Contemplating on the term “sandwich generation,” (usually translated as one who is involved in taking care of both their elderly parents and their children) leaves me filled with respect and gratitude. Mostly people think of the difficulties the one in between caring for both parents and children must encounter; however, like any good sandwich, without a tasty filling one is left with just the bread.
The first time I was exposed to the “sandwich generation”, I was too young to understand the term and doubt I had even heard it. But I was to experience it first hand as a topping on the sandwich or was I the trimmings underneath? When I was a little girl of 3 or 4 years old, my parents emigrated. My father went on ahead to settle his work and find an apartment or house for us, while my mother, sister and I went to stay with my grandparents, thus making them an amazing filling to the family sandwich. My granny was caring for her elderly mother at the time, but lovingly opened her home to us too.
My grandmother’s new role made a lasting impression on me. One memory that stands out in my mind is of the afternoons that both my great-grandmother and I needed to take an afternoon nap – my great-granny due to her senior years and me due to being young. I felt it a great honour and privilege to rest on my great granny’s bed, nestled in her loving arms. What a sweet memory was formed of her reading to me prior to us both drifting off to our well needed sleep.
When still a little girl, my great-granny returned her special soul to Hashem, leaving a huge loss to all of us. But my grandmother’s enormous love and respect for her mother meant her job was not yet complete. You see my great-grandmother had been the eldest of six siblings. One of her sisters and her husband were not blessed with children and my granny was like a surrogate child to them.
So it was that some years later when we found ourselves back in the city where my grandparents lived, my grandmother once again fulfilled the role termed sandwich generation. This time she visited and cared for her surrogate mother (or aunt) while also helping her daughter all she could. When my mother was ill or had to work late, it was not even a question – the one to care for us was our loving granny. However, my grandmother was a busy lady who also spent much time doing all she could for her aunt. So she combined her tasks. How?
Being involved in charity work – if my mother needed someone to care for us, my grandmother just included us in her work. She would never tell her daughter that she had no time or another arrangement; instead we became part of the picture. So it was that my granny taught me what to do at a street collection. My granny also taught me much more like the importance of opening ones home to guests be they her husband’s work associates or ladies from a women’s guild. Other than learning how she ran a clean, tidy, efficient home filled with hospitality, I gained in the many visits to my great aunt.
Once again, many special memories were developed and my aunt very quickly became like a second granny. Her home was always open to us, to such an extent that when we found ourselves living round the corner from her, even my dog took himself off for a walk to visit Aunty Lily.
The art of uniting both roles and responsibilities, my grandmother did so naturally that when my grandparents became elderly, my mother simply stepped into her mother’s shoes. It was not even a question, both ones parents and ones children need and deserve love and care, and so helping one, was part of helping the other and vice?versa.
Yes, there are times that the role of caring for the generations above and below one, do lead to difficult decisions to be made. Such as, when my sister who lives in a different country had her first child, the question became how to ensure care for my elderly grandfather while my mother flew to her daughter. Yes, this brings tests and challenges. However, when fulfilling the role of sandwich generation correctly, far from being squashed in the middle or overwhelmed by responsibility, I can honestly say that this role formed the most beautiful link in an important chain. A chain connecting us from Sinai to the present day.
So it is that without even realising it, my grandmother taught us the importance of Kibud Av VeEim. As the Torah teaches us, the mitzvah of honouring our parents teaches us to relate to Hashem. It is therefore no wonder that by being a part of my grandmother’s honouring of her mother and mother’s siblings while still doing all she could to take care of us when needed, she taught me invaluable lessons. Lessons that I am sure lead me later in life to search out the origin for them, which of course lead me straight to Torah and mitzvos.
Our story does not end there, though. My Aunty Lily’s home was open to all her nieces, nephews and their children. Yet somehow, by being part of the mitzvah of visiting and caring for her through my grandmother, a special bond was formed.
So it is that when her time came to return her soul to Hashem, she left her Shabbos candle sticks to me. At that stage I was nowhere near shomrei Shabbos, but through my search for how to emulate the teachings of my grandparents and how to live with the most authenticity, it was not long till Torah and mitzvos became my life. For several years my mother used these special candle sticks, but when I made Aliya, my mother decided the time had come for me to have them in my own home.
It was a while before I found a place appropriate to begin unpacking and when I did, close to candle lighting on Friday, I found the candle sticks. Not sure whether to use them that week or clean them first and use them the next week, I decided not to wait. I wanted my Aunty Lily a part of that Shabbos.
On Sunday, when talking to my mother, I told her that I had unpacked and used that special set of Shabbos Candle Sticks. “What was the date on Friday?” my mother asked.
I looked up the date and went cold. How could I have forgotten, it was my Aunty Lily’s yahrtzeit. So it was that both my mother and I felt a message was sent to us from Shamayim. A thank you, a closeness, a reminder that the bond and connection still exists.
How did that bond begin? Through my grandmother including me in her mitzvah of caring for her mother and later her surrogate mother together with her daughter. So it is that I feel filled with respect and gratitude to a wonderful and incredible example, begun by my grandmother and being followed by my mother. The perfect link, connecting grandparents and grandchildren and even further; great-grandparents and great-grandchildren.
As the Torah teaches, one mitzvah leads to another. Each Friday as I light my Shabbos candles in my great-aunt’s candle sticks, I think of her and her special sister, my great-granny, and the times we used to fulfil the mitzvah of visiting our elderly relatives.
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