Generations that cared for their children often need to be cared for by their children and grandchildren. Susan Laird, the toddler in this photo from 1967, is caring for her mom, Janet Laird, who is recovering from transverse myelitis. Photo courtesy of Susan Laird

Spotlight Columns

Life transitions, the art of living simply and the importance of ‘The Present Moment’

By From page B2 | June 13, 2012

There are stages in all of our lives: a time to be born, a time to die. Between those two points in time there is the “stuff” life is made of: childhood, school, the high school and college years, family life, friends, growing older. The list goes on and on.

I’m now at the “sandwich” stage of life. Much as I wish this was about delicatessen delicacies, it’s not. The Sandwich Generation, loosely defined, is that group of people who are still raising a family (or supporting kids in college) while taking on the additional responsibility of caring for aging parents.

My mom, a healthy widow of 72 years, was struck by a condition called “transverse myelitis” on April 25. This auto-immune disorder attacks the spinal cord. Only 100 people per year are affected nationwide. There is no known cause. Within 24 hours Mom was a quadriplegic.

And my entire family’s life was changed.

The good news is Mom has every reason to learn how to walk again in the next 12 to 18 months. She’s regained much of the use of her arms. Hands and feet are slower. The central nervous system, I’m told, is the slowest part of the human body to heal itself.

The challenging news for all of us is this: As a family, things have to change.

I stepped down from a full-time job in Sacramento because Mom will need 24-hour care for several months. I’ll be the caregiver, taking care of physical needs, making the rounds with doctors and therapists and taking care of anything else that needs taking care of as Mom recovers.

My daughter got two jobs at Seton Hall University to supplement her merit scholarship and she is looking into other options to take care of the balance of her tuition.

My husband is taking care of Mom’s house for the next year because Mom really wants to go home eventually. And we don’t want her to lose her home.

Mom, for her part, is a real saint. She wishes that she wasn’t putting us in this situation, and she is doing all she can to work hard in her physical and occupational therapy sessions to re-learn how to do the very things we each take for granted. She prays for others — a lot.

Will this be a rough time? Sure. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

Will this be a blessing in our family? Absolutely. Blessings are pouring out in abundance.

The initial blessing was: “We still have Mom, and Mom’s still got all her marbles.” We have a second chance to appreciate each other and to say the things that need to be said … whatever that may be.

The second blessing, for me, has been the emptying out of my house as I prepare to welcome Mom in for her 12- to 24-month rehab period.

I always knew I had too much “stuff.” I wasn’t a hoarder, but I simply would put things off for another day. I put off a lot. Well, that day has come … and as I’ve gone through boxes and boxes of ephemera I’ve had to ask myself, “Why did I keep all this? I don’t need any of it.”

Mahatma Gandhi taught, “Live simply, so others may simply live.” I have a greater appreciation for the beauty — the art — of simplicity and what is truly needed in life. I plan to continue to simplify my life as much as possible. It’s an ongoing lesson I’m learning.

Finally, the greatest blessing Mom and my family are receiving is the support of a worldwide community of friends. Through local churches, Rotary, the writing world, the tri-county area and social media, friends and strangers have shared their love, wisdom, prayers and support for ideas and resources. I had no idea we were so rich in the quality of our friends. It is a humbling realization. We are blessed.

The past is the past.

The future is something we can only prepare for, and it is promised to no one.

What matters most is how we handle the “Present Moment.” Today.

As the Romans said, “Carpe Diem” — Seize the Day. Hug your family. Do a good deed for a stranger. Pray. And appreciate the beauty and true wealth that surround you.

Send your event for consideration in Susan’s column to [email protected].

Susan Laird


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