I remember the moment when everything changed in my family. It was a Sunday in May 2011, and I was at work, when my cell phone rang. It was my mom.
“Esther, I don’t want you to worry,” she told me, “but your dad just had a stroke.”
And just like that, my mom became a caregiver joining the tens of millions of other Americans who are caring for an aging parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a friend.
In the weeks and months that followed, my mom devoted her life to caring for my dad —feeding him all of his meals, bathing him, and navigating the complicated and patchy long-term care system in our country to make sure he could get the care he needed. And this was on top of her full-time job as a dental assistant.
Caregiving for my dad became a family-wide team effort (and luckily, my mom had the support of my youngest brother, who’d just graduated from college and moved back home to help take care of our dad). I would fly down to Texas from New York as often as I could, and that’s when I would see the toll that caregiving was taking on her—the nights that she would fall asleep in her desk chair, exhausted after 16-hour days, the piles of bills and mail that would go unopened because she simply didn’t have the time to think of anything other than making it to the end of each day.
As my dad’s health declined and we realized that he needed more support than we could provide, we began to worry. Could we afford a home care aide? (No.) How would we find one? (No idea.) What if he had to go to a nursing home at some point? How would we be able to afford the cost, which was several thousand dollars a month? What did Medicare cover? (Practically nothing.)
What I learned through all of this is that as a nation, we are hugely unprepared to meet the needs of families like mine who are struggling to care for our loved ones, especially as they age. We face impossible choices — leave our jobs to become caregivers, or take on caregiving responsibilities on top of full-time work; spend down our assets to qualify for Medicaid or go into debt; care for ourselves or care for our loved ones, often to the detriment of our health.
But this can change, especially if more of us who are caregivers demand real solutions.
Caring Across Generations is building a movement to say #WeAllCare, and that it’s time for our elected officials to hear from us and to make caregiving a part of every discussion about the future of our country.
The timing couldn’t be more crucial, as every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65. By 2032, there will be more of us over the age of 85 than under the age of 15. It’s time to start building the infrastructure, policies, and solutions we need to care for our aging loved ones now and into the future.
As Caring Across co-director Ai-jen Poo writes in her new book The Age of Dignity, “We brought water and electricity to every home. We can bring quality care to every home.”
That vision inspires me every day. I hope it inspires you as well. Sign our pledge to say #WeAllCare today.