Sandwiched in the Middle: How is Anyone Expected to Survive this Place?

I am standing firmly on the bridge. 

Not approaching it, not seeing the end of it, but rather right smack in the middle of the bridge and it is agony. 

I don’t know when I first heard the phrase “Bridge Era” or “Sandwich Generation” or “Bridge Generation” or whatever it is, but I am here now. Camped out. 

My mom and son are both entering new phases. (Photo credit: Jyl Barlow)

My mother and son are both weeks away from the next phase

Somehow, as life continues to offer these what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger moments, those I am escorting onto their next phase of life are tracking to begin their journeys within days of each other. 

How much stronger do I need to be?

I’m not sure anyone should be expected to survive this place–smack dab in the middle of the bridge, sandwiched between two very different options for exit. My son, my youngest child, is weeks away from his high school graduation. While I should be fully focused on those festivities, my heart and head live with my mother as she approaches death

That’s the first time I’ve typed that. I’ve written about a dozen, blurry iterations that don’t actually say the word. Death. My mother is dying. As we prepare to launch our youngest from the safety of the nest we built for our children, my mother prepares to leave the very nest she built for us. It has been a comical dance around those words (my mother is dying) as if by keeping them tucked in, she would suddenly spring back to full health.

I am on the bridge, sandwiched between these two milestones. 

My heart is draining at a rapid pace

I know my home will feel so empty in just a few months as we do the college drop-off relay, yet it is my heart that seems to be draining at a rapid pace. I am not coping well. Or maybe I am. Is it normal to live on an emotional roller coaster in this era? How long is the ride? Should I hope for a quick trip or one that continues to drag on endlessly? I am exhausted. 

My son will walk across the stage in just over a month, a benchmark we missed with our first child, Class of 2020. I should be elbows deep in party planning and senior pictures and non-stop nagging…Have you thought about prom? Yes, your grade still matter! Want to go shopping for dorm stuff? How about now? Yes, you still have to clean your room in college. 

I am caught between my son and my mother

I try to split my focus evenly between the happenings within the four walls of my home and the happenings four hours away at my parent’s home. I’m trying to give both homes the attention they deserve yet I feel like I am always moments away from dropping one ball or another. I plead with the universe to let whichever ball does get dropped be small, unimportant, and quickly forgotten. 

The two sides of the bridge collide constantly. 

As I fill out addresses for the coming graduation party, I stop in my tracks. Should I send one to my parents? I know they won’t come. But should I? My father has so much on his plate right now. I want him to know he is welcome, but I don’t want to add anything else to his roller coaster.

I yearn to get my mother’s opinion about things

I often reach for the phone to get my mother’s opinion on corsages (Do they really have to be fresh?) or for a quick talk off the ledge (This baby adult is testing me) or just to tell her that I cannot believe we have already reached the first of the parenting finish lines. I yearn to hear her tell me, just one more time, how proud she is of our kids and, well, of me. 

I should be tearing up with the other moms of my son’s senior class as we chat about how much our lives are about to change. It’s just that that change seems so trivial compared to the other one that is coming my way at hyper speed. 

Who will I call in a panic when I drop my youngest off at his dorm? Who will tell me how hard it was to drop me at my own dorm decades ago and that, yes, it will all be okay?  Who will tell me that it will all be okay?

I am not okay. I am standing firmly in the middle of this bridge. Not approaching it, not seeing the end of it, but rather right smack in the middle. 

It is agony. 

More Great Reading:

Finding My Way Through the Grief of Losing My Mom

About Jyl Barlow

Jyl Barlow is a best-selling author raising two baby adults with her husband in Virginia. Her book, What to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting, is a humorous memoir documenting her step parenting journey. Jyl navigates life as a (second)wife and (step)mom with inappropriate laughter and near-perfect hindsight.

Besides writing, Jyl enjoys travel, fighting with her embroidery machine, and trying to convince her husband to let her have chickens. Jyl’s writing credits also include,, and Get to know her at

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