Written by Linda Tang
~In honour of Family Caregiver Month, we asked our community to share their personal stories about caregiving—the joys, the challenges, insights gained—to share with other caregivers and our larger communities. Here is one such submission…
I have lived with my mother since the 1970s in Viet Nam when the war-torn country was recovering from its wreckage. My father left the country in the early 1980s and my mother and I joined him in Vancouver in 1991. I was 19 when my father passed away and the responsibility of caregiving for my mother lies squarely on my shoulders as an only child in the family. I have no relatives to appreciate my commitment to caring for my mother all these years or someone to support me in caring for my 79 years old mother who has anxiety and depression.
Growing up in the Chinese culture, I am familiar with the expectation that children should take care of their aging parents until the day they pass on. It was a monumental task for me as I became my mother’s primary caregiver at the age of 19. I had few relationships with others outside of our home in my 20s as I was torn between my own own self-care and providing care for my mother who has a mental illness and doesn’t quite speak English. At 30 years old, I was diagnosed with MS, which gave me a legitimate reason to focus on my self-care.
Before my physical functions deteriorated (5 years ago), I had been able to accompany my mother to her medical appointments to provide language and emotional support for her. After my physical functions deteriorated, when I needed to use a walking aid to support my mobility, it became a challenge for me to continue supporting her many needs especially when I can barely walk without any aid while she can mobilize herself independently. Nevertheless, I went with her to the emergency when she had her first episode of anxiety in May last year. It was very difficult for me to mobilize myself with a walker in high-traffic areas in the hospital. So, I called an ambulance to take her to the emergency when she had another episode in December. I talked with the medical staff to provide her medical history over the phone. Hospitals generally claim to provide interpretation service for non-English speakers but the service is not always consistent, and my mother doesn’t always have the language support she needs.
Caregiving for my mother is by no means a joy but it has led me to my volunteer work with bc211 at the onset of the Pandemic in March 2020. I have been providing telephone support for two Chinese ladies once or twice a week. One of them is in her mid 80s and lives alone with no immediate family in Canada. I enjoy talking with these ladies every week as it’s my respite from my (caregiving) “work” at home. I would not characterize my caregiving for my mother a joy but it has given me a new perspective on life. I appreciate the experience of living with my 79-year-old mother during the Pandemic when many seniors are isolated in their long-term care homes.