Tag Archives: disability

Love, Commitment and Wormholes: Three Observations about Marriage, Disability and Caregiving


The best marriage training anyone could ever receive is through helping a married couple when one has a disabling condition requiring caregiving.  In the system of services for family caregiving, aging and sudden disability, there is little focus on the pre-existing quality of the marital or committed relationship between the caregiving spouse and the dependent spouse with an illness or disability.  In comparison to the financial, medical, and other health needs of someone with an adult onset disability or chronic illness, details of that person’s marital relationship can seem trivial.  Yet it plays a major role in the quality of life of the persons involved.  I had the honor of closely observing my parents’ marriage, which survived the challenges that come with caregiving and disability, and how they maintained quality in their marriage.

Various and complex factors can impact a marriage, but a disabling condition of one person can change everything. Available statistics on the rate of divorce or marital breakdown for marriages that have one person with a brain injury-related disability, for example, range from 15% to 25% (and 78% if including a study with a small participant size).   A study of anecdotal information revealed a common theme involving a drop in income and an eventual “burn-out over having to take care of the disabled spouse and seeing their quality of life eroding.” This in turn leads to “the abled spouse initiat(ing) a divorce, even though ‘feeling guilty’ about doing so.”

…You can be frustrated at how the other person is handling the situation, but at the end of the day, which is it that you really want to quit, the person or the situation?

For a real life first person example, one can read a sobering forum post initiated by a spousal caregiver seeking support about the sense of loss of the marriage he once knew with his wife before her stroke, while adjusting to the demanding role of a caregiver.

In our situation, my mother had a stroke in 2002 that left her requiring full-time caregiving. She was unable to sit up, walk or go to the bathroom on her own, and, in the beginning, unable to interact or speak with us with full consciousness.  She temporarily had a tracheostomy for a ventilator, because she was in in a deep coma for almost three weeks.  The brian injury from the stroke led to my mother needing a feeding tube in her stomach as the only way she could be fed for the rest of her life.  Although not fully conscious initially, it became clear in time that her speech, although with a raspier voice, as well as her memory and her personality remained intact, with some moments of less emotional self-restraint.  

Providing care for my mother was demanding and the drastic changes for her required tremendous strength to live through without depression, especially through six cities in four countries. However, the extra, almost 12, years with my mother is so very precious to us all.  She watched her only grandson grow up into a teenager. We bonded more as mother and daughter. This was special because I spent some years of my childhood away from my parents due to economic realities of foreign service careers based in countries economically poorer than Western countries.  My mother got to age with her dear husband and partner through a lifetime of international transitions and postings.  Some of these posting were very challenging, but not as challenging as how they spent their last 12 years together, seven of which my father was her primary caregiver, which especially impacted my parents’ quality of life and marriage.

According to a study by Perry Singleton, “couples with lower quality marriages are more likely to divorce than couples with higher quality marriages.”  I was blessed to be able to witness my parents’ marriage, seasoned with many victories the surmounted typical marital problems as well the challenges that come with frequent upheavals and transitory nature of a globally nomadic life, survive their final stage of caregiving and disability.

Below are three of the many observations I have made about my parents’ relationship in the final stages of their marriage:

1)   My parents did not hold back in being and expressing themselves.

Roar loudly when you are going through something significant!  Even self-acknowledgement of how you are affected can go a long way.

My mother, with her strong personality that most people who know her note about her, didn’t hold back when it came to expressing her needs around my dad.  My father on the other hand, who is more reserved and quiet, wasn’t often expressive about his needs.  However, he was himself, so when he was silent and when he did speak up, my mother knew what each meant.  Their old patterns of communication as a married couple carried over to their life roles as a caregiver and disabled spouse.

By not holding back what they felt or needed, my parents rode each wave of tension for as far as they could handle as individuals and as a couple, but they got on the waves and didn’t swim away from them.  Yes, not many people would sign up to get on the waves, but they did.  As they did, my parents roared loud expressions of how they were being affected, in the form of speaking as well as silence, to stay on those waves.

My parents made a decision decades ago, believing a person’s word at the wedding altar meant something beyond the first several years of marriage. They stuck to that decision until the end, and as they approached their last stages of their life together they did so LOUDLY.   Roar loudly when you are going through something significant!  Even self-acknowledgement of how you are affected can go a long way.

