Lessons from the sandwich generation

The past few months have been heavy. I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. It’s not something I share often, but it explains why I am the way I am.



*The following blog is more personal than most. It also involves sensitive topics and mention of death and suicide. Proceed with caution.

Lessons from the sandwich generation

I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. It’s not a badge I wear proudly or share often, but it helps explain why I am the way I am.

Martha, brother, mom, and dad when younger

I come from a large family. Dad was the only boy with six sisters, most of whom had at least a few kids. His parents had a lot of siblings, so it always felt like that side of the family extended beyond the cousins who were at my house constantly. Mom was one of three, and each of them had a son and daughter. Her parents had a lot of siblings, including my Uncle Don who had seven kids who were more like aunts and uncles to me than cousins.

It seemed like our family extended beyond the blood relatives too. Our neighbors were like crazy uncles who we knew would protect us. My parents had friends who treated me and my brother like their own. My brother and I brought our friends around who became fixtures in our home. Our friends became our family.

But there was always death around.

My mom worked in a nursing home, so she would bring patients who didn’t have family over for holidays. When they passed, we attended their funerals. My great grandma, my namesake, passed away when I was young. My other great grandparents passed. Then, aunts, uncles, friends. It was everywhere. At one point, I thought it was me who was bringing on death.

In 2007, I lost one of my best friends to complications from lupus, my boyfriend to suicide, and my mentor to illness. That year was one of the lowest of lows. I’ve lost all four of my grandparents, my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and even my kids grandma who was like a mother-in-law to me.

But nothing quite compares to losing a parent.


A slow death

My dad was diagnosed years ago with dementia, and the disease progressed so incredibly slowly. My mom had to retire from her job as a CNA in 2022 to take care of him full time. In 2023, he fell and busted his head open, so I was able to get in home care through his VA benefits. It wasn’t much, but it helped. It helped my mom breathe a little, and it helped me worry a little less. It also helped us find time to make preparations.

Dad with his dog

I cannot say enough about the benefits of preplanning.

We preplanned their funerals, my funeral, my husband’s funeral, and my brother’s. I have materials to preplan my children’s funerals. It sucks to think about, but it’s going to happen. I hope I’m not around for it, but I want to be prepared and want them to be prepared.

Beyond funeral planning, we went through photos. I’ve prepared enough funeral videos to know how much time it takes to pull photos, find the right music, and put it together. (It takes a lot of time.) I’m taking the summer to gather my photos, take them to the library to be scanned, and put them together electronically. I’ll also take the summer to go through my stuff–label it and thin out some of the mounds of papers.

I also preplanned major events for my business. We created scripts and plans on how the business would move forward. We also had processes in place to make it all easier to manage.

I saw a decline in December that I knew was leading to the end. My mom called me home less than a week before he passed in March, so I was able to be there for him and for her.

After he passed, I was able to take care of things that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I was able to prepare a stellar eulogy to honor him. I was able to handle all of the chaos that comes with losing someone who was so important to so many. I was able to help manage all the overwhelm that comes when a collector of all the things passes.

All because I preplanned and had some amazing people around me.


Thank you

I do want to thank a few people. My assistant, Brianna, kept my business afloat, implemented all the processes, and guarded access to me like a bouncer. My client-friends Sarah and Rachelle who made sure I knew I wasn’t alone and held space for me. My alumni family, friends Zeyda and Amanda, and cousin/aunt Tina who showed up, gave me all the hugs, and let me share my feelings. My friend, Shelleen, brought me food, showed up in so many ways, and didn’t get upset when I didn’t respond. My friend, Nikita, made sure I knew I wasn’t alone and made sure my kids were supported. My kids who did their best to support me and my mom while suffering their own grief. My husband, who was more than I could have ever asked for–supporting me, protecting me, and reminding me that I’m important too.


Dad and Martha


To all the people who supported me, checked in on me, and shared stories about my dad–thank you.

It wouldn’t be a Martha Warner, LLC blog/newsletter without a few nuggets of information to take away.


Lesson 1: Death brings out the best and worst in people.

So many people were great. They showed up when I needed them. They showed up how I needed them even if I didn’t know how I needed them. A lot of people shared stories of their parents passing, which helped me feel less alone.

But there were some people who were the worst. Some people were incredibly greedy, selfish, entitled, and inconsiderate. Those people don’t deserve to hold space in my heart or mind. They will. But they don’t deserve it.


