private school, attending a school on a scholarship that taught three foreign languages, trial and error, more homeschooling, and adjusting to the transitions between the US public school system divisions of elementary, junior high and high school.  Looking back as a parent, I may have been able to make different decisions and stick to one, but each school transfer decision was made for a good reason. A few of the experiences could only be discovered with trial and error and some decisions had to be made to fit our family’s unique needs and circumstances.

Not only was my son’s education affected, but my mother’s stroke also affected his own personal growth.  The children of caregiving parents can also be affected when their parents’ caregiving role plays a large part of their daily environment.  This may apply to a daily environment of one parent’s absence.

When my father retired,  I started supporting  my parents due to the various needs that come with physical disability and post-stroke health management.  This impacted my son’s life dramatically.  My son left a school that he grew to love so that we all could move to a city where it was economically feasible for me to support everyone.  We all moved in together so it would be practical for me to help with my mother’s caregiving as a single parent without someone to tag team with and to make sure my father, as my mom’s main caregiver, also stays healthy.

 

http://www.4to40.com/greetings/cards.asp?festivals=Love_You_Grandma-Grandparents_Day-442

Image of the Filipino “Mano,” a gesture of respect to the elderly. (Artist: Jasmin O.)

My son grew up in an environment where my mother’s caregiving needs were always a backdrop to his childhood and adolescence. However, it also deepened his understanding about the capacity of supportive relationships, humanity, the value of life and time with loved ones.  He grew up knowing medical terms and concepts, understanding it can be an everyday routine for one person to depend entirely on others to survive and that it’s actually okay, not being able to go on family outings with the whole family, and not being able to expect a rigid schedule for things that require flexibility.   My son’s childhood and adolescence involved sacrifice and nothing looked picture perfect because his grandmother was physically disabled, but he learned to go to where a person is and be okay with it.

At a young age, my son learned to deepen his love language, or how to express love to and receive love from a person who is limited by physical disability.  He learned little things, like conversation at home with grandmother, is enough to build a relationship on and enough to continue valuing that bond.  He didn’t require kiddie rides, trips to theme parks, movies at the cinema or lunches at a favorite restaurant to maintain that bond.   My mother would of course have loved to continue doing all those things with him through the rest of his childhood, but she was content with letting him enjoy his outings and hearing stories about them when he got home.  I am so proud of my son for this.  I don’t think he even realizes this is something not everyone learns in youth, but my son demonstrated it through the remainder of his grandmother’s life.

Towards the end before my mother passed away, my son began to share some of the caregiving tasks.  When my father and I needed a break, he would feed her her nutritional formula through the feeding tube in her stomach.  About sixteen years prior, my mother used to feed him infant food.  My mother lived to see things come full circle and witness many milestones in her grandson’s life.  My son matured to watch his grandmother look into his eyes without him having to stand on a footstool to see above the bed rails of her hospital bed.  My son continues to cherish her as someone who is irreplaceable.  Both lives, along with my son’s relationship with his grandfather, forever imprinted by love language that evolves through drastic life changes.

The next time you see the families at the airports, stop and take time to consider the journey they may be on.   The next time you get to know a caregiver with children, consider what their children are going through and the unique perspectives they have to offer.  They may teach you something.

“Children Looking at Taxiing Airplane” Photo Credit – Thaths, used with Creative Commons license ***Special thoughts and prayers for all the families affected by the lives lost on the recent Malaysia airlines flights of 2014. With Kuala Lumpur as my childhood home, I will always remember you, Malaysia and its expat/ foreigner community. – Myra Dumapias***

Ten Ways to Honor Sandwich Generation Expats and TCK’s (2 of 2)

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“Generation Sandwich”/Coup de Pouce Magazine, Artist: Isabelle Cardinal Permission obtained from Isabelle Cardinal

 Here are 10 ways we as individuals can honor and support sandwich generation caregivers:

1)  Identify the “sandwich generationers” you cross paths with.  The first step in supporting caregivers is to take the time to consider who they are.  Caregivers, because of the limited time they have in other people’s lives, may not necessarily explain the extent of their caregiving role.  After a certain point in time, the caregiving role may be so ingrained as part of the caregiver’s life that people outside the home don’t even recognize them as caregivers unless the topic naturally came up in conversation.  Bring it up next time in conversations and certain people may come out of the woodwork to speak about what they may have gone through in the past, are about to go through or are currently experiencing.

