MindSpace: The 24/7 week – Having a career and being a caregiver

Caring for elderly parents while holding down a job is one of the toughest juggling acts in the world. Two caregivers tell us their stories.


Caring for elderly parents while holding down a job is one of the toughest juggling acts in the world, because you can’t really choose between career and care. And when the need for care ends, you’ve changed, so have your relationships, and your career options.

Pic - Harsha K R | Flickr

Representational image. Pic – Harsha K R | Flickr

Here, two caregivers share their stories:

Working it out, one day at a time

It has been 11 years since Anupama Bijur became a caregiver. She began by looking after her mother, then she cared for her uncle. Now, Anupama is a caregiver to her 85-year old father. She also works full-time as a journalist in Bangalore and is currently Regional Editor at the national magazine Femina.

“It’s been 11 years of living with anxiety, living from emergency to emergency. I have a day nurse and a night nurse for my father. My sister in the US is a phone call away, but I deal with the daily challenges alone—the unscheduled leave from nurses, the medical emergencies, the weight of someone being completely emotionally dependent on you 24/7,” she says.

Anupama is on full alert, all the time. “On Sundays, I substitute for the nurses and maids. Personal time is a luxury. Watching a 20-minute sitcom uninterrupted is something I haven’t done in a long time. It’s a constant battle to make your parents as comfortable as possible and not feel resentful because you can’t go out for a meal with your friends and not feel guilty,” she points out.

What’s more, a working professional has to overcome unique challenges. “The need for elder care comes at a time when most people are at a fairly senior level in their careers so you’re torn up with guilt on two fronts: the constant requests for leave, early outs, and late ins, and the fact that you’re leaving your parents in the care of nurses even when they are unwell, because work can’t be neglected. The financial costs are heavy too. Elder care is not cheap,” she points out.

Thankfully, she has always had understanding employers. “I have been extremely fortunate in that aspect. I’ve been able to work from home, sometimes I’ve even delivered on deadlines sitting in hospital wards,” she says wryly.

That her father has ageing-related problems but is mentally alert, is also something she is profoundly grateful for. Elder care, like child care, she stresses, comes at the cost of lost opportunities in career advancements, travel, social engagements, alone time, and even relationships with partners. But children grow up; teething troubles are temporary. Illnesses such as kidney disease and complications from old age are not. There are no happy milestones here, she says.

“When it comes to caring for your parents, at every moment, you’re painfully aware of their mortality. Seeing them in pain makes the process all the more emotionally draining. And when your parents apologise for being a burden on you, it’s so heart-wrenching there are no words to describe it,” she adds.

Love, loss, and letting go

Will caring end just because the need for care does? For Vrinda (name changed), it certainly doesn’t. Her mother passed away a few years ago. “But I still haven’t come to terms with my changed circumstances, my grief,” she explains. Grappling with her loss is one aspect, trying to heal past hurts and strained family ties is something else altogether.

Vrinda’s mother had dementia and was bedridden towards the end. She cared for her mother with the assistance of trained help. Care giving for a person with dementia is an intense and isolating experience by itself, but in Vrinda’s case things were made more difficult because her in-laws didn’t understand how the dementia had changed her mother. Because her mother hurled accusations at her, and complained about her (persons with dementia tend to become aggressive/suspicious and accusatory).

“My in-laws duly accused me of torturing my mother, they called me a bad person, a bad daughter. They threw me out of my own house. Even after I explained what dementia was doing to my mother, they never expressed any regret for saying the harsh, cruel things they did.”

Today, that breach in ties is yet to be repaired. “How do you heal such a break? How do you trust again,” she asks. Ironically enough, Vrinda is today also tasked with caring for her surviving in-law.

So yes, letting go has proved extremely tough for Vrinda. And fitting back in with her contemporaries, is turning out to be equally difficult. This highly educated woman (she has degrees from esteemed educational institutions in the country) has always been an introvert. “I don’t make friends easily and being a caregiver for so many years basically cuts you off from the rest of society, not to mention any chance of employment. Now I am a different person, my peers are different. Re-establishing social connections is proving to be an effort because I feel nothing in common with the people around me, or their concerns. So, now I have to get over the memories of the mother I lost, and also come to terms with the person I was and the person I am now,” she adds.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Divya Sreedharan is a journalist and author in Bangalore. She writes on gender, health, lifestyle and ageing-related issues for various publications and has a blog titled Connected Lives on Citizen Matters. more

   FOLLOW US

   SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
  Top Stories on TA






  Top Stories in LIFESTYLE






   Get stories like this in your inbox

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Divya Sreedharan is a journalist and author in Bangalore. She writes on gender, health, lifestyle and ageing-related issues for various publications and has a blog titled Connected Lives on Citizen Matters. more

Discuss this article on Facebook