Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sandwich Generation

Married couple Ed Kashi, a photojournalist, and Juli Winokur, a filmmaker/writer, spent years working on their book "Aging in America: The Years Ahead". The book and photos, worthy of viewing, deal with the challenges facing the population over 65, but is also about America's collective denial of aging. Both agree that it was their experience with the project that helped them cope when they found themselves personally affected by the reality of aging in their own family.

Julie's father, diagnosed with end stage dementia, got to a point he couldn't live alone. The couple, with their 2 kids in tow, opted to move from California to New Jersey, so they could become his full time caregivers. They became one of the estimated 15 million known as the sandwich generation, taking care of both their own parents and children at the same.

They spent the 18 months he was in the home documenting the experience in film and photos. They offer a 2 part short documentary entitled "The Sandwich Generation" that can be viewed freely online. Part I is 11 mins and takes place in the first months of his arrival. Part II is 16 mins and summarizes much of Part I, but then goes on to show a wiser, more tired family.

This is one of Ed Kashi's photos from the movie of Herbie Winokur, who died Jan. 5, 2008 in the family's home.

I was struck by three things in this wonderful documentary. In Part I, Herbie is taken to the hospital after a fall at home and seems to have a prolonged stay, meanwhile deteriorating. The family becomes restless with the hospital and at one point Ed Kahsi says "Get him home, make sure he eats and is stimulated, who cares what the diagnosis is". I thought how true this sentiment can be with the people we work with. There comes a tipping point at times when it's more important to be home than to have all the why's answered.

There is also a lovely contrast seen between part I and II with the granddaughter. She speaks in part I about how good it is that "poppy" is living with them. But in part II says to her mother "Should I be honest? Because I wasn't in the first part." Her mother then draws out some resentment and awareness of "how much things changed" in the household when Herbie came to live.

Finally, an emotion caretakers often have, frustration and anger comes out with Ed on a day that Herbie gets confused while out on a walk and doesn't want to go home. Ed gets in his face, frustrated that he doesn't remember the hired caregiver who's worked with him for 2 years. It's a very honest moment, and a good reminder on how tough care giving can be.

If you have the time, check out the links for the movies. I think it's a realistic look into care giving and causes me to be more aware of the stresses the families that I see everyday are going through.

References: The non profit group that houses much of Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur's work "Talking Eyes Media" at
Part I can be seen at
Part II can be seen at

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