Some caregivers may think that once they step outside the house, it would be a break for them to not speak much about their experiences unless it is in a private one-on-one setting.  Others may feel that bringing it up is a downer.  This may have to do more with how certain social protocols treat caregiving topics as “personal issues” or “private affairs.”  Society in general also tends to marginalize caregivers and dependent elderly.  The majority of public spaces, such as restaurants for example, are not physically set up to encourage people with disabilities or certain health conditions to be as present as able-bodied persons. (I will further elaborate on this in future writings)

2) Be supportive of the tough choices the “sandwich generationer” makes for themselves and their family.  No matter what anyone may think they know, the truth is every person’s situation is different.   The caregiver and their family members will be the ones who will live with the choices , so it is not in the best interest of the caregiver or their family to promote the choices others may believe to be wiser.  It is helpful to provide feedback, offer another pair of eyes, share ones own applicable experiences and serve as a person to bounce ideas off of, but once the caregiver makes a decision, be supportive of it.  There are reasons why not everyone is consulted in a decision making process.  Chances are there may be aspects of a decision the caregiver believes most cannot fully relate to.  Understand also that there may be a whole side of the situation that you simply don’t know about.  “Sandwich generation” TCK’s or expats especially need the support of other global nomads who can relate to issues of unresolved grief or other issues distinct to a globally mobile childhood or lifestyle.

3) Be personally available to a “sandwich generation” caregiver who may want to share some of their stressful experiences as a way to show they do not have to go through them alone.  Sometimes listening goes a long way.  You don’t have to give advice, especially if you have not been in similar shoes. Just listen and if you feel it would be welcome, encourage a caregiver to open up about how they are doing beyond the “I’m fine, thank you” answers.  Offer genuine attention and time.  Chances are, if you see them for some periods outside the home, the rest of their day or week are probably spent mostly at home.  A nice chat over lunch or a quick one-on-one catch up session to the side of a larger gathering or event helps to reassure a caregiver that someone is there to listen.

If you believe that the caregiver may benefit more from counseling, there are counseling resources available for the expat or TCK caregiver (a page will be added in the near future for such resources upon further research for caregivers with limited income).  However, don’t assume that if you do not offer this help, the caregiver will be fine or that they will go out of their way to reach out to you.

4)  Be careful not to judge or minimize.  This journey is one of the toughest journeys a person can experience in a lifetime for the reasons mentioned above (which touches on just some of challenges).  Each person’s journey is different. While certain aspects of a caregiver’s situation may be similar to another caregiver’s, the entire journey of a person is not the same as another’s.  The context of the timing, family dynamics, circle of support, ability to share tasks with siblings or a spouse, individual need to maintain a career, place in life and many other factors a caregiver is dealing with is never exactly the same as another caregiver’s.  The extent and type of dependency a loved one has on a caregiver can also be extremely different in each situation, as are the financial and other resources available to the family.  Take time to see things from the caregiver’s point of view, and be quicker to find out more before suggesting solutions.

Efforts to “help” others are not effective if they do not address where they are truly at.  See the caregiver as the expert in their own lives (unless for example, by a professional’s judgement, the person’s “actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others,” a standard in social work practice).  If anyone can take the time to think or say to themselves that other people in the caregiver’s shoes were able to do something differently, they can take the time to speak more to the caregiver and find out why things don’t look the same.   Most importantly, when a caregiver opens up, remember two things – a) believe them the first time and b) treat the trust a caregiver has in confiding in you with utmost respect. 

5)  Understand that the “sandwich generation” role cannot be compartmentalized.  The “sandwich generation” role touches every aspect of a caregiver’s life.  Even though the situation that brought on the dual caregiving role may have come suddenly and has a clear beginning, the end may not be clear or predictable.  The boundary of its impact on the caregiver’s life is not rigid.  A caregiver’s entire life is impacted: Everything from income, to eating patterns, to self-grooming (ie. the distinction between a luxury and a necessity), to sleeping habits, to friendships, to the marriage relationship or dating patterns, to the upkeep of a house, to the competitive edge in the work setting can be affected.  A caregiver needs to take breaks and have distance sometimes to care for themselves so they can be of use to others. However caregiving is not a responsibility one can really set a clear boundary around the way one would with a 9-5 job.  Caregiving requires more flexibilty and even when the caregiver’s role shifts in some major way, their role does not really cease.

