Brittney is a millennial caregiver. This is her story.
My name is Brittany and I’m a 27 year old former caregiver. I was primary caregiver to both of my grandparents during the first couple of years post-graduate school. I am a social worker in Georgia and love the field I work in. It’s challenging, but like to think it prepared me more for being a caregiver.
I moved in with my grandparents the month I started graduate school. It was a tough decision, and I was slightly embarrassed to be in my early twenties, moving in with my grandparents. I made this decision because I needed a place to live that wouldn’t cost much rent-wise and was close to my college. My grandparents welcomed me with open arms. It was actually kind of funny, when the three of us first began discussing the prospect of me moving in, my grandma said “Just come live with us” without first speaking with my grandpa. It’s a good thing he didn’t kick us both out! 🙂
I had never lived with them before, and to be honest, hadn’t had much contact with them throughout my life. This isn’t their fault, or anyone’s fault really. My mother was a single parent providing for my brother and I. We lived place to place quite often. Because of that, there was initial discomfort when I first moved in with my grandparents. I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, and many days I didn’t think it would. It took a while for us all to adjust to one another, but soon a beautiful relationship developed between us three. I went from calling my grandmother “Gerri”, to “Grandma Gerri”, to just “Grandma”. They were no longer just my grandparents, but also people who I grew a strong, deep love and appreciation for. My favorite part of the work day was coming home to watch CSI and The Waltons with them. I cracked up all the time because of their little debates and witty quips. My grandfather was notorious for saying such funny things. He was a quiet man with a strong sense of humor.
They were no longer just my grandparents, but also people who I grew a strong, deep love and appreciation for.
However, three months after I graduated with my Masters and started working full-time, my grandmother was diagnosed with oral cancer and stage 4 lung cancer. From there the chemo treatments started, radiation, many trips to the doctor, and errands. Her heart broke, my grandpa’s heart broke, and mine did, too. I questioned myself daily. I never knew if I was doing enough or doing it right. I wish someone could have prepared me for the amount of guilt caregivers experience. It truly is ironic, the ones who do most are the ones who feel least impactful.
I was resentful All. The. Time. I needed help, but wasn’t too good at asking for it. When I did ask, it was provided by others on a very short-term basis. I remember feeling as if others had a mental checklist like: “went to visit this month…check,” “called to check-in this week…check,” etc. I ran out of annual leave from missing so much work that there was a time I went without pay in order to be there. I don’t want to come across as bitter because for the most part, now being out of the experience of caregiving, I see things differently, and have more peace.
My grandpa did a lot to care for her too, yet struggled with some things due to his age. I often wondered if he felt I was stepping in too much. I know there were times when she felt that way. One time specifically she had asked for me not to go to an oncology appointment with her. I was shocked and hurt. Crying, I asked why she didn’t want me to go. She responded, “because when you do go, the doctor doesn’t speak to me, he speaks to you. He doesn’t look at me, he looks at you. I need him to speak to me, and to hear me”. I see now that what she was begging for was independence and control. She needed to be heard. I can imagine she felt that others were shuffling around her making her major life decisions, which is dehumanizing.
Instead of keeping my original plans to move out when I graduated, I stayed with my grandparents during this new season of life. I knew I had to be there because they needed me, and I needed them.
Seeing my grandma decline was the most difficult experience I’ve had in my life. I couldn’t process how someone I love so much was suffering so much, and there was nothing I could do but pray. So that is what I did, I prayed for the specific areas of her body to be healed. I spoke healing and restoration into her body. I fervently, and desperately prayed that God would perform miracles, as He has undoubtedly done before. And then I sat with her, and tried to just be. I would try to let the racing thoughts and fears go just for a few moments of quality time with her. I would eat Lemon pound cake with her. Sing “In Christ Alone” with her. Dance on Christmas day. Plant in the Garden. All of these moments trump any hardship that I experienced in my caregiving. These are the moments that will live on.
My grandmother passed away March 18, 2013 in inpatient hospice. She stayed there three days before she passed. I didn’t think I could go on, but surprised myself that I survived it. Anticipatory grief is truly a cruel thing. I found myself grieving more during her life that when she passed. Honestly, when she passed, I felt relief that she was no longer in such turmoil and pain. Instead, I worried more about how my grandpa would make it without her.
