written by
Sabrina Johnson

SURVIVING MOTHERHOOD: FROM THE EYES OF A SANDWICH CAREGIVER

Narrative motherhood caregiver 4 min read , May 4, 2022

Hello!

In honor of Mother's Day and being both a mother and someone who cares for their mother, I thought I would reintroduce myself with a month-long segment of "SURVIVING MOTHERHOOD: FROM THE EYES OF A SANDWICH CAREGIVER."

My oldest son, Thor, was two when my dad was diagnosed with ALS, and he spent the next two years as my travel buddy going to visit his Papa weekly. Together I transitioned as a daughter losing her dad and a mom explaining a terminal illness to a toddler.

When I picture myself as a "Sandwich Caregiver," I joke that my sandwich is a Peanut Butter, Banana, and Honey sandwich. It is ooey, gooey, and does not make sense until you try it, and then you will never want to go back to a sandwich that keeps your hands clean.

My youngest, Ashton, was two weeks old when my dad passed away.

As a family, we were getting used to the new routine of life without the man who glued us together when we found out that a preventative screening returned positive.

Less than two years after losing my dad and a few months after my mom settled into her new home, she received the surprise of a lifetime when her doctor called to tell her that she had Colon Cancer.

When my dad was first diagnosed, I instantly went into logistics mode. I turned off the emotional side and kept pushing my fears, anxiety, and heartbreak further down into what I thought was a deep and dark hole.

I later found out that the hole was not a bottomless pit and that one day every emotion you have put off from feeling, every fear, all the anxious thoughts, the moments of heartbreak, will all come rushing back.

I also found out that you have no control over when those emotions show up, how long they stay, or how hard it is to catch your breath after the first time it catches you off guard.

As a teacher by trade, we felt that homeschooling for Kindergarten would be the best and safest option for our family. Little did we know when we decided in the summer that comes fall, it would be the most flexible schedule as well, which was well needed once we found out my mom was sick.

One of the craziest things about caregiving is how fast you can go from not being one to being so deep into the role you forget what life was like before you spent most nights googling new science terminology.

Having two parents with two different illnesses is a lot like having two children. There is a comfort in knowing your schedule is now based on a doctor's schedule and that you do not know when you will sleep without worry again.

I enjoyed that I had the prior knowledge of what it took to give care, just like what it took to be a parent. But, just like being a parent, the moment you think you know something, you don't know anything at all.

I knew ALS. I knew what was coming; I knew what to expect. Cancer, on the other hand, I did not know. I did not know the ins and outs of chemotherapy, what questions to ask, and what to expect.

ALS was like my first child. The one I spent years already getting to know, and now with Cancer as my second child, I was more scared because I knew how much work went into caregiving.

My natural reaction to turning the logical side on hyperspeed was almost immediate. I needed to remind myself that if I turned off the emotional side today, it would only make tomorrow harder.

At that moment, I was extremely thankful that Cancer was my second. I knew what would happen if I shut down. I learned the mistakes from my first and knew the only way to care for myself this time around was to remind myself to feel in the moment.

The role of a Sandwich Caregiver is ooey and gooey. The conversations you need to have with your parents are just as tricky as the ones you need to have with your children. Throughout May, I will go deeper into things I needed to find within myself as both a mother and a daughter.

The most challenging role of a Sandwich Caregiver is the one you have with yourself. The conversations you will have with yourself become the most complex, and finding the words for your feelings may seem impossible most days. The role of a Sandwich Caregiver is a role one does not apply for; it is not one that you go searching to become, but it will become the most life-transforming role in your life, and I hope to make you feel a little more okay knowing other moms are out there not feeling okay at times too.

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