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Between a rock and a hard place | Guest Column
By Mariluz Villa
I love living here. I never want to leave. Never.
That’s what my heart says, at least. However, reality might dictate otherwise.
We are witnessing this up close and personal: both my dad and my husband’s father are increasingly frail and keep taking unpredictable turns for the worse. We are marrying off a daughter while shuttling back and forth to care for aging family.
I have heard previously about the “sandwich” stage of life, where we are caught between children and parents, all of whom need some attention.
How did I get here? And whatever can I do?
I watch my mom and my mother-in-law struggle to manage declining and often recalcitrant husbands, and wonder how much longer they will be able to remain in the homes that they love. And in watching and wondering about them, I can’t help but wonder about us.
How in the heck are we going to stay in this community as our bodies age and our natural stubbornness intensifies? Will our children be in any position to care for us, since they live somewhere else? Are we going to have to move in our old age, giving up this incredible place we choose as home?
In the good old days, younger family members cared for their elders. Usually there were folks available to do the everyday things that someone in the golden years needed help with.
I think that’s why that stage of life was referred to as golden: the care needed and provided by family was worth its weight in gold.
But nowadays, family members scatter in all directions in search of jobs or education or sunshine. Where do we find that care — worth its weight in gold — that won’t require vast quantities of gold to procure?
Happily, San Juan Island offers a unique chance to stay at home when I approach the end of life, without undue burden on my family. There are excellent health providers as well as a hospital to take care of most health needs; great local healthy food, fresh clean air and exercise year round, amazing services offered by the senior center. And a hidden gem called Hospice of San Juan — hidden in plain view, that is.
Hospice of San Juan’s been here since 1984, yet surprisingly few people truly understand what it offers this community: a wide variety of help for us sandwich generation people and all absolutely free of charge since it is staffed entirely by volunteers.
Hospice of San Juan focuses on those with life-limiting illness and offers someone trustworthy to stay with the person we care for so that we may do errands, basic equipment needed so that we aren’t forced to stretch our budgets, a safe place to pour out the heartache of watching the decline of a family member, and help finding resources we need to care for the two sandwich generations.
And best of all, that same golden help for when we become one of them.
How do I stay in this place I love? Make sure that Hospice of San Juan continues into the future. It needs volunteers to revamp data files or update the website, or do bookkeeping and brochure/newsletter design. New board members are always welcome, as are folks proficient at fund raising.
For that matter, everyone could donate money annually so that Hospice of San Juan exists when we need it.
We then could revel in our status as “sandwich-filling” and make sure that our inevitable stint as one of the sandwich ends is as golden as can be.
— Editor’s note: Mariluz Villa, a member of Hospice of San Juan board of directors, is board certified in internal and geriatric medicine, as well as in hospice and palliative care, and offers medical services on a voluntary basis where needed. She is also a founding member of Community Foundation’s Women’s Fund.