6)  Offer help.  This is especially for the single parent caregivers.  Whether one feels qualified or not to help with certain things, offer help where you can.  It may not be obvious what a caregiver needs help with until someone asks.  Offer help in a way the caregiver will understand the offer to be genuine.  Some may be hesitant to ask for fear of not being able to return a favor.  Practical things a “sandwich generation” caregiver can get help with include: getting groceries (of their choice), maintaining a yard, help with fixing house repairs (plumbing or other leaks, electrical wiring, etc.), car repairs or maintenance, errands, etc.  Those with a professional skill, such as carpentry or construction, plumbing, or electrical engineering, or who are lawyers, doctors, social workers, hospice workers, nurses or physical therapists can offer their professional services at a significant discount or for free in recognition of the great hardships of “sandwich generation” caregivers.

I may not be able to convince a reader not already inclined to help others to change their mind, but I will share this: Certain situations don’t have an easy way out and the only reason why certain caregivers are in certain situations is because they chose to brave out the journey and are the only ones around to take responsibility for it.  People who take this level of responsibility deserve help simply because no human being should go through the toughest human experiences alone.  

7)  Expect nothing in return.  Caregivers, especially “sandwich generationers,” may not be in the best position to be as reciprocal as they may have been at a different period in their life or otherwise would be.  Caregivers cherish the support they receive even when a caregiver who may not be able to demonstrate it by spending time with friends or returning a favor.  The caregiver  may not have the luxury of time or money to always reciprocate.  “Sandwich generation” caregivers have to stretch out their resources and time to cover things the average person doesn’t have to budget into their finances or fit into their regular schedule.

For some, this may be hard to hear, but certain favors or gifts may not be reciprocated until the caregiver is in a better position.  This is one factor that can actually lead to a caregiver’s isolation: friends can start to dwindle because caregivers simply aren’t around enough or are able to reciprocate.  TCK or expat caregivers may not even have any friends who are more than acquaintances of casual friends to turn to for help.  Look out for them, even when they aren’t a particularly close friend.

This is simply a personal choice that takes a special heart.  For my readers who help “sandwich generation” caregivers and don’t expect anything in return, know you are serving an army of brave soldiers that face the toughest battles but don’t get enough recognition, special treatment or, especially in the case of expat or TCK caregivers, may not have the support of a “home country” that can provide a safety net for their own future aging.  Thank you!

8)  Assess your work colleague’s credibility with fairness if your colleague is a “sandwich generation” caregiver.  As explained in #5, the caregiving role affects all aspects of a person’s life.  In work relationships, try to translate how the caregiving responsibilities of a person can affect how competitive they can be in comparison to others who more frequently go beyond the extra mile, do things outside their job description or are more flexible.  If a work setting provides the option to work remotely or online, provide ways the caregiver working from home can demonstrate their reliability pertinent to their job role.  Don’t limit such opportunities to colleagues who can be physically present or travel more.  

Perhaps the majority of people at a given work setting have families and responsibilities as well, but remember “sandwich generation” caregivers take on much more than the average head of household.  The credibility or value of a work colleague or employee must include the commitment they demonstrate as a whole person, the bigger picture of their past accomplishments, the quality of their work vs the quantity of times they can be physically present at events, and the skills required not only in practicing their profession, but also managing their time so they can fulfill their duties yet juggle other demanding responsibilities.  

When the skills of a work colleague or employee with a successful track record are applied to the “personal affair” of caregiving, it should not be seen as a compromise to professionalism.  Rather, it should be recognized, honored and respected for the depth of what a person is capable of committing to (often without due recognition).  It is a common myopic perspective about professionalism to marginalize the caregivers and care takers of society or reserve the image of professionalism to people free of nurturing roles or who can place them neatly in a box labelled “private affairs,” which unfortunately affects women more than men(More writings on this topic to follow as well.)

