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The Send-Off to Adulthood: A Parent’s Journey through University Transition Pt 1

Send Off Part One - Large

The journey of sending off your child to college, joining the military or other life transitions after graduation from high school can be one of the most emotionally excruciating transitions as well as proud moments for parents or parental figures.  Just as there is nothing that truly compares to all a person puts into raising a child as a parent or guardian, there is nothing that truly compares to all a person adjusts to at the point when their young adult embarks on the bridge to their own life.

This will be the first in a series designed to help the parent, with some insights available for the young adult, through the college transition as I go through this transition myself.  It is important to discuss here because caregivers, especially sandwich generation caregivers, can play other roles in life which should also be acknowledged.  As an adult Third Culture Kid, some of what I share will be especially helpful to adult TCKs and adult Cross Culture Kids, but this series is written for all going through this transition.  For the college-bound and college students with a global nomad background and for parents as figures of support through this transition, Tina Quick’s The Global Nomad’s Guide to Univeristy Transition is a valuable resource.  

This series will be about the transition parents go through in redefining their role as parents and their relationships with their young adult children entering college.  The voice used in this series will be genuine and from the moment of experiencing these things and not only after I have processed each stage of the journey.  I hope that by doing this, it can prepare some of you for what you may experience and give affirmation that you are not alone. 

Part One –  What I Wish Someone Warned Me About the Send Off: Perspectives from my RAFT

Tomorrow, my son will be moving into what will be his dwelling place for the next two semesters.  Preparing for it involved preparing him as well as myself.    In the few weeks leading up to this day, I started doing what becomes instinctive for parents, preparing your child for all the practical things for college living.  As any other parent, raising my son itself was preparing him for this moment and my style of parenting always involved using big and small opportunities to equip him with various skill sets and useful knowledge both practical and for social relationships.  That was the teacher in me.  The TCK in me started to refer to the Pollock-Van Reken RAFT (detailed below*) from Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds as a type of “checklist” and Quick’s Guide to ensure I was preparing him holistically.


Because you don’t stop being a parent to your child as a young adult and your child will not stop being your child, it is equally important for parents to also build a RAFT for themselves through this transition as well.  


Tina Quick does a very thorough job in laying out how to build a RAFT* to support the college bound student and has a useful chapter for parents about the diverse range of what can be expected in the parent-child relationship during the summer before college and the adjustment period after college starts.  I want to add that because you don’t stop being a parent to your child as a young adult and your child will not stop being your child, it is equally important for parents to also build a RAFT for themselves through this transition as well.

Not only is it important to move through this transition and avoid unresolved grief, the importance of which Pollock and Van Reken discuss in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.  For the relationship between the parent and child to evolve in a fruitful way, the parent must also have a way to process the internal transition of redefining the role as a parent as well as the external relationship with the child.

The RAFT* for parents going through this transition may look different for each parent and parent-child relationship due to different parenting styles, cutural standards and ways of expressing oneself.   There are four things I wish to share about the internal process of redefining my role as a parent, which some parents may need to prepare and establish a support system for as they move through this transition on their RAFT. 

I wish someone warned me that I’d feel actual pangs of hollowness that come and go during the transition to sending off your adult child to college.  This most likely also applies when a parent sends off an adult child joining the military, or moving elsewhere to start some other life transition.  I’m here to tell you that it’s going to hurt, at least for a period while you are adjusting.  Years ago, I knew this was going to be hard. However, knowing it is going to be hard is not the same thing as the actual emotional experience of it. It’s not a constant non-invasive phase in the adjustment process that you just have to wait out. It can be an actual pang that you feel that you have to really work through.


I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.


Daily regular activities, like falling asleep, waking up, walking around the house, turning on the faucet suddenly felt hollow.  I found myself in tears at the thought that the house would suddenly be lacking my son’s piano and guitar playing at various times during the day or late at night while I fall asleep, for longer periods of time while he is living elsewhere.  Not being able to walk into his room to say good night face-to-face while he hugged and kissed me back as a little child, through the later years of a more detached “good night mom,” (with a now-please-let-me-have-some-privacy” tone typical of teens forming their own identity) feels really lonely.  It’s not just a sleep over either.  I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.  Much of the difficulty of this transition is the emotional process of what you conceptually prepared for.


“Home” to me always meant having my son at home physically.  The knowledge that he will be elsewhere for an extended period of time is an emotional dichotomy.


I wish someone warned me that “home” will become more fluid from now on.  Building and maintaining a home is a major aspect of the role of parenthood.  The concept of home by default involves an identification of who comes home to the home.  This is why the little things like falling asleep, turning on a faucet, and other little things I do daily at home suddenly feels sad.  The layout of the physical house is the same and realtionally, I am still my son’s mom.  However, “home” to me always meant having my son at home physically.  The knowledge that he will be elsewhere for an extended period of time is an emotional dichotomy. I’ve taken for granted that the house will always have his presence, perhaps not rationally, but emotionally.   Home now will have to be where we will be together even though some parts of the year, we’re apart.  Yet “home,” at least as the physical place where you are not a visitor, will also remain “home” for my son when he is back, even though during the school year while he has his belongings elsewhere, he is technically “visiting.”

