One of the most important things that losing my mum has taught me is that the burden of care falls to women and girls. My mum died of ovarian cancer 10 years ago, when I was 11. So, in my teens, I took on a different role in my family than most of my peers who still had their mums.
After she passed, I found that I gradually began to shoulder more responsibility for looking after elderly relatives, including my grandmother, and negotiating family dynamics. I know that if my mum were alive, the responsibility would have fallen to her. I feel I have inherited the role of caregiver, where my brothers did not. The burden of care refers to the physical, emotional, social and financial problems experienced by caregivers. For me, this burden mainly surrounded physical and emotional tasks.
My grandmother lived around the corner from me, so I would often do her shopping and run errands for her. When she became unwell I would do cooking and cleaning, help her take her medication and try to make sure she did not feel isolated. Even during exam periods, I would try to see her every day, so that I could spend a few hours helping her. I began to feel very anxious when I hadn’t seen her for a few days and would feel guilty for not being there. Eventually, she began to accept paid carers coming to her house, so when I visited I mainly just provided emotional support.
My brothers help look after our elderly relatives and certainly are caring people. My older brother is even training to become a social worker – a good example of a job where the gender imbalance in care is reflected by the lack of men in the role. But I have always felt that the expectation of care falls to me. The care they provide is an extra, altruistic, act as opposed to a responsibility.
Before my father’s decline, he was a preeminent scholar of Black religious history. As brilliant as he’d been, I wasn’t sure, at the end of his...