9)  Recognize the single parent “sandwich generation” caregivers.  For every point I make here, remember that there are single parents going through everything I have explained but work with one income and do not have the option of staying at home while a spouse works to make sure the bills are paid.  It is a very difficult journey that requires a level of extreme vigilance to take on this role.  Words are simply not enough to paint the full picture of what single parents in this role go through daily.  Paying the bills on time, making sure any leaks or repairs needed in the house are taken care of, ensuring the car continues to run smoothly, staying on top of doctor appointments and healthy diets for the whole household, and other standard household maintenance tasks, as well as the intricate duties related to caregiving, paying attention to the educational, psychosocial development and other needs of the single parent’s child(ren) AND the overall wellbeing of her/his aging parents must all be accomplished with the budget of a single income earner.  This is not to mention their own needs, including the reality of the necessity to plan for their own aging and retirement.  This is just one side of the picture.  

The single parent in this role must also be able to independently manage the logistics of all of the above in the same amount of time everyone else has, while working to bring in income and doing everything else the average person needs do to for her/his career.  Most employers assign a single type of job role with related duties according to a reasonable work load per employer.  If you picture all the responsibilities of a single parent in a “sandwich generation” caregiving role, it would look like one person operating, managing or supervising all departments of an entire company for a customer base representing three demographics – unpaid for all of the above.  

On top of all of this, the single parent in this role does not have the emotional support a spouse can otherwise provide.   A TCK single parent in this role has an even greater need for emotional support, especially if they start to come to terms with the unresolved grief of their past in different ways through this role.  In an environment that may be void of TCK support or understanding, it can be overwhelming for the TCK single parent who is a “sandwich generation” caregiver.

10) Respect the journey of the family.  Those who are in the position to be personal friends of a caregiver must be understanding when there are occasional family tensions.  Conflict is a normal part of any group setting that forms and develops.  It is understandable that with a family experiencing significant life changes affecting three generations of family members simultaneously, especially under the same roof, certain tensions will come.  In a supportive environment, these tensions will eventually go.  This journey involves different seasons and none of them make a family less worthy of support.  One year, a caregiver may need to quit a job or live with the loved one they are caring for.  Another year, the caregiver may need to prioritize obtaining a certain job or may need to live separately for one reason or another.  

Respecting this journey and the various seasons is to remember that all the family members are just human, have intrinsic human worth and individually deserve to be treated with dignity.  It is truly one of the toughest periods for the elderly persons, the child(ren) in the household and the caregiver(s), and they are all in it out of love for one another.

Source: “The Hindu”

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© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Ten Ways to Honor Sandwich Generation Expats and TCK’s (1 of 2)

“Generation Sandwich”/Minnesota Monthly, Artist: Isabelle Cardinal Permission obtained from Isabelle Cardinal

They sacrifice their lives for others.   They are at the front lines, physically, financially, logistically and emotionally, but are often in the shadows socially.  They protect the lives of the most vulnerable, and in the process also become vulnerable.  They are the soldiers that bravely confront one of the toughest battles in life that affect a growing number of people world wide.  They are the caregivers “sandwiched” between caring for their children and caring for aging parents, or “sandwich generation” caregivers.  As I mentioned earlier, expats, global nomads or adult Third Culture Kids in caregiving roles face even more complex situations than non-expat caregivers  and as such”sandwich generation” adult TCK’s or expats likewise face unique challenges that deserve recognition.

The plight of “sandwich generation” caregivers has increasingly become more well known over the last two decades, which witnessed the inclusion of the term in the Oxford English and Merriam Webster dictionaries in 2006, attributed to the work of Joy Abala in the United States. (Her heart behind her work is very similar to mine! It was great to discover her while preparing for this particular post. Read about Joy Abaya’s story here).  

 

“Middle Aged Adults Sandwiched between Aging Parents and Kids,” Source: “The Sandwich Generation: Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans” Pew Research Center

In the U.S., July is recognized to be Sandwich Generation Awareness Month.  Around the world, there have also been some recent discussions about the sandwich generation.

In Britain, there is a surge in the number of people living in large households because of the “sandwich generation, only about two years after the emergence of “sandwich generation” households in studies were noted and expected to continue.