When my grandpa became a widower, I stayed a little longer to help him in the ways he needed. He was pretty self sufficient and did not require as much assistance. I felt enormous guilt about leaving my grandfather to move into my own home 8 months later. I knew I had to start my own life, but always questioned (and still do) if this was the right decision. My grandfather and I had Sunday gatherings each week. I would usually bring him lunch and we would spend time together. I would call and check in with him often. I would also go grocery shopping or pick up any prescriptions he needed. I’m so proud of my grandfather for living capably on his own the best he could. Last September, my grandfather passed away from a random hemorrhaging on the brain. The days and moments leading up to his death were extremely difficult. I grieved a lot, and continue to mourn his passing.
I am forever indebted to the love my grandparents showed me.
I am forever indebted to the love my grandparents showed me. They were the ones who truly gave the care. I have come out of this experience a new woman who knows what the true meaning of life is: to love others. I have been humbled and grown in patience. I want to advocate for those who have who need advocating for.
I will always look for ways to commemorate their impact on me. I am getting married this September. I will be honoring my grandparents by having their handprints on my heart.
Want to know more? Be sure to read Brittany’s other posts.
During a drive to work I began thinking about the differences between an “average Joe” and a caregiver in terms of personality and temperament. Not to say we’re not “normal” (what is normal anyway?) or like every other human being, but I believe there is something that sets us apart.
1) Caregivers fill the gap systemically.
You make the phone calls. You take them to their appointments. You give the baths. You make the food. You do it all. So why is it so hard for others to see the need? Because you saw the bigger picture of what what needed, doesn’t mean others have or that they ever will. This was the hardest truth for me to manage as a caregiver. You see a need. A great need that isn’t easy, and choose to serve your loved one anyway. I cannot think of a more beautiful love. Through the resentment, betrayal from others, or envy you may feel, remind yourself that that this journey is a testament of your lovingkindness. You have a gift to be see what is needed in the various systems of your loved one’s life. You are not perfect, but you do what you can do fill the gap. Simply, those who would not see a need would not be able to help…definitely not in the ways that you do.
2) Caregivers have strong values.
You understand that there are standards we are to aim for in our lives, including a quality life. Your being in the midst of your loved one’s life proves that your aim is to help them thrive. Having a value system has a huge impact on how we make life decisions and prioritize our time. Again, because our values may differ from others, we can feel slighted quite often. We are looking through our own lenses and it seems so clear what we are striving for. This is what I love about caregivers– instead of choosing the path of least resistance (social norms or values), you choose to follow your moral compass (intrinsic values) instead…even if it means much more hardship.
I encourage you to take a small moment of your time and write out your top three values of life. Mine would look something like: 1) Communication and respect are key in any relationship 2) Family comes first 3) Show kindness to others even when it isn’t received. I would love to hear what yours are in the comments below.
3) Caregivers are leaders.
In order to be able to effectively caretake for someone, there are times we have to take hold of the reigns. We have to make the tough calls about our loved one’s health, safety, or security. Caregiving gives us additional purpose and call to action… a reason to advocate for more. Personally speaking, I never saw myself as a “leader” personality. I grew up painfully shy and am very meek-spirited. I believe caregiving showed me the reserves of strength and qualities I never knew I had deep down inside.
I hope you too are able to see how caregiving has grown and moved you. I hope you are able to see that you are a shining light in darkness. I hope you see that you are not set aside, but set apart from others. You are a caregiver.
I spend my nights in the ER while my friends are out having fun
I admit it. I’ve felt pangs of jealousy before… When I was a caregiver, I felt it pretty often sitting in the hospital. It seemed my grandparents and I frequented the emergency room. This is when jealousy flooded: “Why am I the only one my age I know in the position? None of my friends know how I feel. They’re out dancing and I’m here anxiously awaiting news from the doctor”…so on and so forth. Of course I felt guilt for thinking such thoughts. I would then invalidate my feelings: How could I feel this way when my grandparent is the one truly suffering?
For some young adults, we can feel like we’re missing out on the shining milestones of life. This is especially true for young caregivers. It’s hard to not go into a dark place when we see people our age glistening in the sun. It is common to compare our lives to others; yet, it is a thief of peace. Comparison is a perception that our accomplishments carry less weight than those of the person next to us.
I would like to offer a few positive reframes that encourage us to focus on our own upward progression instead of what is happening in the lives of other people our age. I preface the points with the fact that I fall short to hold fast to these concepts just like anyone else.
1) Pain is temporary
What you are experiencing may feel like a lifetime of hardship, but it will not last forever. If you take notice, most difficult things in life are temporary. Pain is fleeting. When we choose to hold on to joy we are squelching the pain. In my profession I often see individuals who think there is no hope for a future which quickly leads to depressive symptoms such as isolating or apathy. To avoid unhealthy beliefs, ask yourself what situations or thoughts trigger the pain in order to manage, avoid, or prepare for such triggers. When you feel a good time to do so, express yourself through a healthy form of release. I personally love art as a form of expression. You can find emotion release art activities here if you are interested as well.
