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Love and life in the sandwich years

When Brigit Sapstead remarried in her 40s, she found herself with a new family to look after, covering all the generations

Brigit and familyI am so lucky to have found love and had a second chance to share life with friend, lover and altogether decent man. 

When I remarried a year ago I was under no illusion that our lives together would not be full of challenges. My stepsons had recently lost their mother to cancer, and my youngest teenage stepson has type 1 diabetes. My husband has had to cope with taking on a stepdaughter who suffers from the usual PMT, and falls apart when the loo seat is left up. Wow, the mixture of adolescent hormones, ascent (or descent?) into manhood, acceptance of a stepmother, and the constant fluctuation of blood sugars present a gamut of moods! My husband and I have started our married life together with an established family unit of four very different teenagers!  
Nevertheless, the biggest challenge we have faced together during this past year has been the failing health of our parents. Without each other, my husband and I both admit that we would not have been able to cope with the pressures and strains of dealing with the practicalities and emotions of our parents' declining years. His Dad, my Mum.
My mother is a feisty 87-year-old Irish lady who left her homeland when she was in her teens to travel the world as a nurse. She met my Dad in Cyprus and they spent decades living in exotic parts of the world, my father designing roads and railways, and my mother enjoying life as an expat wife.  They have been married for over 50 years and until last year enjoyed rude health and good times.
Then, suddenly, Mum couldn't see properly and her normally erect posture started to bend; she couldn't swallow and over the weeks she lost the ability to eat. Her eyes seemed to disappear into deep sockets - she started to look emaciated. But she had not lost her mind.
In hospital, she suffered a heart attack and by spring, she was dependent on morphine to get her through the day. We were told she wouldn't survive. My husband, a doctor, supported me and my Dad by dealing with the practicalities of hospital, deciphering that code which only medics seem to speak. Diagnoses ranged from Parkinson's to motor neurone, then finally she was tested for a rare neurological disorder called myesthenia gravis, and bingo, she started to recover.
During this awful time, my father, a bright, strong man seemed to fall apart.  I spent the first five months of this year spending part of the week with my Dad, caring for him and supporting him while my Mum was in hospital.  My parents' home was 120 miles away and I came to know every crack and fissure on the motorway.  Then Dad said he couldn't cope living so far from me and six weeks ago both my parents moved to a flat two minutes walk from my house.
My husband has taken all this in his stride and welcomes the additions to the family.  He jokes that he now has two mothers in law living close by! His father, meanwhile, is in and out of hospital and we travel the same motorway regularly to support his mother. But it is his genuine feeling that we are so very lucky to have the opportunity to care for our parents that fills me with love and admiration for my husband.
He's right - we are lucky. Mum's life is not easy - she is wheelchair bound and she gets frustrated that she can't do the things she took for granted - but I am so lucky that she survived and has a second chance to enjoy life. 
What a year!
The picture above shows the three girlie generations at my wedding last year.


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