Home now will be different for my son and for me. It will not be in the same physical location, but emotionally, being home is also when we are together, whether I visit or he visits.  A physcal home that has history of us being together under the same roof is an option but not necessarily obsolete because we will be geographically apart.  Home now involves different aspects that will require fluidity.  While it was more simplistic to have home be the same as each others physically and relationally, this redefintion of home is as genuine and significant, but it is a painful process right now.

I wish someone warned me that the change in my role as a mother is really rough emotionally.  This is another thing that is easier to have a concept of than to actually experience.  Ive taken it for granted that my grocery list will always plan to feed my son as a member of the household.  It feels lonely to think that I can still buy things for him, but I will be sending it as a care package while he is away.  The same goes for managing his education.  When he graduated from high school, I graduated from having his mandatory education under my watch.  It all should be a completely freeing feeling, but at this point right now, it is still a shock to my system and I was not asking to be liberated from it all.  This adjustment is hard emotionally even though rationally I knew this was coming up.


There doesn’t seem to be an instinct for ceasing to guide and protect and it takes an emotional effort to adjust this instinct for the college years and beyond.


While raising my son,  whenever an opportunity arose that I could use to teach him a new skill, I would, such as how do a simple repair for a toilet leak, how to change oil in a car, how to prepare a healthy meal, and how to manage and balance time between what you’d like to do vs what you have to do.  Logically and instinctively, my interaction with my son was always in preparation for him to become independent.  The guidance and protection parts of my role as a parent involved my behavior and my speech being geared towards him ultimately separating and having the skills and knowledge to care for himself independently.  I believe it’s a primal instinct to do this, as much as nurturing and loving a child is.  

It’s still a shock to my system however, to be at this point of my role of what I’ve been doing instinctively for almost 18 years coming to an end.  There doesn’t seem to be an instinct for ceasing to guide and protect and it takes an emotional effort to adjust this instinct for the college years and beyond.  I understand that he has some basic skills now to be independent but it still feels anti-instinctual to just cease what I’ve been doing.  It seems that I will need to work on making the guidance role more subdued from now on and hope that the seeds I have planted for practical, emotional, relational, spiritual, financial, physical and other purposes will just continue to grow.  


…Knowing it is going to be hard is just a surface scratch to the actual pain of experiencing it.  You may need to prepare a serious support system for or plan coping mechanisms ahead of time for to get you through the “hollow pangs.”


I wish someone warned me about the pain and sadness that come before the victories and celebration.  People always talk about the end result, “It was hard but I adjusted.” “Now, he has his bachelor’s degree and he’s about to start a paid internship that can lead to a permanent job. I’m so proud of him!”   I’m here to tell you that before all of that, you may go through a period of extreme sadness.  Years ago, I knew this was going to be hard. But knowing it is going to be hard is just a surface scratch to the actual pain of experiencing it.  You may need to prepare a serious support system for or plan coping mechanisms ahead of time for to get you through the “hollow pangs.”

Before I close, I want to also share how the RAFT may look for the internal adjustment for the parent and the parent-child relationship.

The RAFT stands for the following:  

R= Reconciliation, which “includes both the need to forgive and be forgiven” (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., Third Culture Kids, Growing Up Among Worlds, 2009. p. 182.).  

A= Affirmation, which involves “the acknowledgement that each person in (a) relationship matters,” (Pollock, S. and Van Reken, R. 2009. p 182) including family members, significant adult figures or role models, and friends.

F= Farewells, which includes farewells to “people, places, pets, and possessions” (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., 2009. p 183).

T= Think Destination, which refers to considering what you need to prepare for both “internal… and external…resources for coping with problems” that may be encountered after arriving at your next destination.  (Pollock, D. and Van Reken, R., 2009. p. 184).

The following is my application of the Pollock-Van Reken RAFT for the internal process of this transition as a parent and between the parent-child relationship:


Some of this may not need to happen before your child leaves, but if anything is unresolved, it could determine how your child will visit after leaving.


Reconciliation –  If there are unresolved matters that have weighed heavily on the relationshp between you as the parent and your child, it would be healthy to address them with the goal of coming to terms with it before your child goes to college.  Some of this may not need to happen before your child leaves, but if anything is unresolved, it could determine how often your child will want to visit after leaving.  

Internally, if there are any areas where you as a parent need to forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made, it is also important to work through them if you have not yet.  No parent is perfect and we all have made mistakes.  If you need to seek forgiveness from your child, it may help to do this before your child leaves because again, it may determine how your child visits after leaving. 

Affirmation – Communicating about the various significant pleasant memories from the time spent with your child and what you cherish about your bond with your child can help affirm special aspects of your child’s character and personality.  This may help how he or she relates and builds relationshps with new people he or she will be encountering.  

Internally, it is important to cherish and congratulate yourself for your own accomplishment that led up to this new life stage for your child.  Before that may happen, however, it may be important to acknowledge and validate for yourself the losses you feel during this transition.  In a way, sharing what has been painful through this process is a way of grieving them so that I can move forward.  I invite you to also reflect on, allow yourself to completely feel and, if you feel comfortable, share here what are the hardest moments for you.

