THE BLOG
08/26/2013 07:25 am ET | Updated Oct 26, 2013

Life After 50: A Sandwich By Any Other Name...

There are many words we could pull out of our hats to describe a woman over 50 with kids who still need her (whether they're living at home or not) AND parents who need her, too, sometimes even more.

A lot of us are members of that so-called 'sandwich generation' which, in my mind, always conjures up images of peanut butter and jelly coddled (or squished) between two pieces of equally important slices of bread (preferably whole wheat).

I prefer, though, to think of it in other terms: as an Oreo cookie . . . and I'm the yummy cream in the middle being hugged by two sets of sweeties.

But when you throw in work, partner, home, friends, community, dog, YOURSELF (yes, YOU!) . . . perhaps a '7-layer cake' is a more appropriate analogy.

Your "new normal" is very possibly some variation of mine: My youngest daughter is a sophomore in high school and is filled with angst about grades and sports and friends and boys and fitting in, and well, just about everything an almost 16 year old might be.

My oldest daughter, the one who finds it the hardest to live separated by several hours from her family, is heading back soon for the second year of college. She's comforted knowing there's FaceTime, texting, and a less-than-two-hour-drive, as am I.

My mother and mother-in-law were diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year, and one has spiraled downward so quickly, our heads are spinning. Adding to our grief, my mother-in-law recently transitioned to home hospice care. We watch and wait and wonder "when?" . . . as we administer the morphine and plan for the inevitable outcome. Sound familiar?

Every day, life makes demands on me, most of which I love: volleyball games to attend or help with homework, meals to prepare, bills to pay, household "things" to take care of, a dog to be walked. They all comfort me.

And, there's work. I am fortunate to have a career I genuinely love but it's often hard to focus and truly give my best when other people and their very real needs swirl from my peripheral vision to front and center, causing episodes of guilt to well up if I haven't given them my attention.

Until recently, when it became clear they were no longer necessary, I took my mother-in-law to doctors appointments and many weeks of daily radiation treatment. And, too frequently -- or not frequently enough -- (I'm not sure which), I can be found cruising south along Rt. 13 on the 8-hour drive to Virginia (with earbuds glued to my head so I can carry on with life via iPhone without skipping a beat) to spend a few days or weeks with my mother so my sister can take a break to focus on her own '7-layer cake'.

For the moms, medications are carefully counted and placed in "day-of-the-week" plastic pill dispenser boxes, blood sugar levels checked, bills paid, doctor appointments made, caregiver schedules confirmed and so on.

For the daughters, as long as they know I'm there for them, they seem to be just fine. They also know right now . . . I'm counting on that.

For my sister-in-law, who has witnessed her once-vibrant mother succumb to the double whammy and grave indignities of Alzheimer's and cancer, I cry every day, and let her know that I truly understand.

I move seamlessly from one woman to another, giving them each what I hope they need, when they need it, thanks to computers, iPhones, and my husband.

My maternal grandmother, an immigrant from Germany with whom I was very close, was the matriarch of a family comprised of hardworking, tough women, of which I am one. There's us . . . and then there's him. He watches a bit from the sidelines, my husband does, in awe and wonder (he told me not long ago), ready to jump in with support, whenever it's needed.

But, instinctively he knows it's me that the other women in his life need most right now, as each one negotiates the unknown.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

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For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70...) check out The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More and www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman. Check out my video series-The Best of Everything-on the AARP YouTube Channel.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

7 Tips For Caregivers