At the time, my mom was living in Bellingham, Washington, two years into providing unpaid live-in care for her father-in-law (my step-grandfather, who I reluctantly call “Grandpa,” despite not having much of a relationship with him). He was suffering from debilitating cancer and heart disease. But providing home care to him came at a price to my mom’s health, safety, financial security, and family. The job was all-consuming: She quit painting and gardening, which she loved, and she grew isolated from her own children and grandkids during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, Grandpa had asked for my mother’s help in exchange for room and board. The offer came just when she was on the brink of homelessness. But keeping up with the demands of caring for Grandpa meant she put her own health needs last.

My mom’s needs—for her health, finances, and personal happiness—have always taken a back seat. Raised in a strict Catholic family, she grew up believing women were supposed to care for others, whether blood relatives or not, and not pursue careers or dreams. When doctors found a tumor in my father’s brain, my mom, then in her early 20s, set up a hospital bed in our dining room and tended to him for five years until he died.

My mom overheard Grandpa tell people he rescued her from homelessness by offering her room and board. While taking her in was a kind gesture, my mother was providing him with round-the-clock care—a job that paid caregivers in the state of Washington receive a living wage for. According to ZipRecruiter, paid live-in caregivers in Washington make more than the national average, which is about $17–$18 an hour, $35,360–$37,440 annually, and that the room provided is required to be clean and habitable. Every night, my mom tripped through the sea of clutter just to reach her bed. She kept her belongings in plastic storage bins in the bathtub.

Read more on Yes.

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