Farewells –   As far as the farewells my son and I face together, looking back, we have always done this throughout my son’s chldhood and adolescence as he entered each new stage of his development.  We often discuss changes in his relationships with people in his life.  We have reminisced about special places that have come and gone. My son isn’t the type to be attached to a geographical place unless there is significant memories attached to it, which may now be more associated with moments with his friends.  We are in the process of determining how I will takeover his share of care for the pets.  I will need to let go of certain souvenirs from his childhood. 

Internally, I am still working through this.  Much of what I share above is what I am working through as I bid farewell to how parenting has been for me, in sharp contrast to my role now as a parent of a college student. It was a reassuring experience for me, however, when I was present during one of the times my son hung out with close friends. My son as well as his friends seem to be very genuine about their friendships yet realistic about how often they will be seeing each other.  My son also has taken intiative to bid farewell to other special people in his life he has not seen in a while before leaving and has made efforts to make sure I will be ok. All of this is helping me with my own farewell to my previous role as a mother.

Think Destination –  Between my son and me, we have discusssed how he and I each feel about the next stage in life. I told him about the plans I have for starting a business on the side that involves something he’s known that I love doing and the possible nearby cities I plan to transition to after he leaves for college.  Yes, I’ve also expressed how much I miss him (probably more than I should have), but I hope that I have also expressed well enough about other passions and goals that I have.

Internally, the emotional impact of how my parental role will change is what I have been avoiding.  My son has resources for the next stages of his life, but internally for me, it’s completely foreign territory. I’ve been in college.  As much as my dad now will guide me through this transition, I have never been through it.  What I can say at this point is that translating the instinct I’ve had in equipping him with skills and knowledge that will help him take care of himself into  equipping him for this next life stage is what propels me forward emotionally. I just have to attach new emotions to this stage that involve more unfamiliarity and change. Each step of parenting as your child ages is new of course, but this transition is completely different.


There is no emotional “pre-nup” equivalent for the parent-child relationship. There isn’t supposed to be one.


Although I wished people warned me about how tough this transition can be, I think that in the end, the emotional process of this would still be difficult.  There is no emotional “pre-nup” equivalent for the parent-child relationship. There isn’t supposed to be one.  For those also going through what I am, we are supposed to risk feeling this pain because becoming a parent involved an investment of so much of ourselves.  There shouldn’t be some type of safeguard to prevent parents from feeling the pain when letting go.  If others are going through the same thing as I am about to go through tomorrow, please know I am going through this with you and yes, it hurts like crazy.  Allow yourself to experience it and as you move forward, I will be also. Grab your tissues, let it out, reach out for your support system and find all the strength you have within you to get through this.  And we will get through this.

 

 

TCKs and The Twilight Zone

“Message in a Bottle” by Kraftwerck

Once in a while it’s important to reflect on how significant personal journeys start, particularly the one that initiaited with what means to be a TCK.  This blog was started was to be a resource for Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and the cross culture community.  This article, Where Everybody Is: TCKs  and The Twilight Zone, written for global magazine Culturs, published in April of 2015, is just that: a reflection on the TCK identity.

 

No matter what country I was living in while growing up, there was one television show that was constant and served as “comfort TV”:  Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and it so happens that the first episode touches on Third Culture Kid themes.

(***SPOILER ALERT for those who have not yet watched this episode!***)

Recently, I decided to search for the first episode to see how this classic TV show, which had me glued to the TV screen for each airing in any language at any age, started.  Of all the topics in the science-fiction-psychological thriller-fantasy-suspense, short-story-with-a-twist-at-the-end world, Rod Serling started this classic TV program, which first aired in 1959, with the theme of aloneness in Where Is Everybody?  

In this first episode, a man wanders into a completely deserted but fully functioning town he doesn’t recognize, with no memory of who he is, how he got there or why the town is empty.  The town is complete with running electricity, shops open for business, and cars as if they had just been parked.  In a diner, the man finds freshly prepared food and a burning cigar resting on an ashtray, but like everywhere else in town, nobody is around.  The man, dressed in an Air Force suit, roams through the town looking for anyone to talk to. However, he only ends up speaking to himself and gets as far as figuring out part of his identity when he sees a movie poster of a film based on the real life experience of Air Force pilot Col. Dean Hess.

At one point in the episode, the man says outloud, hoping for anyone to hear him, “You see, there’s some question about my identity.  Let me put it to you this way, I’m not sure who I am.”  Finally, he breaks down and starts despereately asking for help. At the end, the reality of who and where he is is revealed.

The plot twist in this The Twlight Zone episode involves references to isolation and the American entrepreneurial spirit in space travel.  A quick Google search about the days of the original airing dates of the The Twilight Zone  shows that they were aired every Friday at the time.  This episode, originally aired on October 2, 1959 may or may not have given a one-year anniversary homage to NASA, which “began operations on October 1, 1958” after being established through the National Aeronautics and Space Act signed by President Eisenhower on July 29, 1958.  There is more to be said about the political and historical context about the purposes behind American space travel at the time, especially during the Cold War, but to summarize a few, part of the purposes include: representation, opportunity and positioning.

