When news about Bruce Willis’s aphasia diagnosis hit last week, many of us let out a collective sigh of grief. It wasn’t just because Bruce Willis was a mainstay of pop culture since our childhoods. It was also because what he and his family are going through is what so many of us are going through too. This is a common struggle for "the sandwich generation."

It may not be aphasia. It could be cancer or Parkinson’s or—as is the case in my family— Alzheimer’s disease. While the diagnosis and the specifics might vary, at its core it’s the same: we are parents who are watching our own parents' health fade. In some case, we are literally watching our parents die. And it is downright brutal.

Related: There’s a scientific reason Grandmas love their grandkids so much 

The death of a loved one is devastating. But when you come face-to-face with a parent’s mortality when you are a mama yourself, it triggers a whole other set of emotions too.

There is grief, no doubt. Grief at the loss of life, but also grief at what might have been. What could have been. What you’d hoped would be. In my situation, there is an immense grief that, due to advanced Alzheimer’s, my dad isn’t able to be the grandfather he would have liked to be. And my children don’t have the grandfather he would have been.

The simple truth is that watching your parent’s health decline, watching them turn into someone they are not, and eventually watching them die is absolutely brutal.

But there is something deeper and more selfish too—there is the fear that the same fate will befall you. That your life will be stolen from you too. That, one day, your mind will go and your body will fail. That you won’t be the person you want to be, the person you are. And even worse, that your children will face the same grief and confusion that you are dealing with now.

Because the simple truth is that watching your parent’s health decline, watching them turn into someone they are not, and eventually watching them die is absolutely brutal.

It is emotionally devastating, mentally challenging and, for many families, financially overwhelming.

As mothers in the sandwich generation, we want to help our parents and protect our kids.

There was a scene in the show "This Is Us" that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about for the past several weeks. In the episode, present-day Rebecca—who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease—sits her grown kids down and tells them about her wishes for the end of her life. She acknowledges the reality of her situation. She tells them who will make decisions on her behalf, when she becomes unable to do so. And she tells them, very emphatically, that she and her medical condition will not hold them back. In having this very hard conversation, she gives her kids an invaluable gift. She gives them knowledge. She gives them clarity. She gives them a mother’s love.

As mothers, this is what we want to give our children: the freedom to soar, the encouragement to truly live their best life, the trust that we support them in doing so. 

But this is a gift that not everyone can give. For many families, the cost of paying for medical care is cost-prohibitive. Most families cannot afford to have an in-home caregiver. Most adult children—who are now parents themselves—cannot afford to build a new home for their aging parents.

And as a child, this gift of freedom and clarity is a heavy one to accept. Sometimes too heavy. Because this gift can come riddled with regret and fear and guilt—about not doing enough, about not being there for everyone, about getting it wrong.

Related: I wish my mom was here to see me be a mother 

You aren't alone: there are millions of people in the sandwich generation.

I am one of an estimated 11 million Americans in the sandwich generation—those of us who have a living parent who is 65 or older and are also raising or financially supporting our own children. It is a gift to be able to have time with your parents and your kids. But it is a gift with strings attached, because you are acutely aware that time is so very fleeting, how little time you have left.

I am fortunate to be part of the sandwich generation. It feels lucky to have this time with my parents, to be able to support and care for them as they had supported and cared for me. But watching their health decline is devastating. There are no good options. Sometimes the best you can do is choose the less bad option. For me, this means being intentional and transparent with my kids about what I want as I age. It means showing them how to care for others while also caring for themselves. And it means accepting the reality that we all will die; what matters is how we live while we’re here. 

This means advocating for paid leave for caregivers. It means advocating for research to find cures and treatments. It means loving my kids fiercely and living my life fully today. It means being there for each other—whether it’s a family member, a friend, or a stranger. 

In the days since Bruce Willis’s family announced his illness, there has been an outpouring of support for Willis and his family. This matters. Talking about it matters. Acknowledging the pain matters. 

If you too are part of the sandwich generation, if you have lost a parent, if you are watching a parent die, if you are seeing a loved one’s health decline, you aren’t alone. 

I see you. I understand the pain. I grieve with you. I support you. And I send you all the love in the world.