2) You have a right to strive for more
It’s easy to let fear or insecurity stop us in our tracks. Caregiving can easily exacerbate the everyday stress we face anyway, making goal attainment that much more difficult. Nevertheless, you have every right to achieve your goals. There will be hardships and what feels like failures, but keep trying. Identify what contributes to any setbacks you have and explore ways to either avoid or work around such difficulties.
Assertiveness works well here. Let others know what you need from them to help you get to where you need to be. Even if they do not assist you, at least you voiced your needs. It takes a village to raise a child and it took one to help me too. I relied heavily upon my faith, my mother, and a close friend.
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
3) Caregiving is enriching
Let’s reverse compare for a moment: As a young caregiver, what skills have you learned that some young adults do not own? For me, it was humility, patience, and advocacy. Through caregiving I learned the value of a human life and the importance of enjoying little, loving moments. I now have enormous gratitude for my hard-working elders. I see the importance of connectedness to others. As difficult as it is to redirect our thoughts to the positive, it is essential to our mental health and stability. Notice how caregiving has grown you as a person and/or professional.
Caregiving is a responsibility bestowed upon the strongest for the purpose of uplifting another. See yourself through the eyes of the person you’re caring for. You are learning something through this that will strengthen you in the many seasons of your life to come. Now that is something to be jealous of!
I read an article yesterday that highlighted the importance of upholding the vow “in sickness and in health” in marriage. It discussed how often married couples who have not had to physically care for another take this vow lightly. As a young, engaged caregiver, I wonder: How will my caregiving experience influence my marriage?
I was a caregiver for both of my elderly grandparents until they passed a year apart from one another. My grandfather passed less than six months ago, my grandmother in March of 2013.
I believe that young caregivers have many disadvantages and are a hidden population. Young adults in general are perceived as self-absorbed and driven toward their own needs. Perhaps this is true for some, yet definitely not true for young caregivers. In terms of marriage preparation, I believe we have an advantage.
We already know what it means to fully give, fully love, and identify the needs of another.
Marriage is scary enough already. We all know the stats on divorce. I think about the ingredients for a healthy marriage from what I’ve heard and read…I’m certain that being attune to the needs of our spouse is one of them. Whether our partner is sick or just needing an ear to listen to them, young caregivers in relationships have the pre-disposed knowledge to meet needs.
We already know how to commit. We may want to give up, but we don’t.
I also think about caregivers who are providing for their ill or injured spouse currently. I have the upmost respect for you. I want to learn from your experience, how this has strengthened or changed you as a spouse. What have you tried to keep your marriage healthy?
Perhaps we are called to this for a greater purpose in other relationships. I know that I’ve been given the blessing of caregiving so that I could be a better person, and hopefully a giving, attuned wife.
I’m a firm believer that our thinking has the power to build us up or tear us down. As a caregiver, you deserve to think highly of yourself and be your biggest cheerleader (even if you’re the only one cheering!) We best build ourselves up by taking control of our thinking.
Personally speaking, I’ve struggled with worrying too much most of my young adulthood. Worrying has a benefit for me because it puts me in planning mode: I gear up for what I think is to come. Yet the consequences are far worse. Worrying weakens me, steals my joy, and I’m probably not too fun to be around. Worry starts with one or more thoughts deriving from fear of something. When I notice these fear-based thoughts, I am then able to reframe them into more helpful thoughts. Thoughts that don’t make me want to huddle in a corner somewhere!
So, I want to offer the same encouragement to you that I give to myself: You have the power to change your mindset in any (yes, any) situation you are in.
This change begins with self-awareness. Have an internal conversation with yourself to find out what is happening in your mind and body. What triggers the unhelpful thoughts you’re having? Is it a certain time of day? After speaking with a particular person?
For me, I noticed my work-related worry thoughts peaked after weekly staff meetings. As a caregiver, I noticed my worry and depressing thoughts peaked during my grandmother’s doctor’s appointments. If you can find a theme or linked thread to the unhelpful thoughts, you then become more apt to help yourself prepare for and manage them.
Here is a list of a few common unhelpful thinking patterns we all have engaged in. Don’t beat yourself up if you fallen privy to some of these. It’s normal as our mind wants to focus on perceived threats (i.e. the negative) more than positive experiences. Instead of helping us deal with the threats/issues, these thoughts just leave us feeling bad. When you notice an unhelpful thought occurring, practice stopping the thought and thinking something a little more helpful. For example, instead of “my time is so short…I’ll never get anything done” one could try to reframe as “I do not have much time right now, but I’ll focus on what I can get done and choose to be okay with that”.