The general reasons why Third Culture Kids (TCKs) grew up in different countries are due to a similar entrepreneurial spirit.  In most circumstances, global expansion can be seen as a socio-economic-political after-effect of historical Western expansion and imperialism, if considering the root reasons of how TCKs and the parents who raise TCKs came to international assignments in the first place.  The series of developments leading up to the economic structures and globalization trends we know today have roots in the economic intentions colonialists like Christopher Columbus and other settlers had in seeking new territory for expansion.  Although not all intentions for international assignments are imperialistic in nature, of course, the economic relationships between the global North and South and the context of international commerce cannot be divorced from the past of colonialism.

While there are various sectors within the global nomad community of individuals with families sent on international assignments by host nations as well as individuals with personal economic and other interests, representation, opportunity and/or positioning have been common purposes for international presence, most obviously for the military, corporate and diplomatic sectors.  There are similar, but more faith-based and/or philantrophic intentions for missionaries.  The decisions and options of those who become migrant workers who relocate for a job and others who do not fit the above categories are also influenced by the state of international commerce as we know it today.

Along with the benefits of a cross-cultural life, TCKs can also make personal sacrifices as a result of nations expanding their interests into new frontiers, similar to the man in Where Is Everybody?, who symbolizes the sacrifices NASA astronauts and other employees made as space travel became one of the nation’s priorities. (I left a few details out so you could possibly enjoy some element of surprise if you have not seen it yet).  The children (TCKs) and spouses (Third Culture Adults) of those with a globally mobile career have our share of sacrifices as a result of being sent out to international postings.  TCKs and Third Culture Adults sacrifice stability of the living environment and staying close to family members, such as parents, siblings, other extended family members and, in some cases, children.  TCKs and Third Culture Adults also experience feeling different and isolated as a result of frequently being uprooted, which has the greatest impact during the developmental years, and experiences like feeling like an outsider in your own birth country.  (You may read more about the the experiences of Third Culture Kids in David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken’s Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds)

With the topics of identity loss, isolation and loneliness brought up in Where Is Everybody? and the parallels I saw between the character’s experiences in the episode and expereinces common to TCKs, I could not help but reflect back on the time when I felt so displaced about my own identity and felt so alone because of it.  Throughout the years before I discovered I was a TCK, especially when I was not surrounded by other kids who grew up internationally, I had to internally try to deal with feeling so different by myself in ways I could not even speak to others about because I lacked the language for it at the time.  I could not name my losses and much like this man who was tortured because he did not know who or where he was nor where everybody was, there was a large part of my identity and therefore ability to connect with others with my whole self that was suffocating and suffering.

Even Rod Serling has language for isolation being a serious “enemy”:  “Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in the Twilight Zone.”  Towards the end of the episode, one character states, “The barrier of loneliness — that’s the one thing we haven’t licked yet.”

Without a langauge for my experiences and without acknowledgement of who I genuinely was or what I’ve struggled through as a child, I felt invisible in front of everybody and therefore very alone and isolated, like the man in the Twilight Zone episode.  Without acknowledge of who you are and your personal journey that involved struggle, it can feel like being in a deserted town, speaking only to yourself, questioning your identity and maybe even mental state.  Some throughout the years have been able to only see the “me” that was familiar to them or that they could relate to.  However, they could not see my whole self and everything I fought hard to not be defeated by throughout chidlhood, even though I had no words for it at the time and had no idea how many other people felt the same way I did.

The threat of isolation only points to the very basic need for human connection, which validateswhy TCKs feel the sense of urgency to just be seen, understood and connect.  This is also why today, I am so very grateful for coming across the cross-culture community of global nomads and TCKs.  Thank you to you all who have spoken up and created space for us to connect.  The moment I discovered you all, I was able to start feeling like I knew where everybody was at.

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

LoveCommitmentWormholes_Lrg2

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.

The Gift on My Mom’s First Birthday Since Death

 

Photo credit: "Single" by Linsday

Photo credit: “Single” by Lindsay, used with Creative Commons License

On January 27, 2015, my family lived through the first birthday of my mother after her death.  On that one day, I cried and I laughed.  I bummed around and I got dressed up.  I slowed down enough to get nostalgic and I rushed in between hectic events.  On that day, I learned that I could experience “all of the above” while still grieving.  I also received an unexpected gift.

We celebrated my mother’s birthday in honor of her.  When she was alive and especially when she was able bodied, she used to celebrate the birthdays of loved ones who were far away and who had passed away.  For her, being absent was not an obstacle to celebrating special occasions.  Of course, celebrating special occasions with certain loved ones missing is not the best.  Perhaps my mother learned this as a wife of a career diplomat moving globally as an alternative to the feeling of missing out on everything as an expat.  We celebrated my mom’s birthday in her absence because she did that for so many of us through the years and because we miss her.


I my mind, I needed to stay at home and absorb my mom’s absence on a day that was probably going to be one of the days of the year I would grieve most intensely.


 This year, my mother’s birthday was the same day as a close friend’s wedding.  At first I was hesitant about going.  I was not sure I would be in the right frame of mind or be emotionally energetic enough to attend a wedding.  I thought to myself, “Of all the days in the year, it had to be on her birthday??… How am I supposed to make that decision?”  In my mind, I needed to stay at home and absorb my mom’s absence on a day that was probably going to be one of the days of the year I would grieve most intensely.

However, I surprised myself.  About two weeks before the wedding, I decided to offer my close friend and his fiance a formal wedding portrait package as my wedding gift.  Whatever plans they had for a formal wedding shoot had not yet been solidified so the wedding shoot became useful for the couple.  The desire came naturally and I began to look forward to doing this for my friends on their special day.

