The Oxygen Mask

She was struggling as the middle layer of the sandwich generation. Kids in college, still needing a safe haven; elderly mother in another state, not doing too well.

airline oxygen maskWhen the phone call came in the middle of the night, it was time to drive through the darkness into the heart of the struggle. Mother may die, that would be awful Mother may live, that would also be awful. Because mother can’t be alone, needs help, doesn’t want to accept help. The story’s pages are smoothed by thousands of worried hands who have written down the words of struggle: what do I do now? How can I take this on and have it end well?

Because I’ve made that middle-of-the-night drive myself, I suggested the one thing sandwich women forget: take care of yourself first. You can’t help anyone else if you aren’t functioning.

As most women, this is not easy to hear. We are used to taking care of everyone else first. As I asked how she could take care of herself, there was a pause. Then a slow, smiling voice came back, in the singsong of a flight attendant:
“In case of emergency, reach for your own oxygen mask first. Put on your mask before helping others around you. The bag may not inflate, but oxygen will flow through the mask. Tighten the straps and make sure you can breathe. Then help others.”

She knew what to do. She would be fine.


–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a certified creativity coach. She is also a transition coach, who helps people reinvent themselves to cope with new careers, situations, and people in their lives. See her work at (c) 2008 All rights reserved.