In this series, Keiro aims to share different aspects of caregiving through community members’ stories.

For caregivers, a difficult job becomes even more challenging during a pandemic. These essential workers at home continue to face unexpected and new circumstances. Keiro met virtually with two caregivers to listen to their journeys during the COVID-19 lockdown. For both Kaori and Sandra, keeping their parents safe meant going above and beyond to keep outside help away from their homes.

Part 2: Caring for Their Parents – Sandra and Kaori

Sandra – Sibling Collaboration

Sandra and her three siblings care for their 93-year-old mother who is recovering from a hip replacement and an aortic valve replacement. In March, when Safer at Home orders went into effect, her family decided it was best for Sandra to live with their mother. She did so for more than 18 weeks.

“I felt like it [was] a good thing to give back to her because she has been very good to us.” Sandra says it was rewarding to help her mom live independently at home and to keep her safe from COVID-19.

During this time, she helped her mother take care of the house, plant flowers in the garden, organize their storage, and reminisce about old family memories. “I would be blessed when I [would] go and buy flowers and plant them. I could see her wake up and talk about the flowers. Sometimes she would just be outside walking and looking at the garden. That was very rewarding for me.”

As weeks turned the months, the stay-at-home order felt overwhelming for Sandra. In a conversation with a friend, Sandra says they commented that the pandemic could last a year. “I was like a year? I cannot image being away from my family for that long.” She cried that night realizing how long term this was going to be. With that, she talked to her husband. “And you just have to say, ‘I can’t do this.’”

After speaking with her husband and daughters, Sandra agreed that it was time to end her extended stay. She needed a break from caregiving even though the decision wasn’t easy. “I was really worried about my mom and her getting [COVID-19],” Sandra says.

Their family switched to a weekly rotation between Sandra and her siblings each taking turns caring for their mother and delivering groceries. “We just have to come with a kind of compromise. See what’s best.”

Sandra says she’s also thankful for her mother’s neighbors who helped their family feel less isolated. One neighbor and her young son would bring homemade muffins to the house while another would lend puzzles every so often. “My mom is still able to have contact with the same people that’s been with her for years.”  

Sandra continues to keep her mother safe at home with the help of her siblings, but is still weighing her options. At the moment, she wonders what her family will decide if her mother needs more help and at what point will it be safe to allow outside help into their home.

Kaori – All-hands-on-deck to support her parents

Kaori also made big changes in her family’s lives to help keep her parents safe and healthy at home.

Kaori left her full-time job and welcomed home both of her sons who returned from college during the pandemic. She says she is thankful that both sons have stepped up in their own ways to help care for their grandparents.

“First of all, COVID has really put a lot of pressure and stress [on our family]. We don’t want anyone bringing COVID-19 into my elderly parents’ home and inadvertently getting them sick. So we’ve excluded anyone from the outside, and we have been very careful not to get sick ourselves by stringently following CDC guidelines and limiting our time outside.”

She has stopped taking her parents to certain in-person medical appointments and instead switched to virtual telehealth visits. Kaori also decided not to hire any in-home help during this time and took it upon herself to do all of the caring, cleaning, cooking, finances, and much more.

Kaori admits that while she’s doing okay and managing this new role relatively well, it’s hard to watch her father’s declining health.

“He was the rock of our family and so he feels it’s his obligation and duty to take care of us still to this day. We try to stay upbeat, but it’s very sad to see him sometimes struggle with his memory and not able to do some of the things that came so easily to him. Although we continually remind him of his numerous accomplishments and that it’s his turn to relax and enjoy life, he says he feels like he’s letting our family down.”

More than anything, Kaori says she wants to give her father the opportunity to age with dignity.

Together they’ve started taking walks and also solving sudoku puzzles as a hobby. When her father finishes a new puzzle, his eyes light up and for a moment his pride and confidence return.

Meanwhile, Kaori is practicing patience with generational differences that she may have with her mother. Sometimes they disagree about little things like what to recycle when throwing out the trash or more important things like whether to automate payments through online banking. “Normally, these issues would not cause friction, but when parent-child roles are suddenly reversed, you’ve taken on an additional household, and you’ve got COVID-19 concerns, the lack of sleep and added workload can be straining.”

In those moments, Kaori says she takes a moment for herself to catch a break. “Sometimes it’s difficult to find time for yourself, but whether it’s taking a short walk around the block, calling a friend or watching a short Netflix movie, it’s so important for your mental health to take those breaks. It allows me to be present in the moment when I’m interacting with my parents.” Kaori says it’s also important to not “sweat the small stuff.” “Considering the finite time that I have to spend with my parents, I try to remind myself that it’s all small stuff and not worth getting torn up about.”

Sometime in the future, Kaori says she may consider hiring help if the pandemic clears and it’s safe to do so. But for now, “I am grateful that I have this opportunity to spend time with and give back to my parents, and I want to make sure that the remaining time that they have, they are happy and they live to their fullest with dignity and respect. That’s our hope.”

Continued from Part 1: Caring for Partners