Doing the wedding photo shoot was a giant step for me.  The last formal photo shoot I did was at the end of February, 2014, about two weeks before my mom passed away.  That photo shoot took me out of the house for some hours on the last day it turned out she was speaking with full consciousness.  It’s still too painful to count exactly how many hours I was away from her side… it’s a useless and pointless kind of painful.  


I carried around guilt for over ten months because of the timing of when I left the house to do that last photo shoot.


When I came back home that evening, something seemed different about my mom, but I thought she was just tired.  By the next day, her speech and mind slowly began to show signs of deterioration.  I carried around guilt for over ten months because of the timing of when I left the house to do that last photo shoot. I had a hard time looking at the photos from that photography session for a long time.

At this exact time I am writing this sentence, I am realizing now that the wedding photo shoot was a gift from my mom to release me from the guilt I carried around for over ten months.  The timing of the wedding and the fact that my friends did not yet have any offers for a formal wedding photography session came into play for me to learn that I should not stop doing what I love doing.

The question I previously thought to myself is now my answer:  “Of all the days in the year, it had to be on her birthday.”

Because of the wedding, what started off as a day of nostalgia and a sense of homesickness for my mom, ended up being a very full day.  January 27th this year started off with me looking at photos and videos of her birthday from last year shortly after midnight.  When I woke up in the morning, I called one of my mom’s sisters to talk about my mom and the mini celebration my aunt was preparing for the day also.  

I cut fresh roses from our garden and arranged them in various vases on the area we reserved for my mom’s urn.  We set the framed photo of my mom, my dad’s favorite photo of her, the birthday balloon and small birthday cake I got later, in the same area.  I said my birthday wishes to my mom before I rushed out the door for the photo shoot.


My visually creative side was alive again and everything seemed natural to me.  My friends look beautiful in the photos and I am grateful I was there to capture the moment of the day they got married.


The photo shoot was wonderful.  My visually creative side was alive again and everything seemed natural to me.  My friends look beautiful in the photos and I am grateful I was there to capture the moment of the day they got married.  We proceeded to the reception venue and I set up an area for photo sessions for the guests before rushing back home.  My dad, my son and I would be home and awake at the same time only in that window before the wedding reception. 

When I got home, we celebrated my mom’s birthday and took photos together of the occasion before I quickly dressed up for the wedding reception.  I rushed back to the reception wearing an outfit that resembled my mom’s style, including a top she gave me a long time ago.  I used one of her purses that matched my outfit.  I met up with my date at the reception, someone I laugh a lot with, and we just enjoyed the evening. I took photos, I ate, I drank and I was merry.  Within the few hours of the reception, we all created memories that will now always be part of the day my friends got married.


I know my mom would have loved to smell the roses, have some cake, hold the birthday balloon in her hand in her childlike zest for life, and hear all the stories about the rest of the hectic day…(it) makes me cry, but I also smile because she gave me a gift on her birthday.


 At the end of the day, I came home to a quiet house.  But it was also the quiet you get after a full day lived well.  I know my mom would have loved to smell the roses, have some cake, hold the birthday balloon in her hand in her childlike zest for life, and hear all the stories about the rest of the hectic day.  To imagine how it would be to still have her here with us on her birthday makes me cry, but I also smile because she gave me a gift on her birthday.  

On my mom’s first birthday since her death, my mom gave me this message:  “Live days worth telling stories about.”

"Mama's Gift on Her First Birthday Since Death"

On January 27, 2015, I learned I must continue to be present in this life, unpause what I love doing and continue to live out my days knowing it’s ok to miss my mom deeply, but also making sure I don’t miss out on life.

 

Thank you, Mama, for your gift to me on your first birthday since you left us.

We love you, Evangeline Vitug Dumapias, January 27, 1945 – March 15, 2014.

 

Confronting Goodbyes

“Goodbye” by Gybsteria, used with Creative Commons license

[Once in a while, there are some topics that have particular meaning to caregivers or the aging population, but also hold significant meaning to global nomads or Third Culture Kids of different ages.  How we say goodbye is one of these topics.  This article, “Confronting Goodbyes,” was originally published in Culturs, a “global, multi-cultural lifestyle magazine for Global Nomads, Third Culture Kids and racially-, ethnically-, and culturally-blended people.”]

If I had a shirt I could have worn throughout my childhood and teen years of moving around the world, it would spell out these words from my all-time favorite quote: “I hate good-byes.”

Good-byes for me meant leaving countless close friends I could be completely be myself around. I had to constantly leave behind or be left behind by the friends I had sleep-overs with, tape recorded little adventures with, and shared secrets with.  A history of “last times” with friends I grew up with, in one to two-year time spans, perforated the timeline of my days with them.

Good-byes also meant living away from my parents through some childhood years that will never be repeated.  When the tuition of the limited options for English education was beyond my parents’ budget, I at times needed to live with my grandparents and cousins in another country. Political unrest in the country of our expat assignment also sometimes led to the need for me to live away from my parents.


 Frequent goodbyes can make one want to feel numb.  However, I am not. Something always pulled me back to feeling the pain of good-byes each time they happen and I could not figure out why I had not developed a coping mechanism to feel less of the pain as I got older.


