It's called the sandwich generation. And it has nothing to do with anyone's eating habits. Rather, the phrase is used to describe adults who now have responsibilities to their elderly parents as well as their children.
"At the same time you're giving your teenager the keys to the car you may be wondering, 'Is it time to take away my dad's car keys?" said attorney Sallie Kraus.
In 2006, Kraus' mother, Rhoda, died. Her father had passed away two years before. But while Kraus' burden eased, she knew others were still struggling to care for elderly parents. And so, determined to carry on her mother's legacy, Kraus founded the Stamford Hadassah Attorneys' Council in 2006.
Hadassah is a nationwide organization for Jewish women that promotes volunteer work. There are Hadassah Attorneys' Councils in many larger cities that promote continuing legal education programs, write amicus briefs and take trips to places such as Israel and to Washington, D.C., to meet with Supreme Court justices.
The Stamford group is made up of 25 or so members, most of them female attorneys who are also members of regular Hadassah chapters. Early on, the group put on a breakfast discussion on Israeli politics at a local law firm, which helped spread word of their existence. The group has also held panel discussions on topics ranging from domestic violence to politics and biotechnology.
Its next program will be March 16, when panelists will address the legal, financial and social resources necessary for the sandwich generation.
Among the presenters will be Richard "Dick" Fisher, chairman of the Connecticut Alzheimer's Association and an elder law attorney at Stamford's Cacace, Tusch & Santagata. "We plan for our children's education and then plan for retirement," he said, "but if we don't plan for the possibility of long-term care we could lose all that we planned for."
Taking A Toll
One day in 1998, Kraus' parents had planned to move out of their Bridgeport home and into a retirement community, also in Bridgeport. But on the day of the move her mother suffered a stroke. So instead, Rhoda ended up in a long-term care facility, the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield. Her father, Stanley, moved into the retirement community alone. He also quit driving that week.
Kraus says her father adjusted well to the drastic change, but he, too, eventually moved to the Jewish Home. At the nursing home, Kraus spent a great deal of time with her parents.
"I met a lot of families all going through this," recalled Kraus. "Mostly all middle-aged, with kids in high school or college. We learned a lot from each other."
What they learned was what a toll it took to care for both older parents and younger children. "There were so many families that came every day at 5 o'clock [after work] and some of them wore themselves out," said Kraus. One woman, a school teacher who visited her mother every evening, ended up suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and died before her mother did.
Kraus, a 1991 graduate of the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City, acknowledged that having a legal background gave her an edge in caring for her parents. An insurance lawyer by day, she was better equipped to deal with Medicare, private insurance contracts, banking needs and the sale of her parents' home.
Kraus has two sisters who live out of state. They tried to divvy up the parental care responsibilities. The sisters handled some paperwork issues, for instance, while Kraus was "the one on the ground."
But some families are even more scattered, and an elderly person may not have any local relatives. Kraus said many people from Connecticut may have older parents in Florida. She said it's important to know what resources are available in their communities in case they need help. "You have to know how to access the system," she said.
Kraus said she and her sisters learned a lot when having to deal with their mother's care in an emergency situation. Now she wants to share what she's learned with others.
"Do you know if your children's college fund, your retirement plan and your parent's financial plans will be sufficient?" asked Kraus. "What resources are available to help you effectively handle the sometimes conflicting demands of your spouse, children and parents?"
Those seeking answers can learn more on March 16.
The Stamford Hadassah Attorneys' Council, the Cardozo Law School Alumni Club in Connecticut and Jewish Family Service of Stamford will host a panel presentation on issues confronting the "sandwich generation." The program will be March 16 at 7:15 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center in Stamford. Those interested in the event or learning more about the Stamford Hadassah Attorneys' Council may contact Sallie Kraus at SallieKraus@yahoo.com.