As the average age of men and women in the Armed Forces rises, many are a part of the Sandwich Generation, concerned about caring for family members at home as they continue their service to the country. Their burden becomes especially apparent on Veterans Day, a time for all of us to pay tribute to American veterans of all wars.
Yet, even on Veterans Day, controversy surrounds the most meaningful ways to honor those who have served in the past and support our troops who are still in harm’s way. Society’s view of veterans has reflected how Americans feel about the wars their country fights. Veterans reminiscing in Ken Burns’ recent documentary series on World War II noted how unity in the country was palpable at that time, acknowledging the bravery and service of the young men and women of the “Greatest Generation.” Now, however, as during the Vietnam war, Veterans Day is as likely to touch off a storm of anti-war protest as it is to perpetuate a peaceful time of reflection and thanksgiving. There are heated discussions about whether or not to show flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq, how the names of those who have given their lives in service are to be used, and whether veterans are treated fairly by their employers.
What lessons can we, Baby Boomer members of the Sandwich Generation ourselves, take from veterans – those who have stood up for the rest of us and given their all to protect our way of life? As we respect their unique bravery, we can direct what we learn to our own family situation. Here are 7 means of applying the same principles to those closest to us.
1. Express the gratitude you feel for what they have given you – protection, opportunities, love, strength, enjoyment of life. You have doors open to you now because of them. This can begin with something as simple as a heartfelt “thank you,” and develop into a more textured and thoughtful recognition of what you are thankful for.
2. Recognize the importance of revealing the love you have for each other. Those who have been in harm’s way know the meaning of the words, “it’s too late.” Don’t put off sharing your love; decide to make it a priority. Each day, acknowledge those you love, and who love you, as if it were your last.
3. Understand the value of friendship. Those in the service have trusted and leaned on each other as they’ve shared their experiences and relied on their camaraderie. Know that we are here to take care of our friends and family – close and extended – difficult though it may be at times.
4. Community support is there for the taking when you know where to look and how to ask for it. Be open to the reality that you might need to utilize the input and generosity of others. You are not diminished when you allow another to help you.
5. Draw upon your own strength. You will learn more about your capabilities when you are tested by hard times than when everything is going well for you. Resiliency is increased each time you get up and put one foot in front of the other. Bravery comes in many actions – facing an illness, providing for your family, starting a new career – not only on the battlefield.
6. Just as those in the foxholes feel the honest emotions of fear, anger, pain, guilt, anxiety and loneliness, allow yourself to experience these emotions when they are a part of your life. Sandwiched between caring for your offspring and your parents, you will feel stressed and anxious at times. Acknowledge these feelings, and then begin to deal with them.
7. If you remember the fragility and transience of life as you move through it, you will savor each good moment you have. To live your life to the fullest is a lasting mark of respect you can pay to your family and to the veterans who have sacrificed the innocence of their youth for you.
So after paying tribute to the men and women of the Armed Services on Veterans Day, make a commitment to employ some of these techniques to honor your own family. You will find that, as a part of the Sandwich Generation, it makes your time with each member more meaningful and relevant.
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