 

I also had to let go of favorite places, classes, teachers and school staff, foods, and TV shows.   Good-byes cut short the time I had with loved ones as well as whole environments. This can take a toll on emotions when it’s repeated so frequently and when it occurs before a child or adolescent has had a chance to know what stability feels like.

Frequent goodbyes can make one want to feel numb.  However, I am not. Something always pulled me back to feeling the pain of good-byes each time they happened and I could not figure out why I had not developed a coping mechanism to feel less of the pain as I got older.  I took psychology courses in college and learned more about human development in my graduate education for social work.

None of the theories or case study exercises ever seemed to satisfactorily address my sense of grief at goodbyes, the enormity of its effect in my life or the way newer goodbyes, even those I that were unintentionally re-enacted by children around me, were connected to the goodbyes of my youth.

I only figured it out when I experienced the deepest goodbye I have ever experienced in my life thus far: the goodbye journey I had with my mother when she passed away.  It was not until she passed away earlier this year that I reflected on how she said goodbye to me throughout the years.


 …she would watch her loved one not only board a plane, but watch the plane fly away until it was smaller than a dot in the sky.  My mother would watch the car of her loved one drive away until it turned a corner or the tail lights were so far they were less than sparkles at night.


 

My mother would confront each goodbye with me and other loved ones through the very last minute moment of it.  Before the historical event that changed airport security practices worldwide, she would watch her loved one not only board a plane, but watch the plane fly away until it was smaller than a dot in the sky.  My mother would watch the car of her loved one drive away until it turned a corner or the tail lights were so far they were less than sparkles at night.  She would watch my school bus drive away until she could no longer see it after shifting her position or peering around obstacles in her line of sight.

My mother knew how to say goodbye because she did not fear the pain of it.  She confronted the pain of goodbyes in a way that most think unnecessary or too overwhelming to tolerate.  It seems almost unthinkable how a wife of a foreign service career diplomat who moved so frequently can still be willing to feel the pain of goodbyes.  After making a home for her family and connecting to friends as intimately as she would with her own siblings or children, she would time and again leave behind everything she whole heartedly put herself into.

I wondered, “How did she do that?  How can my mom bear the pain over and over again?  How can it not tear her down to wanting to just give a little less the next time around and even less after that?”

When I think about my parents’ last foreign assignment, in Bahrain, I am even more bewildered.  It was at this last post that my mothers’ capacity to connect to people seemed to shine the brightest.  Her own brother mentioned how shocked he was at the countless number of my mother’s genuine friends during his visit to Bahrain.  In the single setting of a hospital waiting room, my uncle witnessed a diverse pool of visiting friends who were deeply affected when my mother had a major disabling stroke at the age of 57.  The repeated visits of numerous friends arriving in shifts for weeks demonstrated to him a deeper level of friendship than courtesy visits for a diplomat’s wife.

Reflecting back, this meant that instead of giving less of herself after each goodbye, she was able to become even more genuine after each move.


…the reason why my mother was able to connect so well to people was her lack of fear of the pain of goodbyes.  The reason why she faced the pain of goodbyes was so that she could look forward to the next hello again and again…. It was as if she knew she would not run out of what sourced her to keep giving.


 

I grew up noticing how my mother would start a conversation with a stranger and show genuine interest in the stranger’s children and spouse, sibling or aging parents they left behind.  She connected with people of different backgrounds: from the visiting Korean concert pianist who accompanied a world touring Filipino violinist, to the Filipino factory worker, to the photographer for the royal family, to the husband and wife musician team at the hotel, to fellow ambassador wives who also missed their children who were away .  In turn, they connected with her as their mother, dear sister, or aunt.  In person, I have met at least five individuals who called my mother, “mom.”  I am an only child.

It occurred to me that the reason why my mother was able to connect so well to people was her lack of fear of the pain of goodbyes.  The reason why she faced the pain of goodbyes was so that she could look forward to the next hello again and again.  Feeling the pain ensured she was still present and that she had herself to offer again for the next hello with her loved ones as well the next hello with strangers. It was as if she knew she would not run out of what sourced her to keep giving.

My mother grew up in the era when overseas travel involved loved ones parting at a ship dock.  The person on the ship would throw and stay connected with the person at the dock with a string one person would hold on one end and the other person would hold on the other until the string snaps. I believe my mother faced the heart-wrenching emptiness of watching someone leave and withstood the position of being the one left behind because emotionally, she knew she would be ok after feeling the pain.  Finding a way to live with the pain of goodbyes allowed her to spend every last moment possible in the presence of those she loved.  Even to be near enough to the plane that took off was special to her. The cost of the pain in doing things like this was worth it for her.  Perhaps this fueled her until she could make it to the next reunion with loved ones.


 It is healthy to feel pain.  We need to embrace the heart-wrenching pain of goodbyes so that we can embrace the joys of the hellos and the connections that can form from them.


 

We as a Third Culture Kid or global nomad tribe must know that we can be ok after feeling the pain of goodbyes so that we can look forward to the next hellos.  It is healthy to feel pain.  We need to embrace the heart-wrenching pain of goodbyes so that we can embrace the joys of the hellos and the connections that can form from them.

