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.