You don’t know what you’re really made of until you have to take care of someone you love while also taking care of your own serious health condition, too. How do I know? I learned by living it.
I was my 84-year-old mom’s live-in caregiver until her death last October. We shared a home for the last 10 years of her life because it was helpful for both of us. She needed someone to help carry in the groceries, and I needed a place to live. Like too many other people living with HIV, my journey has involved a financial descent from the middle class into dependence upon government-funded programs to help cover the many thousands of dollars it costs to maintain your health with this disease.
Mom had long trusted me to accompany her to medical appointments because, thanks to my own experience with chronic illness, I could speak “medicalese” with the doctors and then translate as needed afterward. This became even more important as the number of complications, specialists, and procedures increased in the last two years of her life. At some point I realized that, all the practical assistance aside, being Mom’s advocate and champion was the most important contribution I could make to her care. I couldn’t have predicted how important my background in HIV-AIDS advocacy would prove to be in my new role as an elder caregiver—or, as I preferred to think of it, simply caring for my beloved mom.
Caring for our parents as they age seems like the obvious way to repay them. Yet, some people ask: Can I refuse to care for an elderly parent? The...