Posted on tumblr as well.
One day, whether you are expecting it or not, you will be presented with a life to care for. This life will change your own, and it will be happy and messy and heartbreaking and rewarding. You will be exhausted 70% of the time, closer to 90% if you're doing it on your own.
You will sleep when they sleep, which won't be nearly as often as you expect or need. You will become intimately familiar with the smell of poopy diapers. You will learn to be an expert in bathing and dressing a wriggling, sometimes squalling human being, and you will quickly learn which foods they prefer, and which ones make them give you "that" face.
You won't have a social life anymore, at least not for a while. If you're lucky, you'll find others dealing with the same experience, and they'll be the lifeline your tired, stressed brain will cling to. Do you have hobbies? Forget about having any time for them. This one person (or people, in some cases) will become the star around which you orbit.
As time passes, you'll learn their favorite word is "no," they'll only be on their best behavior when company is over, and they'll forget everything you've ever tried to teach them five minutes after the words have passed your lips.
Eventually, you'll get your life back. But there's no way this tale has a happy ending, because only death or institutionalization will free you of your charge.
Because I'm not talking about being a parent--I'm talking about being a caregiver. Specifically, a caregiver to one or more elderly persons. In my case, both my parents.
My dad passed away last March, and while I was heartbroken, I was glad I got to spend the last two years of his life with him, taking care of him and negating the need for strangers to do it, which he would have hated. His mind stayed as sharp as it ever had been right up to the end, and I'm grateful his death was relatively quick and painless.
So it's just me and Mom now. She turned 80 in October, and has been displaying creeping symptoms of dementia for some months now, with a rapid decline last week thanks to a nasty UTI. I hope her story ending will be as peaceful as Dad's, but it's looking less likely as her mind slowly deteriorates.
My mom was born 12 years before the Baby Boom started, and soon, there will be millions of people like me, unpaid caregivers doing the best we can out of love. Currently, there are few options available for unpaid caregivers (and I'm one of the lucky ones in that I have neither children of my own nor a full-time outside job) and in the coming years we will need some kind of organized, structured support system for ourselves and our loved ones. Frankly, we need it now, but in the next decade, the need will grow exponentially before it reaches crisis proportions.
There are some support systems already in place in the US, but they're haphazard at best, and vary wildly from state to state. Florida, where we live, has a sizeable senior population, so you'd think they'd be on the cutting edge of all this, but c'mon--it's Florida. As a state, we're not known for our reason and wisdom. (I understand this is also a growing concern in the UK, but that's another post from another person.)
If you live in the US, regardless of your age or circumstances, please call or e-mail your local politicians and urge them to start this ball rolling. Ask the candidates running for office what they intend to do about the coming crisis, and vote for the ones who have the best plans.
And if you see a haggard middle-aged lady stumbling through the grocery store who looks like she hasn't slept for a week, or bathed in longer, be kind. She's doing the best she can.