A few unhelpful thinking patterns
This happens when we fail to look at the full picture and see both the positives and negatives of a situation, and instead focus solely on the negative. example: Family comes to visit an ill family member and brings gifts, however must leave early. A “filtered” thought would be: “How rude of them to leave early, they act like they don’t care at all” instead of taking into account that the family came and brought gifts.
Black or white thinking
Seeing things as either all good or all bad. There’s no room for gray. People often use ‘either/or’ talk here. example: “Either they help me take mom to the doctor’s appointment or I won’t have anything to do with them anymore”.
Jumping to conclusions
This is probably the most obvious one, we tend to make assumptions before we have actual evidence. example: “I can’t make soup for my son anymore because he got sick the one time I did”. A silly example I know, but still applies 🙂
Assuming other behaviors and situations are directly linked to a personal deficit. Example: “We were late to the annual family Christmas party and caused my family to start the party late. I should have made sure we were ready on time”. Maybe there were other reasons that caused the party to be late!
Assuming that what you’re doing now is not good enough. This leads to self-defeating thoughts and feelings of guilt. example: “I should make self-care a priority”, “I should talk to my family more”, etc.
An “I think, therefore I am” approach. People who are emotional reasoners will believe their negative thoughts of themselves as truths. In the negative context, this is downright harmful. “I think I’m boring and mean” doesn’t necessarily mean you are. Feelings are just feelings, not facts.
What do you do to change your thinking at times? How has it worked for you? Thanks for reading!
Everyone’s caregiving journeys are different regardless of our age. However, being a young adult caregiver brings a unique set of challenges. Here are some aspects from my experiences as a young caregiver.
1) Am I doing this right?
During graduate school, I maintained pretty good grades. I was fairly confident in my abilities to achieve and get my degree. I was learning something I was really passionate about which made it that much easier to do well.
When you’re a caregiver, you don’t get handed back an exam grade that says A+ for really good caretaking. I really could have used an exam to measure my efforts during this time though. For me, I often wondered if I was doing enough. I chose to become a caregiver because I saw a need, like most in this role have seen. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others in general through social work and chose to start at home.
My amazing, witty, beautiful grandmother was diagnosed late 2012 with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. My heart broke and my head spun. Head spinning breeds anxiety. My self-questioning looked a little something like:
What do I need to do? Should I talk to my boss about this? Should I go part-time? How can I comfort her best? Does she really want my help? Did I really just hear the word cancer?
It was in the moments of laughter and quiet times with my grandmother that I found the most peace. It was easier to push the insecurities away when she had good days, when we both had good days.
2) How do I balance?
True for all caregivers, and especially young adults, we are trying to find a sense of normalcy in the everyday. Our pace is fast and we’re driven to succeed in school/the workplace. Being a caregiver while trying to make your mark in life is not easy, to say the least.
I became a caregiver suddenly at the age of 24, the same time I started working my first full-time job. I remember feeling that I had two full-time jobs, both exhausting and difficult. There were many days of work I missed due to caretaking, which led me to have anxiety about my job security.
Many young caregivers are in school. Grades and attendance are often impacted hard. Luckily for me, my caregiving started when my college days were over. Whether its work or school, many young caregivers have irons in the fire already before their caregiving days begin. There were many days for me when something was sacrificed.
3) I’d like to get off this emotional rollercoaster now, please.
I could write a book, I tell you. (Perhaps I will in the future). I mentioned the anxiety fueled by insecurities and self-defeating thoughts. The emotions didn’t stop there. I often felt guilty for not being there for my grandmother as she needed because of work. Many days I sat in my office and bawled in sheer exhaustion and frustration. I was also very resentful toward family that I felt didn’t see a need to share the caretaking duties. I felt dumped on, and again, guilty for feeling this way. On the other hand, I sometimes wanted to be left alone.
Caregiving involves myriad emotions because you’re giving so much of yourself and don’t know what outcome this will bring. You’re taking a walk out on faith.
4) I’m learning about myself through this.
In all of the emotions and grief, I discovered some things about myself. I’m a tough cookie. I learned that even though I’m a young adult, I have a lot to offer the world. As a young adult caregiver, I have a lot of insight to offer the world about caregiving.
I gave a lot of myself to my grandmother, but the rewards were many. She gave me the ability to love with all of myself and to develop patience for others. I didn’t see it this way much during my caregiving. Now I see how great a blessing this experience was for my personal development.