2) My parents lied about quitting each other.

 …Plan to turn every statement you have made or may ever make about quitting a good relationship or marriage into a big fat lie and make sure the other person knows you will always be lying about that.

Did my parents at least at one point each express they wanted to quit either by death or physically leaving?  Yes. Afterall, they didn’t hold back from expressing themselves.  But at times expressing oneself is just that.  Not everything you express outloud is necessarily a threat that has to be carried out.  Sometimes expressions are to share frustrations rather than actual plans of action.

What can be confused in the expression of frustrations is what each person is frustrated at.  Is each person frustrated at the situation or truly the other person?  Yes, of course you can be frustrated at how the other person is handling the situation, but at the end of the day, which is it that you really want to quit: the person or the situation?

Each time my parents surpassed a conflict, after each wave of tension died down and they roared loudly from where each were at, there was always a new dawn that rekindled their love for one another and there were actually many many more days of laughter and affection than the tension filled days.  My parents commitment to one another was more than just a legal decision to permanently stick to something you signed for on a binding contract.

Each wave my parents’ surpassed was an elevation to a new level of love for one another.  Theirs was the type that seemed to see in each other at least the core value of life of the one they had been the most intimate and vulnerable with, in all the ways two human beings can ever be, with only free will propelling this love forward.

At times, this could be the only reason left when fond memories aren’t enough to make you feel the emotions to keep going, especially after looks fade and the life you once shared is a thing of the past.  Perhaps not everyone, whether single or married, may experience this love.  However, one way to possibly to do so is to plan to turn every statement you have made or may ever make about quitting a good relationship or marriage into a big fat lie and make sure the other person knows you will always be lying about that.

3) My parents’ love knew no boundaries of space and time.

Facing the toughest challenges in a marital or commited relationship may be the key to opening your world up to wormholes, or unimagineable depths of love unlimited by space and time.

The most romantic moments I have ever seen between two people in my life were enacted each time I watched my father patiently feed and clean up after my mother, who would reach over to express gratitude through a wordless but overwhelmingly affectionate soft caress of his arm while they looked into each others’ eyes.

These were the moments that demonstrated to me why couples ride waves of tension together, loud as the ride may be, then ride another one, and another one until there are no more.  They way my parents looked into each others’ eyes during moments like this was the same way they used to look at each other in younger years when both were able bodied and able to travel, eat and move about freely.  Their love for each other was timeless.

There is one date I remember my parents used to reminisce about before my mother’s stroke.  What was cute was the way they would each separately talk about a certain date they had for one of their anniversaries in Seoul, S. Korea.  They each, separately, would fondly talk about the same details of that evening: the ceiling painted with clouds, the beautiful and blonde haired harpist playing in the corner and the overall pleasant ambience of the restuarant, all working together as the backdrop of the wonderful time they had with each other that evening – an evening they would both jokingly describe as, “like being in heaven.”  Almost 30 years later, my parents still reminisced about this evening with the same fondness for this moment they shared in time.  

Today, my father recounts the same evening with the same fondness and sentimental value, smiling and laughing at the same details that have only partially illustrated what seems to be a whole universe of an eternal evening full of very special moments for both.

It is as if there is a wormhole my parents frequently travelled through because the quality of excitement in my parents eyes, voice and smile they would reminisce with about that one fancy and special anniversary date was always fresh. It was as if that date always just happened the evening before, even after almost 30 years later in a completely different country, right from the comforts of a bedroom set up for an elderly person with a disability.  

My father says, “you don’t know how deeply you can love someone until you serve them.”  Perhaps it is this level of love that helps to makes special moments like this anniversary date eternal.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that a married couple tested through the challenges of caregiving and disability, can keep special moments like this fresh and alive.  Facing the toughest challenges in a marital or commited relationship may be the key to opening up your world up to wormholes, or unimagineable depths of love unlimited by space and time.

In the realm of love, there is space for life that never ends if you don’t let it die with drastic changes in a your beloved’s physical condition or last breath.  In the realm of love, space and time do not serve as limitations but as mere background details for eternal moments.  In the realm of love, being real includes forever.


About the Author

© Myra Dumapias and The Last Boarding Call. 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 (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.


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


[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,


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.