 

“Asia’s Sandwich Generation” Source: “Feeling the Squeeze: Asia’s Sandwich Generation,” Economist Intelligence Unit

 

 

In Australia, where “sandwich generationers” are beginning to feel the squeeze yet their situation is still considered “fairly new,” it is estimated that “people may be missing out on more than $600 million in assistance, largely because of lack of awareness.”   In Asia, Singapore is witnessing the “sandwich generation” population as a fast growing population group.  In a similar manner, South Africa is also seeing a growth in the “sandwich generation.”

 

“How Is Asia’s Sandwich Generation Coping?” Source: “Feeling the Squeeze: Asia’s Sandwich Generation,” Economist Intelligence Unit

The common issues that “sandwich generationers”  deal with range from the financial crisis of rapidly depleting income while supporting three generations of family members, to the emotional toll that come with sudden major life changes and multiple losses (ie. of the caregiver’s career options), to the stresses of watching loved ones’ health statuses decline to the point of dependency,  to the drastic tips in the balance of a caregiver’s circle of support, where she/he receives less and gives more, especially when a loved one’s health progression leads to the caregiver’s increased isolation.

A “sandwich generation” caregiver with a current or dormant globally mobile life faces even more complex issues not just due to the distance between family members that is often a default with expats, but also due to the experience being part of a globally mobile family.  Expats face the potential risk of having no safety net of support and resources at the point of retirement, if expats choose to retire in a country other than their passport or host country to be reunited with their adult children or to settle where they have the most friends and/or relatives.  This creates the context for how a “sandwich generation” caregiver supports her/his parents.  This in turn can impact the caregiver’s own retirement and financial planning for the future.

Adult TCK or expat “sandwich generation” caregivers may have less support than non-TCK or expat counterparts.  Not only may the caregiver be going through this major life change away from friends she/he has established, but may also be wrestling with the question of belonging and sense of isolation common to Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) that the standard support group and average counselor is not prepared to fully support.  The “sandwich generation” caregiver may also still be in the process of working on her/his journey of addressing unresolved grief and multiple losses throughout childhood. If she/he has not even begun it yet, it can be triggered by the mere act of having to relocate to adjust to the parent’s needs because it can closely resemble the pattern of moving for a parent’s career.

Taking on the role of being more of a “giver” than a “receiver” of emotional support can place a “sandwich generation” caregiver who grew up as a TCK at risk for an emotional breakdown, depression, unhealthy coping mechanisms to stressful triggers, psychosomatic health conditions and other factors that can end up as a statistic void of any connection to the deeper journey behind it.

Remember that much of the experiences of TCK’s is still largely unknown, misunderstood or misdiagnosed by counselors or support figures who simply don’t have a deep understanding of the effects of a globally mobile childhood.  In the past decade, international schools have begun to acknowledge and/teach about the experiences of TCK’s.  Programs for military families in the U.S. for example, are now beginning to broaden their understanding of what military children experience.  However, for the most part, until TCK’s themselves take on more leadership roles and are in the decision making positions about programs and resources for TCK’s in various age groups, it is simply not enough.  

The traditional training available for social workers, grounded in similar human development theories used in training for psychologists and counselors, all of whom would serve as mental health resources for “sandwich generation” caregivers is predominantly based on mono-cultural systems and is therefore not fully equipped to help the adult TCK’s or global nomads of this population.

This is where we as individuals, especially TCK’s, other expats and nomads, can step in.  The support for “sandwich generation” adult TCK’s or expats can also come from amongst one another.  While financial planning, counseling and other professional services can be provided by specialists, it does not require a specialist to reach out, understand or offer support to a “sandwich generation” expat or adult TCK.   “Sandwich generationers” are on a very challenging journey that they chose to accept out of a deep tremendous love for their family members.  Caregivers, especially those playing the dual roles of parenting and caring for their own parents, deserve to be honored as valuable and crucial members of society and supported in any way possible.

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© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The Unspoken Parting Words

Sometimes goodbyes are far from what we wanted them to be.

Towards the end before my mom passed away, she lost her ability to speak and communicate.  Yet I seemed to develop a language of understanding what she wanted to say or ask or was concerned about.  I believe it was because my life circumstances allowed me to spend years with her, helping my father with the care giving, but I know not everyone had or can have this opportunity.

