November 22, 2013 :: By Alexandra Axel :: Caregiver Stories
Two nights ago, I sat around a table with eight others, all at least 25 years my senior, discussing caregiving.
Death, disease, aging, disability, caregiving—these had touched every single one of us. But I was slow to realize how caregiving has touched my present life (besides, obviously, the work I do here).
And then it hit me. Almost every one I know is a caregiver, or a caregiver-to-be.
The kind of care I see might be very different than the kind of care you associate with “caregiving.” After all, I’m talking about 18 to 28 year olds, living in New York City. But if you heard a little of their lives and struggles, there is no doubt that they are caregivers in their own right.
A close friend of mine returned to New Jersey yesterday to care forboth her parents—her dad is dealing with a heart condition and her mom is recovering from surgery for a broken ankle. My friend became a caregiver within a week. And somehow she has handled this rapid role change with tremendous grace.
Another friend found out her dad had a heart attack a week before she was scheduled for a visit home to California. He is, thankfully, recovering but is still facing difficulties. Meanwhile his daughter worries about him from across the country.
And yet another friend has grown up with a parent with Asperger’s, feeling like from a very young age that she had to take care of the dad who was supposed to be taking care of her.
Two friends are on the “frontlines” of caregiving, living with and caring for their grandparents.
One young woman is caring for her mother who has cancer, and several friends have recently lost, or are in the process of losing, their fathers to the same disease.
Another has a brother with a mental illness that drove him to suicide attempts.
And then, of course, there are the friends who are caring for each other, in little and enormous ways, through diabetes, depression, gender dysphoria, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
Not to mention that almost all of the friends mentioned above have grandparents, parents, or siblings with alcoholism and/or addiction. My friends themselves are in recovery but their relatives are often still in the throes of the disease. (If you have known anyone who has struggled with addiction, you know that it’s a whole different caregiving ballgame…)
So what’s different about my generation as caregivers?
We are long distance caregivers. We are live-in caregivers. We are caring for loved ones (and not-so-loved-ones, as is the case for those of us with abusive parents, grandparents, siblings or partners). We have family and friends who die suddenly and those whose deaths are painful and prolonged. We stay up all night with worry and we go to work or school in the morning. We call, we text, we drive, we fly. We isolate. We sink into depression. We resent the ones we care for and still we feel they are leaving us too quickly. Frustrations and fears are taken out on us. The tablecloth is pulled out suddenly and the glasses shatter on the floor. And the whole time we are striving to figure out our direction in life, to do our best, to not engage in unhealthy behaviors.
We’re in our twenties.
I’m holding back tears as I write. Because for every friend I can identify as a caregiver, there are four more who suddenly come to mind.
And to think—we are the lucky ones.
We are lucky enough be in a community that values service and unity. We show up on each other’s doorsteps with movies and burritos. We call each other. We ask, “And how are you?”
We will not let you do this alone.
I can’t imagine that every twenty-something feels this rooted, especially in times of upheaval. But there is a special thing about my generation that makes us different from older ones—we have the knee-jerk “Google it” reaction.
Feeling alone? Google what’s isolating you and you’ll discover there’s a community for people like you.
So I ask you to pause before you judge our generation as a bunch of Internet-addicts, consider that we too know the pain of caregiving. The utter devastation of loss. The trials of recovery. And we are rapidly developing the online communities we need to get us through this kind of pain.
Share your experience, please. We need it. We are caring for parents who only recently stopped caring for us. But don’t underestimate our process, even if it looks different from yours. Keep an open mind to what you might learn from my generation.
We may not be fifty years wise, but we are definitely growing up.
This post is dedicated to all of my friends,
who might not see their own
courage and grace,
just for showing up,
for walking through today—
but I do.
Former Media Director at The Caregiver Space
Alexandra Axel is the media director for The Caregiver Space. As a New York native, Allie grew up people-watching and story-collecting, eventually pursuing her undergraduate degree from The College of New Jersey in sociology and creative writing. At The Caregiver Space, she uses social media, graphic design, blogging, and program development to brand and grow an online community composed of, and focused on, caregivers. From the seedlings of an idea to the thriving community that it is today, Allie has been there from the beginning and looks forward to participating in the evolution of The Caregiver Space.
Additional to her work at The Caregiver Space, Allie enjoys writing poetry and short fiction, devouring books, biking, crafting, urban agriculture and imperfectly cooking. She currently resides in Brooklyn with her partner, Audrey, and their pup, Hen.