Women + Caring for Aging Parents
By Janina Edwards
I have been a caregiver since 2011. Over the course of eight and a half years, I went from visiting my parents every 3 months to monthly visits. (My parents lived in Chicago. I am in Atlanta, GA.) And in November 2018, my brother and I moved my mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, to my home. Dad died in 2017.
The relationship between caregiving and being female is one of expectation. No one asked me if I wanted to be a caregiver. It was assumed that I would pick up the mantle. When my parents started to show signs of aging, their friends called ME. Not my brother. Time after time, I received the first call. I was the one who dropped everything, rearranged their life and showed up. My brother was able to continue doing what he was doing, to wait to be told what was happening, to come only when I couldn’t. To be clear, he cared and was concerned, but the societal expectation was on the daughter—ME.
From experience, I know this is typical. Caregiving is largely a female experience. That’s frustrating as hell, but…it gives me moments of sweetness with my parents that my brother will never have.
Being a caregiver effects EVERYTHING that I do and am. If I’m not physically present with my mother, I am still dealing with her life, handling her business. When you care for your child, usually it’s temporary, and ultimately positive, because the child will eventually learn to care for themselves. As the caregiver of an elder, it’s also temporary, but you have no idea of how long this will go on. It doesn’t have to be a horrible experience, but it only ends when someone dies. Then you get to deal with the funeral, finances, and paperwork.
My spiritual life and practices are what make this experience tolerable and a teaching moment. I’m a practicing yogi. Yoga is not just the poses that people are familiar with (Down Dog, Warrior, etc.). Yoga includes ethical practices called the Yamas and Niyamas, and deep philosophical teachings that ultimately acquaint one with the concept of death, as well as life. Being a caregiver is the opportunity to ask myself the spiritual question “how am I being asked to grow?” Let’s be clear. That’s on a good day. Most days I just want to throw things at the wall. But in good moments I ask myself that question. I try to remember “We’re all just walking each other home” (Ram Dass).
And I want to be the person who walks my mother home.