Shortly after I graduated from high school I became a caregiver for my uncle. Up until then, he and I had a non-existent relationship. I’m not even sure if he knew my name, as he kept referring to me as TaTa (which I always thought was a little inappropriate considering that my breasts are on the larger side). To be completely honest I didn’t want to care for him. I had my own issues, and, again, I didn’t have a real relationship with him. Strangely enough, once I did start caring for him, I started to have an understanding and compassion for him—something I would have never had, had I not become his caregiver.
I learned a lot about the family’s history, his childhood, and his days as a Soul Train dancer. As nice as the conservations were, it wasn’t always easy taking care of him. Arguments quickly erupted when I refused to take him to get fast food and offered to prepare him fresh food. After hours of going back and forth on the issue, he would then try to compromise with me—telling me that if I got junk food for him, he would have some vegetables later (I fell for it the first few times, but I quickly caught on). Sometimes, he would starve himself all-day, even with plenty of food in the house, waiting for me to come over so that I could get him something he “wanted” to eat. He would refuse to go to the doctor or take his medication properly. But no matter how stubborn he became, I wanted him to get better. Sadly, it just seemed like I wanted it more than he did. Even though I had my own health issues, I was constantly putting his needs before my own. Even after he passed away, I stayed up many nights wondering what more could I had done.
When my father’s health began to decline, I started to take a larger role in caring for him. He’s stubborn just like my uncle (his brother) and it sometimes felt as if history is repeating itself. We’d often clash on what I think he should do for his health and what he wants to do. Every time his dietary restrictions changed, I would run to the grocery store to get him everything he needed. For three days he would follow the new plan, then return to his old habits. I’d spend hours in the kitchen making him a fresh meal just for him to pour sugary barbecue sauce all over it.
I had often felt burdened caring for my dad, but I did it because I felt that it was required of me. I put all my time and energy into taking care of him, that I stopped taking care of myself—I stopped working out, canceled doctor’s appointments, and stopped cooking for myself as much. I put my health, and even my marriage, on hold so that I could care for him. I invested all of what I could, in order to help him get better. My entire world began to revolve around him. I started to grow desperate for him to get better so that the burden of his care would be lifted from me. Along the way, I began to resent him because it seemed as if I wanted him to get better more than he wanted it.
I don’t believe that anyone could ever care TOO much as a caregiver. Although it often felt like I was putting more work into my uncle’s and father’s health than they were, the problem wasn’t that I cared more—the problem was that I used caring for them as a way to avoid my own health issues. It was easier for me to place the care of others before me because that meant that I didn’t have to deal with the underlying issues in my own life and health. I didn’t mind placing the care of my dad before my marriage because my marriage was off to a rocky start anyway. Caring for my dad got me out of having to argue with my husband.
The only reason that caring for my dad and uncle became burdensome was because I placed that burden upon myself.
To be continued…