I realized the answer I was looking for just were not in textbooks.  I hated goodbyes and hate the remnants of painful goodbyes from my youth still, but I continue to face them anyway because it is part of the journey of valuing relationships.  Without feeling pain at the last moments with people we value, how do we know we are allowing ourselves to experience the full extent of vulnerability that allows for growth in relationships?  Pain is a miserable emotion, but without it, we miss out on the broad spectrum of life and relational experiences.  Without pain, how do we know we are truly alive?

The entirety of my all-time favorite quote states,

“Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together forever?  Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. And then we have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes… You know what I need? I need more hellos.” (Charles M. Schulz, “Snoopy, Come Home!” 1972, song “It Changes”).

The next time you find yourself dreading goodbyes, consider how your last goodbyes can prepare you to embrace your next hellos.

 

Dedicated to my mom, Evangeline V. Dumapias, who passed away on March 15, 2014 and all wives or husbands who give so much of themselves in their support of a spouse with a globally mobile career.

About the Author

The H Word

HWordImage_2_4211PostEdit

I wanted nothing to do with it what-so-ever.  It was the dirtiest word anyone could ever toss in my direction.  If my mind was ever close to the door where this word was waiting on the other side, I turned around and walked away.  It was a cold arrogant intrusive slap in my face.

When a social worker told me about the option for hospice care for my mother, I immediately thought of the competition businesses for the elderly must find themselves in.  As I listened to the representative for home care services and, on a separate appointment, the representative for hospice care, I thought about what PR skills they must have to “win the bid.”  It wasn’t so much that they were pushing their product, but it was the lack of empathy I saw in their eyes.  As a social worker, I was familiar with the clinical approach they must take and it felt downright dirty to be on the other end of it.

To the social workers and case workers, it was about intake forms, contracts and signatures.  To me, this was a brush with strangers who knew nothing about my mom and how she survived  doctors’ predictions about her death more than once before.  To me, they knew nothing about their client and I did not care to learn more about their product.

I was so angry that I felt numb towards the young hipster doctor who asked me with a perplexed face why we wanted to keep my mother alive the day she was brought into emergency room services.  He assessed the complete value of her life based on her current quality of life within a matter of three, maybe five minutes in front of the persons who had been caring for her every day for several years.  Just the day before, she was telling me about a recipe she concocted that she wanted me to try.

To the emergency room doctor, my mother was a patient in bad shape compared to able bodied patients who were healthier.  He practically left her for almost dead and expressed it.  We were dealing with a young arrogant doctor in unusually short and tight black pants donned in a lab coat of stolen permission to be insensitive in a moment that only lasted several minutes for him.  To me, this was my mother whom I’ve known since the day I was born.

There was also an encounter with a hospital staff worker interrupting my mother while she was sharing some final words with my son.  When I spoke to him on the side, he informed me she was ordered for a move to a different wing of the hospital and assured me the wing they were moving her to was not for dying patients.  We asked for some warning and respect for the moment.  His supervisor insisted she told the family ahead of time but then told me she would speak to the staff after realizing what my main point was.


 Newborns in hospitals have clean and monitored dedicated wards demarcated with huge windows that serve as the greeting place for human beings that meet for the first time.  However, patients who may be facing the end their life and final goodbyes can slip through holes of management that cares little about the patient’s personhood.


 

HWordImage_1_4160PostEditNewborns in hospitals have clean and monitored dedicated wards demarcated with huge windows that serve as the greeting place for human beings that meet for the first time.  However, patients who may be facing the end their life and final goodbyes can slip through holes of management that cares little about the patient’s personhood.  The rest of the world is on pause when you witness the first hours or days of a tiny human being simply breathing, sleeping or moving in the blanket.  No one wants to face the reality of what may be the last last breath, night or movement of someone one has childhood memories with.  When management does not create a system of care for the end of life stage as adequate as that for the beginning of life, there is something drastically and ethically wrong about the picture.

As a way to make it known to the doctors that the family was not giving up the way they seemed to, I took on an advocate role for my mother.  Instinctively and in my spirit and soul, I just knew there was no way God was going to allow things to go down this way.  One day, it would happen, but no way was it going down like this, so suddenly and out of the blue.  No.  Way.

I made it known that it was cultural differences and unfamiliarity with strangers vs. a neurological or mental incapacity that caused my mother to not give the type of answers assessing staff were looking for.  I made it known her life was valuable enough to try anything that wouldn’t put her in greater risk, despite the initial assessment about her life.  I made it known we were capable of helping the nurses with her care becauses they aren’t paid enough and are too overworked to always be by her side.  I made it known the person who gave me life would not go through the end of her life in an environment without dignity.


When certain hospital staff members left the room, my mother would comment, “What? Do they think I’m crazy?! Do they think I don’t understand what they’re saying?”


There was so much spunk left in my mom.  When certain hospital staff members left the room, my mother would comment, “What? Do they think I’m crazy?!  Do they think I don’t understand what they’re saying?”  The first morning after she was admitted, she pointed to an airplane flying in the sky outside her window.  My father, my son and I took a look.  Sure enough, it was there, but only she noticed it from her hospital bed.  It was her usual way of trying to make the time go by.  Throughout the entire time she was hospitalized, she just wanted to go home.

