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  • Writer's pictureJoan Medlen

Inside our Dagwood…

I have to admit, I let many months slide. This is mostly because I have this notion that when I write, I must also include references, resources, and good information that will help others. Although that is one of my goals, still, it is time to just write. So I will.

The few posts I have made talk mostly about the sandwich created by my Mother and my son, Andy, who has multiple disabilities. Truth is, we have a real Dagwood going in our family.

Like many families, my husband’s family includes divorce. Because of this, we have three sets of grandparents. My husband’s mother struggles with mental illness, or specifically, bipolar disorder. She has since his childhood, but has been in pretty good control since I was pregnant with my 21 year old. I often reflect on her life history and am amazed at the strength she had to muster to be divorced in the 60’s, raise three children, make a living, and struggle with what sounds like a poorly managed mental illness. Regardless of how well she did or did not parent at any point in time, that’s a lot of social stigma to deal with. Rex and his brothers are good men, so something went right. Mary, Rex’s mother, lives in an assisted care facility about 20 minutes away. She moved here with the encouragement of her children, from a small beach town about 2 1/2 hours from the closest son. Just before her move we heard from the police once or twice, calling to tell us she was having a tough night. Although it took a good year for her to settle in, she looks healthier, she is safe, and we see her much more. Rex has coffee with her once a week. Of the three children, we take on most of the day-to-day issues. Her two other sons are, of course, as involved as their lives allow. They are a distance away.

Rex’s father has been remarried for 40 some years. They now live a little over an hour away from us, though for many years they were three or more hours away. In our 23 years of marriage, we’ve not had a close relationship with them. They’ve missed a good deal of our two boys’ lives. Distance, and disability, can do that. Rex’s step-mother has recently had a decline in health that has led to her moving into a assisted living/nursing facility. She’s having a tough transition, which means Rex’s father is having a tough transition also. Rex has been up to visit, but not since his step-mother’s move. Time is not on his side.

And of course, the two households can never cross paths. I long for a drama-free family celebration.

And last, there are my parents. You’ve heard about my Mother’s cancer battle. Yesterday she was told she was done with this round of chemo. Now we begin life in remission. She’s a little hesitant, but looking forward to recovering her hair and her energy. My Mom and Dad live just a few miles away in the house where I grew up (though it is significantly remodeled). They have been active participants in our children’s and our lives. For most of Andy’s life I have been able to lean on them when I needed someone to come over for just a few hours. I still grieve that loss, as does Andy, but I knew it was coming one day. Mom and Dad are tentatively planning to move to an assisted living condo in 2010. It is still being built down on the waterfront in Portland, Oregon. This will be a huge transition, but I agree, that if they follow through, this looks like a location that will suit them. Rex, Andy, and I walk on a path that goes right by where this building is going up on the weekends. So they will still be easy to include in our lives as well as my brother’s family life.

Now that you have the parents, in case you have forgotten, there are the children. That’s what completes the sandwich after all. Our oldest is Ryan. He will graduate from Willamette University this Spring with a double major in Rhetoric and Economics. He was home this week applying for a job teaching English in Japan – he’d like to have an adventure! I hope he gets it and enjoys it thoroughly, but the notion of him being so far away is gnawing at my heart. Andy is our youngest. He is 19 this month and a senior at Wilson High School. He’s the dude with all the “disabilities”: Autism, Down syndrome, celiac disease, and he doesn’t speak. He requires 24/7 support, and for it to be good, it must be very Andy centered. Of course, he is rather charming, so we don’t mind. Andy has two more years of a “free and appropriate public education,” and then we (he, Rex, and I) are responsible for the quality of his days. Just a little stress.

So if you were wondering why the sandwich of the life cycle seems daunting to me, this should give you a good idea of just how complex our sandwich is.

It’s no wonder Rex and I are often seeking desert.

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