To the Kids Who’ve Had to be a Caregiver,

There is nothing worse than being told that someone you love, someone close to you is terminally ill. Argue me on this statement because this is hands down the worst of news one can hear in their lifetime. Chances are, you heard those words before you really understood what they meant. Perhaps the one thing that can be harder than hearing this bad news, is having to witness it in action. Having to watch your loved one deteriorate physically, mentally, and emotionally. But having to withhold yourself and make sure you are strong enough to pick up the pieces.

For me, it started at 12 years old. This can be a common age. You’re old enough to understand and process things but young enough to have your innocence stripped away from you. For many caregivers, they are forced to grow up overnight and deal with situations most adults don’t have to go through for years to come. I myself became the caregiver to my father. Someone who was the breadwinner of our family, who was the center and rock of us all. Common enough for caregivers, the tables turn and you become the person who has to support and take care of the person who once held that responsibility.

Similar to many things in life there is no guide or “how to” step by step directional piece of information that will tell you how to do things, when to do things, and when specific stages will occur. It’s up to you as the individual to test the waters and make sure you can do all you can to hopefully lead them to a healing state. Your first hope is to believe that you have the power to heal them and rid of whatever illness is making them a slave to such a horrendous situation. When you realize that the human body is sometimes inevitable against fighting in battles they cannot handle, your main goal and concern is to constantly bring them to a state of comfort, relaxation, and mental ease, for that’s all they will be capable of knowing for the rest of the time being.

Of course being the patient battling the disease is as hard of a task as can be. But people forget and surpass the strength of the caregiver and their abilities for helping the patient cope with their state. We forget the mental stability it takes to not only be strong enough for one’s self but to not allow the sick patient see you fail. The moment the patient sees such, they realize they are a burden on your life and become guilty of what they are putting you through. The physical strength requires late nights, early mornings, and if you’re like me, having to help the patient with tasks that you see as ridiculous. Put yourself in their shoes and it’s not. My patient who developed into a quadriplegic was incapable of scratching an itch on his forehead, blowing his own nose, and going to the bathroom. Such instances can occur as many as 500 times in a night, and as little as 5. Every night is a different routine and you must adjust to such. Lastly, you must know sacrifice. You have to give up what is important to you and you must adjust to living a life that is not your own. I’ve known caregivers who have given up a steady income because they couldn’t manage the schedule of their job. Some have had to give up school because the course load of classes on top of taking care of someone was unbearable. Sometimes you question if you could be a teenage parent because at least in those situations a child would grow to be self-sufficient.

For me, I gave up a social life. It sounds petty now but put yourself in a 12 or 13 year-olds shoes. All your classmates get cell phones and start planning to hang out and go to the movies. Our town started developing a shopping center with a Jamba juice and movie theater. Let me tell you on a Friday night that was the thing to do with a group of 13-year-olds. But I never got to do so. For three years I gave up hanging out with friends and going to see the newest movies so I could stay at home and take care of my dad. My mom, who was always working to provide financial stability, was gone and I had to take the place of cooking, cleaning, and everything around the house, all while taking care of my father’s medical needs. Sure it sounds like a sob story now. But being a caregiver was the greatest role I’ve ever played in my life. It taught me about sacrifice. It taught me about selflessness, compassion, and most importantly love. Sure I cursed myself and the universe for putting me in this situation on numerous occasions. But what I received out of it weighed to be more than what I missed because of it.

So to those of you who were once a caregiver, maybe you are currently, and maybe you one day will be, thank you. Being a kid isn’t easy. Remembering to be one is even harder. When the universe strips your childhood away from you and makes you grow up overnight, do not curse it. Rather, take it on as another challenge that you will succeed at. Remember that you are loved. You are shaping yourself to be a better person than when you started. Believe me, the person you are caretaking for did not want you in this situation. They don’t want anyone in this situation. But you were chosen to be the strong soldier to face this battle. Although you may never receive a verbal thank you or a pat on the back; know that it goes without being said. You are strong. You are loved. You are an inspiration.

Sincerely,

A Former Caregiver