Amidst negative news, there were hospital staff members that helped lighten the situation.   During that intrusive move from one hospital wing to another, a nurse shared her story about how her sister had passed away the year before and how she knew what we were going through.  When my mother was brought out of the emergency room, a Filipino nurse was the first to greet us and it helped my parents feel more at home to hear Tagalog her first night at the hospital.  A respiratory nurse who regularly came in would brush the hair to the side of my mother’s face while they looked into each others’ eyes during breathing treatments.  Towards the very end, the releasing doctor shared his own story about the end of life care for his own father.  During these moments, they all recognized my mother’s personhood.  These encounters helped us see the human side of the hospital staff members also.


During these moments, they all recognized my mother’s personhood.  These encounters helped us see the human side of the hospital staff members also.


When it was time for my mother to be released, it seemed the wisest option was for my mother to be released into home hospice care.  I felt lost and I did not know how to even think about funeral arrangements, but out of concern for my mother’s comfort if she was really about to pass away, home hospice was the best option.  Her physical condition was such that the day of the actual release, my mother’s blood pressure dipped so low that it seemed she might pass before she could even go home.  Hospital staff workers remedied it, perhaps with the goal of prolonging her life just long enough that if it were to happen soon, it would happen within the comforts of her own home.

My mother did not know it at that time, but there was a terrible storm of events happening.  I had to be strong enough to choose the right time to tell my father that her eldest sister had just passed away.  The day my mother was admitted to the hospital, my dear aunt had a stroke and was rushed to the hospital herself.  The day my mother was released from the hospital, my aunt passed away from the stroke, while she was in a coma.  Our larger extended family was going through a terrible time, and my father had to temporarily leave my mother’s bedside in this condition to attend his sister’s funeral.  We experienced multiple losses only a year after one of my father’s younger brothers passed away with cancer.

What served as a blessing was that my mother’s siblings had schedule their visit to see her and it happened to be around the time my father needed to leave for my aunt’s funeral.  It helped my mother cope with my father being gone, who had only explained that he needed to visit his sister.  We told my mother the news of my aunt’s passing when she was physically more stable.  Just being home made a big difference to my mother while my father was away.


 The hospice nurse my mother was assigned to worked and adjusted with us so well that she became an important part of our lives.  It become so clear that home hospice care was one of the best decisions we made for my mother’s life.


 The weekly visits from different hospice staff members throughout the week greatly helped my mother as well as my father.  The hospice nurse my mother was assigned to worked with and adjusted to us so well that she became an important part of our lives.  My father looked forward to their visits.  It become so clear that home hospice care was one of the best decisions we made for my mother’s life.  My mother actually healed from the two main conditions that placed her into hospice care.  There was a third condition that we continued to monitor and there were a few other health issues that popped up, but the nurse helped us through them all in ways we simply were not trained for.  What I also cherish is how my mother developed relationships with the hospice staff members who came regularly. They got to know her as someone who made them all laugh so hard and someone who genuinely cared about them and their loved ones.

My mother’s time in home hospice was most likely the best way she could have left us.  Ultimately, my mother ended up being on hospice care for a little over one year and one month.   For a while I even thought she would disqualify for hospice care.  She was able to witness another full year of birthdays, watch her grandson meet more milestones as a young teenager, and spend more quality time with all of us.  The cause of her death was not ruled to be related the health conditions that originally placed her into hospice care.    It seemed that it was just time for her to go.

My mother knew it was her time and she demonstrated she had peace about it before the rest of us in the family did.  My mother was able to say her goodbyes and final requests in the comforts of her own home.  She expressed concern to the hospice chaplain about my father as the one who was most adamant against her passing, but was ready herself.   When it came close to her time, she lost her ability to speak.  Yet, my mother still managed to communicate her goodbyes and final thank-yous to the hospice staff workers.  One hospice worker bid her regular farewell, “Dios te bendiga.  See you next week.”  My mother shook her head, but seemed to want to say thank you among a few other things.  I found myself translating to hospice workers during their final visits what she wanted to say, as if I had a different set of ears to hear what she would otherwise be speaking out loud.   She gave a thank-you-and-goodbye pat on the hand of the hospice nurse as her condition progressed and the nurse knew what it meant.  My mother had help with pain management, oxygen and other tools that made the final days bearable for her.

As a family, we let my mother know she was never alone the days leading up to the last moment.  We did not want to say goodbye, but we eventually came to accept it was better for her to pass away in peace than be concerned about our lack of peace and our unpreparedness. My father began to come around to speaking to her about letting go if it was truly God’s will it was her time.  I also assured her that I would take care of the family and make sure her husband whom she knew as a child and whom she was married to for 47 years would be alright.  As a daugher I also shared my farewells.  Within a couple hours after my  son spent time with her and bid his final farewells, she passed away.  My father, my son and I surrounded my mother, holding her hands, praying for her and telling her we love her during her last breaths and final movements.   It was as if she was waiting for all of us to have peace.

Things would have been different without home hospice care.  I learned so much about something that used to be such an object of aversion for me.  What I thought was synonymous with giving up was actually just a different context to keep trying everything that would not put her in greater risk or otherwise end in a bleaker situation.

The H word stands for hospice, but also for hope and for home.  

 About the Author

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)

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© 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.