“There’s a lot of difficulty and hurt and caregiving, but there’s a lot of things that make you a stronger and better individual…  I am not the best human. But I will say because of the caregiving, I’m the best human I’ve ever been.”

Richard Lui

While one in seven people in the United States takes on the role of caregiving, many do not identify themselves as caregivers because they feel like they are simply being the child, parent, or relative. But how can we shift societal perspectives on this role to make those one in seven people feel prepared and supported? Keiro interviewed Richard Lui, caregiver, MSNBC/NBC News anchor, author, and filmmaker, about his experience as a caregiver and how he is taking steps bringing awareness to caregiving.

From News Anchor to Long-Distance Caregiver

Richard’s caregiving experience began nine years ago, when his late father’s Alzheimer’s disease began to take a toll on not only his father, but also his mother, as she served as the primary caregiver. He related this part of their journey as attempting to “put out little fires”. Soon after though, he started to recognize that he would need to provide more support for his parents living in San Francisco.

Son holding card to father in hospital bed that says "I'm Richard, your son."
Photo Courtesy: Vino Wong/Sky Blossom Films

“How would I keep my job and also fulfill my responsibilities as a son? My dad’s condition was horrible for him. It was challenging and taxing for my mother. It was awful for my siblings. For me, it felt like a compounded loss — I was losing my dad and potentially giving up a career he had supported me in years” (Lui, 2021).

After fully grasping what had to happen, Richard made the difficult yet “right” decision to travel to and from New York to care for his parents. He traveled roughly three times a month while still working part time at NBC in New York. About eight years later, this routine had become a regular occurrence for Richard. When reflecting on where he is currently as a caregiver, he said that he has been reassessing, reunderstanding, and reinvesting what he has done, what had happened, and what it means and to stay in that mind space.

Self-Identifying as a Caregiver

Richard shared an experience that is very common for most caregivers: not self-identifying as a caregiver earlier on in the journey. It wasn’t until a few years into caregiving that he truly accepted the role that he was in. 

He was then approached by Daphne Kwok of AARP who asked about his interest in documenting his experience as a long distance caregiver. Richard initially had hesitations because he did not entirely feel like his story would make for exciting content, but it wasn’t until he was exposed to the world of caregiving that he understood and accepted that he fit into that role. 

mother and son eating food at a table

Photo Courtesy: Vino Wong/Sky Blossom Films
father and son sitting down

Photo Courtesy: Lui Family

“How am I going to know what I need to do if I don’t know what I am or what my role is? So, I was unprepared in a way of that self-identification of what I’m doing and who I am in that role. Because once you know, then you can identify what skills are required, what the objectives are, what are the outcomes that you would like to see, all of those things. ”

Although the majority of people are not necessarily prepared to take on the newfound role, Richard shared, “Most [caregivers] are on an arc of becoming prepared. A few self-identify early and prepare early. Of course, the objective now is to get people aware and to prepare earlier on.”

Not as Scary of a Word as it Appears

father and son walking down sidewalk

Photo Courtesy: Lui Family

So what is the best method to bring awareness to this self-identification? One of the first steps is to make an effort to regularly include the word “caregiving” and an understanding of what it is in our everyday lives. 

Richard commented, “Whenever you bring up ‘caregiving’, that’s already a weird word with way too many letters and it’s just strange. Any way you can think of, talk about an awkward word in the room when caregiving walks into a room of words. Everybody’s like, ‘Look at that word.’ And then you add in ‘mental health’. And those two words in the party of words are probably standing in corners by themselves.” 

These words are avoided, because they are often misunderstood. Caregiving and mental health are generally equated as negative experiences, but there is no investment in the positive part of it.

Show, Don’t Tell Your Caregiving Story

father and son sitting at table
Photo Courtesy: Lui Family

When asked about how people can shift their perspective about caregiving, Richard had a simple response: “Show, don’t tell.” He went on to explain that simply telling a story does not have the same effect as showing a story. He encourages people to take their opportunity, within what they are comfortable with, to creatively show their own stories which ultimately conveys how important the subject is to the individual. By showing the importance, the impact will manifest itself. 

With this mindset and in the midst of his journey, Richard began to blend his caregiving experience with his career. Richard directed and produced two documentaries called Sky Blossom and UNCONDITIONAL which highlighted caregiving stories, with a focus on mental health, of various individuals with different backgrounds and ages, including his own. “We knew that we weren’t necessarily going to get an Oscar [for the documentary], and we wouldn’t get all these great awards… But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.”

He also shared that incorporating social media posts about caregiving, just as people typically share about food or exercising, is one step in showing an earnest perspective of the role. Richard also recommends simply sharing other people’s posts about caregiving to bring attention to the subject. 

So this begs the question, “How will you show your story?”