Read Related: Taking in “Pops”: When Grandpa Moves InFast forward a few years to this fall, when my parents came to stay with me, my husband and infant daughter for a month. They required constant care. They needed help dressing, eating, going to the bathroom and taking their medication. I prepared all their meals, sorted their meds, took them to the bathroom, helped them clean themselves, and then got them changed into pajamas and tucked in at night. I slept with one eye open every night, for fear my father would wake up, wander, and fall down—which he did, three times. My mother had frequent asthma attacks and I had to keep her calm and medicated. I neglected my husband and my baby to care for my parents. I cried to my husband at least a half a dozen times that month, out of stress, but also out of heartbreak and despair to find they had declined so much, mentally and physically.
Until you’ve been a caregiver firsthand, you can’t realize the stress, guilt and emotional burden that come with the job. A caregiver sacrifices a huge chunk of her life—nearly 70% of caregivers are women—in order to care for a needy loved one. Her own health suffers, and she is 2 1/2 times more likely to live in poverty than are non-caregivers. She skips outings with friends, trips to the gym, and even misses out on relationships in order to take care of the children or adults who need her 24/7 attention. How do I know all this? Because I was a caregiver to my elderly parents, both when they lived with me and afterwards, when they moved into assisted living. MY CAREGIVING EXPERIENCE The first few years they lived with me, my parents were still relatively independent—though they depended on me financially and were emotionally, highly dependent on me. That was stressful enough, and then things started to go downhill. My dad, who is legally blind with macular degeneration, slipped and fell several times, one time fracturing a vertebra. My mother started showing signs of forgetfulness—once she left a bathroom fan on all night, and nearly set the attic of my house on fire. I found myself keeping an eye on her when she prepared meals for herself and my dad, as I was afraid she’d leave a burner on unattended. When she had two minor car accidents in a row, I started doing all the driving for the family. Soon thereafter, it became obvious that caring for them, working three teaching jobs, freelance writing, working on my PhD and trying to keep up my mortgage payments was altogether more than I could handle.