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I recently returned from a one-week trip to India to see the elderly in the family.
Be it out of care or love or compulsion or moral responsibility…this was my fourth trip to the motherland in a year.
During COVID-19, there were hospitalizations on both sides of the family and my father moved to another city, so between my brother, his wife, my husband, and me…we have been making frequent trips back and forth.
The lady at my eyebrow threading salon in New York City sends me a text every week to share her work schedule for the week, so I know her availability. Last week when I told her I was in India for the week, she wrote back, “How lucky! Hope you ate yummy food and had fun.” I rolled my eyes. Because she goes back to India once a decade and has no caregiving responsibilities (her brother manages everything), her perception of India travels means food and fun.
While in India, I worked during the night to honor East Coast hours and study for my upcoming exams in the Ayurveda Doctorate Program. During the day, I spent time with the elderly (caregiver hours) and accompanied them to their appointments or listened to their tantrums or helped them when they were feeling sick—yoga, marma massage, and Ayurvedic home remedies for immediate relief from ailments.
Everywhere I went, there were morbid conversations about how this might be the last time I’d be seeing them instead of focusing on the now that we were hanging out.
On this trip, I barely slept—the Wi-Fi in India was unreliable, which made remote work stressful; the temperatures were seething; and the environment was emotionally tense.
Since my last trip in December, the elderly seemed more detached, paranoid, and self-absorbed. Just when I thought I’d figured out how to handle them, there was a new twist in the situation. I was hit with over two dozen 70-80-year-olds inside of a week—people focused on what’s not working in their lives and the age-related health challenges. A few also had an opinion on how I should take care of the elders in my family. One of them even yelled at me asking me to change my return plans to the United States; this was when a group of them went to a birthday party (with magician present) that evening. It’s amazing how all these opinion-sharers never show up when parents or in-laws are sick, but they meddle with authority and unabashedly share their opinions.
Caregiving is a difficult job! It doesn’t come with a manual. You’ll try to do everything right but rarely receive any acknowledgment for the work, sacrifices, or maturity. There are also the nonessential demands on your time, and if you try to set boundaries, it blows up in your face. I have seen parents and parents-in-law of friends and cousins be all nice to me. But they are judgmental and critical toward their own kin. It’s the same story in every house. Let’s be clear; you don’t take care of the elderly and make their old age comfortable for accolades. But the human mind works best with a little encouragement and support. A little love never hurts.
I have never once heard any words of appreciation for all these trips I make. Truth is, I am a woman in my 40s and my emotional capacity to navigate bad behavior and physical endurance to jump from one continent to another is also fading. Traveling to India four times within the year isn’t cheap, comfortable, or cozy. These frequent visits to the motherland mean I make compromises elsewhere—the income doesn’t change just because your responsibilities increase. Let’s not forget that I live with an autoimmune, which means I am risking my health getting on that plane and offering caregiving in different cities nonstop. Every elderly person who meets me has a health-related question that I am expected to answer, which means I’m always in work mode. I don’t mind helping them, but no rest around the senior citizens is my reality.
Most people from my generation that I have spoken with are perpetually battling burnout. They feel invisible and exhausted. The Gen Xers are the sandwich generation—juggling caring for an aging adult while raising a child. The ones with older children are accommodating their teenage moods and needs. We are exhausted to the bones and people act surprised when we share our vulnerabilities. “But we brought up five kids. You don’t know parenting.”
I don’t think my generation asks for an award or a plaque announcing, “Best Offspring of the Year.” But it would be nice to hear some kind words or some level of acknowledgement and definitely less criticism. Most of us help with medical bills and living expenses for the elderly, aside from emotionally and physically showing up. We are trying our darndest best to understand and empathize.
Caregiving responsibilities take a toll on you financially, emotionally, and physically. I have friends who fall sick every single time they visit their parents, be it in the United States or overseas. The emotional energy in these situations can be intense.
On this trip, I said a final goodbye to my mother’s hometown, my childhood home, and relatives in that city. It’s in a different part of the country, and I don’t see myself traveling back to this place during my travels to India. Imagine meeting the new owners of your childhood home. Imagine when the owner’s daughter tells you that she read your book, Saris and a Single Malt, after she lost her father. Imagine wishing deeply for your mother to show up from the kitchen, draped in a cotton saree and a ladle in hand. It was a raw and excruciating experience. But there was no space for me to focus on my healing because the purpose of my trip was to offer caregiving duties.
I can be described as a happy and fun-loving person who doesn’t need much, but I don’t remember the last time I felt sprightly in these past few years. The inherent lightness of my personality is now buried under concerns. Because I prioritize the well-being of my loved ones, it leaves me less time to do the things I enjoy. I am not complaining about being a caregiver, as I am grateful to be caring for our elders. But I am raising awareness about the detrimental and unaddressed aspects of caregiving that people don’t talk about. Caregiving burnout is real! Massive emotional and physical exhaustion where you might feel you have nothing to give. I have seen friends and cousins go numb and disconnect.
That is why as a caregiver it is important that you take out time for you.
In my followup article, I will share self-care tips for caregivers as they navigate caregiving duties.
“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know was possible.” ~ Tia Walker