As I was able to have my parents live with me and my son for almost nine years before she passed away, I was able to get to know her much more.  I was able to get to know her usual patterns throughout the day and over a month, understand the relationships she built with the hospice workers who worked with us at home, and observe the intricate ways her relationship with her husband grew through this life stage.

I was there daily for the most part,  but I know this isn’t a story everyone can tell.  Perhaps you were able to visit regularly, or had a chance to be there for just a brief moment.  Maybe you did not arrive in time.  

Perhaps there was a neurological or mental condition that affected your loved one’s ability to communicate or seem like themselves anymore.  Perhaps your relationship with your loved one had been strained before the moment of passing.

I just want to speak from the heart of a mother myself and a daughter observing how my mom tried to communicate after she lost her speech, and relay the words: 

“Thank you.”

and 

“I love you.”

…to all the loved ones and caregivers out there who may not have heard these words.   I did not hear these words myself at the time of parting, but there is a level of communication that remains after speech ends or gets distorted.  

Deep beneath the loss of speech, changed personality due to a neurological condition, or total mental breakdown, is or was still the person you once knew and loved, and who once loved you and was enthusiastic to be around you.  

Sometimes love has to involve giving the benefit of the doubt that if conditions were different,  the words you would have wanted to say and hear would have been exchanged.   That is what we must focus on to honor our loved ones, who they once were and what they once were capable of.  Allow their healthier selves to dictate the long term impact of their lives on yours and allow yourself to see the less than ideal goodbye (or lack thereof) in perspective of that. 

I hope that these words can release more memories of your loved ones from a time when they were healthy, laughing through the hallways, splashing water with you, eating under the sun, chasing you, sitting on a bench with you, running to a gate to catch a plane with you or other memories that may be shadowed by a less than ideal goodbye.  May it release you from any heaviness because this is not what your loved one, in their right frame of mind or healthy condition, would have wanted to part you with.  And may you know that the words, “Thank you,” and “I love you” are probably not even enough to fully communicate what they felt at the time they parted.

I would bet that every loved one would try to communicate in whatever way they could if they were able to, like the story of the dying grandmother who wrote in code before she passed away.

For those who are going through journeys where perhaps it is difficult to find good memories because the nature of your relationship with someone who passed away, I hope to also hear from you and what has helped you.  Your journey involves much more strength and unconditional love.

Until our next hello,

Myra

Related story – “Dying Grandmother’s Mystsery Code Cracked by the Internet After 20 Years”

Original source of the story – “Decoded Cancer-Addled Ramblings” 

Photo credits: “A Year in Boarding Passes” Kim Davies with Creative Commons License (photo cropped)

Please click here for more information about the author.

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Dear Family Caregiver: I Get It

Photo Credit: William Arthur Fine Stationary

Photo credits: “Letters Play an Important Role in Our Lives” by William Arthur Fine Stationary used with Creative Commons license.

Dear (Expat) Family Caregiver,*

You may be a daughter, a son, a husband, wife or other family member of the one you are caring for.  You may have children of your own or you may not.  You may be married or single.  You may be working or you may be retired. You may be rich or poor, light-skinned or dark-skinned, young or old.

Whoever you are, I just want to say I get it.   I might not know everything about your situation, but I get how care-giving, like parenting, can be the hardest job you’ll ever love.  And I get how most people will not understand what you’re going through, unless they’ve been through a certain level of care-giving themselves.

You may feel somewhat invisible to the outside world because you spend so much time right next to or within an ear shot of the one you are caring for. You may feel guilty when you leave the house to try to seek out or spend time with new friends, most of whom don’t really come around because you haven’t deepened the friendships yet.    After all, why spend time with others who don’t even know you that well, when someone that has known you longer, needs your help? …Right?

Yet, there is that part of  you that wants to establish that circle of support.  Most people need to connect.  However, growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) or Cross Culture Kid (CCK), or being an expat adult, it’s challenging to deepen (non-expat) friendships.  Seldom do friendships in a non-expat environment reach that level where you can talk about your childhood or career and friends won’t think you’re bragging… simply because the backdrop of your past happens to be a setting they can’t relate to.   It’s hard enough to find friends around whom you don’t have to explain why where you were born just isn’t home, why you want to move every 4 or 5 years and why you just can’t stand small talk, but even harder as a caregiver with limited time…Right?