Lesson 2: Grief pops up when and where it wants to.

mom and dad sitting on the porch with a dog

I struggled with grieving.

Leading up to his passing, I did cry when we danced together for the last time and when he was upset. I didn’t sleep for a few days in order to give him medicine to make him comfortable. His dog was also near the end of her life, so I was watching her (she passed the week after my dad), my dad and my mom. I was exhausted.

When he passed, I had to make a million calls and relive his passing in each call and mourn differently with each person. That was draining.

I treated his funeral as a celebration of his life, so it wasn’t as sad as others. In fact, the only times I cried at his funeral were when I saw a few people and when some of the songs (I picked) played.

Since his funeral, I’ve had so much to do that I feel like I couldn’t grieve. To be honest, I don’t know that I have yet. As my mom and I were going through his things, I was emotional and sentimental, but I didn’t cry often. But at one point, I was watching a show on tv, and the character had dementia. I cried a lot at that.

Maybe that’s part of it. My dad was diagnosed with dementia 8-9 years ago. Each year, something was gone: his skills, his physical strength, his agility, his long-term memory, his ability to drive, his short-term memory. I feel like I lost the dad I knew years ago. This new version of my dad was interesting and someone I loved dearly.

But he was different. I’m grieving that man instead of my dad who I lost long ago.


Lesson 3: Collections value is tied to the person handling it.

My dad was a collector. He collected grandfather clocks, stereos, watches, pocket watches, lighters, knives. He had hundreds of 8 tracks and records. At one point, he had hundreds of fishing poles.

People kept telling me, “This is worth a lot. Make sure you check … before you sell it.”

I know people had good intentions. But that added intense pressure to me.

I’m not an only child, but I’m THE only child. The only one who could help. The only one who could show up. The only one who did the work.

What work?


From giving my dad medicine to keep him comfortable at the end of his life to managing my mom, his wife of 47 years to cleaning out his closets and barns to making sure his veteran plaque is ordered to researching and pricing all the items to advertising and managing a rummage sale.


Sure, my dad had a lot of valuable stuff. But the value is tied to what I could handle researching and what people would buy at a rummage sale. My mom didn’t want an auctioneer until it was too late, so it was up to me (and sometimes my husband) to figure it out.

Do I think we undercharged? Yes. On some things. We even took the rest of his stuff (6 truckloads + 3 trailer loads) to Goodwill after 9 days of rummage sales.

Do I regret it? No. I did the best I could. I missed months of work to make sure my mom was okay. Some people found and are going to find some great deals like my dad did over the years of collecting.


Lesson 4: Sandwich generation is no joke.

My kids still need me. My parents need me. My husband needs me. I’m part of that sandwich generation who has pressure above and below.

Plus add the burden of being the oldest daughter and mom to four young adults, of being smart, capable, and responsible, and of being a Virgo/Enneagram 1W2/late GenXer who is neurospicy and perimenopausal.

It’s exhausting. And confusing. And frustrating.

I feel like I’m never doing enough, doing things right, or making anyone happy, including myself. And I’m tired all the time.


Lesson 5: We are not alone and need to let others know.

This lesson took me a while to be okay with.

Step 1 is recognizing that I’m not alone. No one is going to have the exact same experience or share the exact same feelings, but others have similar experiences and similar feelings. When I watch reels and videos of people talking about being a GenXer, I relate. When I talk to my friend who lost her parents, I relate. When I see a meme about being a perfectionist Virgo with a crazy Gemini best friend, I relate.

Step 2 is sharing my own experiences to help others see that they are not alone. This step is tricky. Share too little, and the other person may not feel connected and you may feel vulnerable. Share too much, and it seems like you’re prioritizing your experience over someone else’s or like you’re whining. The point is that when we share our experiences, we help others see that they are not alone.


Mom and Dad eating at a restaurant


Death also makes us reevaluate. For me, it’s been reevaluating all the stuff I have, how to take better care of myself, and what part of my business makes me happiest.

Over the next few months, the team at Martha Warner, LLC will be making a few adjustments in our offerings, so my team and I can focus on what we love to do instead of just what we’re good at. Stay tuned for more.

Finally, if you are struggling with a loved one with dementia, end-of-life care, or loss, I’m holding space in my heart for you. If you have similar experiences, feel free to share in the comments. Maybe someone reading can relate more to your experience than mine.

Categories: : story-telling