Pamela Ferdinand, IL
Pamela is an award-winning journalist (The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Miami Herald) and nonfiction author who has written about everything from natural disasters, business, and politics to health, science, and parenting. She has taught writing and editing at universities and co-wrote a triple memoir published by Little, Brown & Co. in the U.S. and five other countries that Oprah’s “O” Magazine called “A Tome of the Brave.” Pamela earned her master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and she currently freelances as a writer and book editor.
As a Story Terrace writer, Pamela interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.
The Sandwich Generation
It’s Halloween. On the way to school, my five-year-old daughter and I drive past front lawns covered in tilted plastic gravestones and fake skeletons with missing limbs. And every day, Emma’s questions: How are people buried? What are coffins made of?
“Mommy,” she asks today from the backseat of our car, “why doesn’t Poppa want to be remembered?”
The questions from my oldest daughter haven’t stopped since Dad died at age 70, nine months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He donated his body to science, and my brother Ben and I declined the return of his ashes, figuring the delivery (which the funeral director cautioned could take up to two years) would only cause shock and pain anew.
But there are other ways to experience shock and pain after a parent’s death, and among them are a child’s probing and innocent musings about mortality before you’ve even had a cup of coffee.
Emma’s movie idol Frank Sinatra was buried with bourbon, cigarettes, a lighter, and a roll of dimes to call his loved ones from beyond the grave. She doesn’t know that yet. But she does understand we have nowhere to physically visit Poppa—the way to “remember” him, as she sees it. I try to explain all she has to do is think about him.
“Do you remember Poppa’s funny faces?” I ask.
“Sometimes they were scary,” she says, pinching the corners of her lips and tugging down her eyelids to copy Dad’s favorite monster impersonation.
“And what else?”
“He gave me animal crackers.”
My lips quiver. I grip the steering wheel more tightly as my own childhood memories surface: His carved wooden pipes. Canoeing down our flooded street in suburban Chicago when I was 8. His bad puns.
“Lots of animal crackers,” Emma says.
As I insist on proving my point about memory residing inside of us, I wonder myself how long I’ll be able to conjure Dad’s expressive face or broad hands without looking at a photo. I cheerily play along with “I Spy” for a few minutes then insist on a goodbye kiss as Emma runs off to meet her school friends.
Minutes later, I have to pull over to the side of the road because I’m crying so hard I can’t see beyond the windshield.
I hear about the so-called “sandwich generation” before I live it: The tens of millions of adults in their 40s and 50s who simultaneously care for their children and their parents. An acquaintance observes how it is overwhelming and sometimes comical to go from a young adult life of work, dates, and friends to having children, spouses, and senior care as a natural part of the new mix.
I witness the grief of friends who lose parents. Yet I fail to comprehend their disorientation, the profound sense of orphanhood and rootlessness that comes to me, too, at age 47, despite having a family and home of my own.
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