Maybe you want to have friends there for you simply because you just need to connect.  But how can you, if you feel a tugging guilt that brings you back home?  Or you’re just juggling care-giving and work.. maybe in addition to parenthood and other responsibilities?  

Maybe the friends you have now aren’t at that level to go to you because they expect to see you around more in order for them to come around?…  Sometimes, even if you are part of family unit, you just also need friends outside the family (which is absolutely fine, by the way)…  Am I wrong?

Maybe you can’t show up as often as your counterparts to major events or regular activities.  You know… the ones that help you get that promotion, that “best” in front of “friend,” that word of mouth that leads to opportunities, that reputation as a leader with accomplishments for a cause you are so passionate about, or that circle of friends as an insider….  Am I off?

But you also might always have in the back of your mind: this period of my life, when I have the chance to spend more time with a loved one as a (or even the) caregiver does not come back around, at least not for this same loved one.

You are not complaining, but may just want to know that you are not alone in this journey.

I just want to tell you right now that I get it.  You aren’t alone. And you aren’t invisible.  I see you, I hear you, I feel you.

Stick around and I hope to continue to meet with you here.  There are things I want to share to help you on this journey, which does not last forever. I’ve been there, I’ve made some pretty tough decisions as a caregiver for my mom, as a TCK and as a parent.  I’ve reached that dreaded milestone when it’s the last day of care-giving as you know it, and in some ways, I’m still going through it.

My goal is to help you and help families make the most of their time together, whether it is for a temporary or long term situation.  If there is a way we, as family caregivers with a global nomad background, can meet in person, I will try to make it happen. But for now, I hope to continue to meet you and hear from you here.

 

Until our next hello,

Myra

* I acknowledge that this letter may not fit every caregiver’s situations completely.  I hope that you will still find some information valuable in some way to the particular journey you are going through.

Please click here to find more information on Third Culture Kids, Cross Cultural Kids, expats and life stage of aging, care-giving, disability and retirement 

Please click here to find more information about the author.

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Expat Aging, Caregiving and Related Journeys: Why Bring Them Up

Photo credits: Juangiahui used with Creative Commons

Photo credits: Juangiahui
used with Creative Commons license

Thanks to decades of hard work of committed researchers, authors, speakers, voices and communities in social media, and the sheer power of individuals sharing their stories, what the world knows today about expatriate (expat) life and the globally mobile family is increasingly moving out from under the shadows of stereotypes.  

The population of expats or global nomads, estimated to be 220 million by Pico Iyer in his 2013 TedGlobal Talk, is not a homogeneous group.  Global nomads represent a variety of backgrounds and are more than just the face of pampered global citizens glamorously living in exotic lands.

We have now begun to recognize, even in mainstream social media, the issues common to Third Culture Kids¹ and Cross Culture Kids²:

–  The sense of dislocation in defining, “Where is home” and finding where you belong

–  The struggle to explain your identity and “where you come from in a world that only justifies rigid identities and is impatient with grey areas

–  The impact of unresolved grief in relationships as an adult and how it is invisible in childhood

–  The urge to move frequently or need to withdraw, which can be dismissed as mere negative or irresponsible personality traits by non-TCK’s

– The compatibility of TCK’s and non-TCK’s or First Culture Kids in relationships 

–    The question of whether or not TCK parents should raise a new generation of children as TCK’s, knowing the challenges that come with it

…among others.

The Elephant in the Suitcase

http://indigoinkcreations.blogspot.com/2014/01/needle-felted-white-elephant.html

[Photo credit: Tara Birds/indigoinkreations]

Yet there is a journey that not many global nomads have begun to speak about: the life stage that includes aging, sudden health or mental health related disabling conditions, and dying.

It is uncomfortable, morbid, and intrusive, and seems rudely inappropriate or cold.  However, it is absolutely necessary to discuss to avoid negative experiences for everyone due to lack of preparation.  Why? Simply because we, as a tribe of global nomads, have already come to understand the importance of healthy goodbyes.

