HUMANS 101

For the Sandwich Generation, Life Is Often a Cascade of Crises

They say to put on your own oxygen mask first. When the hell am I supposed to do that?

Sarah Stankorb
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readSep 24, 2021

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Photo by Renns Art on Unsplash

We were waiting for X-rays. When I got home from work, our 19-year-old cat was hobbling on three legs, gingerly hoisting a back foot at a pathetic angle. I’d rushed her to the emergency vet. She howled. My heart couldn’t take losing her now, though age and reason factored it a possibility.

About a month ago, my father broke his hip — this is likely why my mind leapt to that particular, catastrophic breakage. The time since has been a relentless, daily cascade of practical duties (did we empty their fridge? Turn off the cable?), calls to coordinate care, repetitive calls from one parent who forgets the conversation moments after it’s been had, and another in respite care I can hardly track down due to her new social schedule. After years basically shut in their house due to limited mobility, the sheer freedom of a single, flat floor, ready wheelchair, and social activities have meant my mother is experiencing joy and fun she could not have in their rickety, old home.

One is a mess; the mess is saving the other.

In the vet’s office, my phone rang with my father’s cell number, again. Some days it’s three or four calls, some days 12. He has nothing to do but heal and fixate each day on a new anxiety. “I can’t do this now,” I said to my husband.

Our elderly cat was, in her way, what made my husband and me into a family. All those years ago, we were two recent college grads in a one-bedroom apartment, struggling financially, wanting to spend what little extra we had nurturing and growing a little life. She observed our first cohabitation spats, tried to sneak out of the apartment daily. She’s so small now, fragile-looking.

I hit ignore on my dad’s call. We’d talked about the cable box twice already that day, and a few times the day before. I’d talk to him once we knew the prognosis for the cat.

In a way, the cat and my father’s call showed the bookends of my adult life. She’s aged with us, acting like a fierce, feline guardian over our son, loving our daughter, tolerating the other cats…

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Sarah Stankorb
Human Parts

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb www.sarahstankorb.com