I’VE written about the sandwich generation — caregivers who have to take care of their ailing elderly parent/s and an ailing child or grandchild. When you have it at both ends, it can be very challenging to focus on your job as well as your family and relationships.
You’re on the verge of retirement and yet you can’t take it easy or stop work yet. You struggle to balance this act, and sometimes something gives — your job, your relationship with your significant, other as well as with family and friends, and/or your health. It is quite a challenge to find your equilibrium.
As I have spent more time at the hospital these last two months for my family with routine check-ups as well as surgeries, I noticed another group of caregivers who are increasing in number — those who care for their siblings.
So many factors come into play. Children born with a physical or mental disability, or both, have longer life-spans due to advancements in health care and nutrition. As a result, many outlive their parents. The responsibility for their care rests with their siblings who then assume the role of caregivers.
This group is often the millennials, people born in the early 1980s to early 2000s. They are generally the children of baby boomers and Gen X-ers. Their challenge is not just in caring for their disabled sibling but sometimes, their parents and grandparents too.
While many millennial caregivers ease into their role as a matter of course, some will face these challenges just as they are about to start their lives. They may perhaps have just graduated from college or are about to start a job or family of their own.
They slip into this role by initially accompanying their disabled sibling with their parents for doctor’s appointments and therapy. Soon they would be managing medications, emergencies, doctor’s instructions and bills, and so much more, while trying to juggle their own schedules. It is complicated and stressful enough for the average adult, let alone young millennials.
They need the support and understanding of those around them. They need to be guided and they need to know that they are not alone in this. They need to find support groups to cope with their situation before they get engulfed by emotional turmoil that could make them exhausted, resentful, confused and depressed.
PITCHING IN TOGETHER
I saw this in my three children as they coped with their eldest brother, Omar, who is 26. He is the size and strength of an adult with the mental age of a child. Many situations with Omar are non-negotiable. He has routines and habits that must be followed. Sometimes you can persuade him to do something different; other times it’s not so easy.
In the past one month, Omar’s three siblings have been totally hands-on in caring for him — accompanying him to the hospital, sending him to school, preparing and giving his meals as well as spending time together watching television or jamming. Omar joins in by plucking the guitar in its stand or shaking the tambourine. They even spent quiet moments doing their own thing within sight of each other. Everyone took turns to keep an eye on Omar so that he was never totally alone or in danger in the house.
Omar’s care by his siblings wasn’t really planned. His nanny and caregiver had taken a month’s leave for Hari Raya. In the past, we usually had a part-timer to fill in the blanks, but this time there were none available despite planning for it a year ahead. All arrangements and promises fell through at the last minute. Those who promised to come didn’t show up. One person who actually came to help care for Omar refused to come back saying he was not up to the challenge.
So as a family we pooled together our resources and rescheduled all plans. Fortunately, I had a full house because they were on holiday here. Everyone worked as a team. No one went out to do their own thing without consulting each other so that there was always someone at home with Omar and to generally take care of the house.
The outcome of this experience was an eye-opener to all of us.
We communicated more with each other. It made my children understand Omar better — his conditions and limitations as well as the depth of love and appreciation he’s capable of showing. It also made them include Omar in their future plans should he outlive his parents. We bonded.
Indeed, it takes more than one person to care for someone like Omar. That African proverb “it takes a whole village to raise a child” rings true in this case.
We must remember to tell these young adult caregivers that even though life presents obstacles where paths appear to be blocked, they must not lose heart. The journey just takes them on a different route.