The experiences of expats leaving aging parents behind or suddenly repatriating to care for them may be familiar to my readers who are expats, especially the women.  It goes even deeper.  Now, we are living in an age when there can be two generations of expats above the age of 55.  Seniors are living longer (see these recent articles from Australia and the U.S.).  The proportion of seniors are also about to increase.  While there are 600 million people aged 65 and over today, according to an article with United Nations statistics, by 2035, that number will increase to 1.1 billion.  With these trends, it is necessary to get deeper into the picture of what expats go through as expats themselves age or retire. (Please see links below)

A globally mobile past can make for difficult and complex decisions surrounding caregiving support, place of residence for retirement, and death and burial planning, especially when adult children are still relocating.  Even more complex issues arise when health or mental health related disabling conditions happen at a younger age than expected.

With the extreme disparities in the cultural expectations, economic status, safety net for retirees, and other factors among the expats’ host countries, expats can experience aging differently from one another.  Certain populations of global nomads can easily fall through the cracks without sufficient social support, financial backing or the mental preparation for the stage of life that non expats struggle with as it is.

It is an uncomfortable topic, but a high ranking diplomat, for example, can experience a sudden plummet in his or her socio-economic status if faced with a sudden health crisis around the time of retirement. If that diplomat serves an economically poor country, chances are the retirement pension cannot provide adequate support to recover from any sudden crisis. Military veterans, retired missionaries, corporate expats and other global nomads are not exempt from this. No matter how much one saves or plans financially, a perfect storm of unexpected events may quickly wipe it all away because a crisis can be just the beginning of a tough road.  Suddenly, the whole family and potentially three generations can become drastically impacted by what would otherwise be mostly affecting the elderly.

Despite the misconceptions and stereotypes about expats and Third Culture Kids, social workers, counselors, psychologists, faith-based ministries, teachers, human resource staff and others must recognize this reality:    Expats have a wide range of genuine needs distinct to individuals and families with a current or dormant globally mobile life, and the life stage of aging or sudden disability is a significant transition.

The juncture at which converge the decision on which country to live for retirement, policies regarding government benefits intended for nationals with a long work history, and the timing of possible migration for family reunification is very complex and unique to baby boomers who are globally mobile.  Because of this, the journey of aging and retirement can be one of the most drastic life transitions in an expat’s life.

This also has implications for one of the most discussed topics addressed in the existing literature on Global Nomads or Third Culture Kids and Cross Culture Kids thus far: unresolved grief. Unresolved grief, has had a dramatic impact on the lives of expats and the global family who did not have the proper support through the multiple life losses that come with an expat life.  The life stage of aging and retirement, with all its final goodbyes, is one that individuals and families with either an active or dormant globally mobile lifestyle, must be well prepared for.  Those who are left behind at this life stage need to prepare to grieve with hopefully the least regrets as possible.  Those who are departing must rebuild the “RAFT,” coined by the late author David C. Pollock and co-author Ruth Van Reken, needed for the final goodbye.

For all these reasons, I hope to be able to join the ranks of those who have come before me and add my contribution using my own personal story.  My other blog posts will focus more on specific topics and insights.  After years of serving the global nomad community through TCKid: A Home for Third Culture Kids, I hope now to also offer my insights from watching my expat parents age, one parent’s life end, my son’s struggle as a 3rd generation TCK and my own TCK journey as a caregiver with obligations to stay when I felt itchy feet the most.  

My goal is to help other families prepare and make the most of their time together in this journey where there is no turning back.

Until our next hello,

Myra

Photo: “Last Call” by Juangiahui, used with Creative Commons license 

Please click here for more information about why this blog was started.

1 –  “A Third Culture Kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ passport culture(s).” The experience includes “frequently build(ing) relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”  
 
2 –  “A Cross-Cultural Kid ( CCK) is a person who has lived in—or meaningfully interacted twith—two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during developmental years.”
 
Source of definitions: Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R.E. (2009) Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

 See – UN World Population Aging 1950-2050, and  UN World Population Aging 2013 ; how Australians are living longer but suffering more from chronic diseases, and how elderly in the US are living longer.

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call, 2014-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.