Then one day I lost it. Both Ma and Dad had medical appointments. I lifted Ma from her chair to her wheelchair and, as I pushed her to my car, tried to also make sure that Dad was using his walker correctly and not losing his balance. At the car, I first helped Dad into the front seat; I then strained to transfer Ma from the wheelchair to the back seat. Although a very thin woman, Ma felt like dead weight; she dug her nails into my arms, as if she were trying to find leverage in my skin. Once I had both my parents safely in the car and buckled in, I folded and lifted the heavy wheelchair and put it in the trunk; then I folded the walker and put it next to Ma.
I repeated this process to get my parents out of the car and into the doctor’s office, yet again to get them back into the car after their appointments, and one final time to get them out of the car and back in their apartment. By the time I had them settled, I was too exhausted and stressed to make dinner. Through a voice resonating with tears, I ordered pizza.
Caregiving has its rewards. Knowing I could be there for my elderly parents comforted me; my proximity and availability made me less scared about their welfare. But it also made me feel an exhaustion that I had never before experienced–not even when raising two teenagers as a single parent. It made me feel a sense of burnout that not even decades of teaching had generated. Caregiving depleted me of my energy, causing me to collapse into bed every night.
However, ten years after the death of my mother and thirty months after the death of my father, I would welcome the chance to once again feel that profound exhaustion and stress–if it meant having my parents back.