Throughout the semester, we have read many examples of the ways young women can come of age. Looking back over all the texts, I feel like the ones I relate to the most involve caring for family members, either grandparents or parents. In my opinion, coming of age is about creating your own identity, but it’s also a turning in point in which you realize your life is not about living for just yourself. The call to be selfless, in often very difficult circumstances is an act of true maturity, patience, and I believe, “coming of age.”
My coming of age journey so far has two significant points. The first was when I was 18 and had to start taking care of my aging great aunt Ellen, or my mother’s aunt. She was in her late 80’s, living in her small house with my grandmother, and her Alzheimer’s had advanced to the point where she couldn’t be left alone or look after herself. My parents refused to put any relatives into nursing or retirement homes, so we made it a point for us all to share the responsibility of caring for Ellen. Starting the summer after my freshman year of college, I would spend three days a week at my grandmother and Ellen’s house. When I, my sisters, or my mother were there, we were up the full 24 hours, watching Ellen, dressing her, making her meals, giving her medication, helping her walk, taking her to the bathroom, cleaning up after her, putting her to bed, etc. We always had to have her in our sight because she always tried to get up off the couch and walk around, but she was very weak and would fall if she didn’t have a walker or someone holding her hand. But even with the walker, she would fall backwards. That was why we had to be up 24/7. At night, Ellen had difficulty sleeping and got up to use the restroom often 3 or 4 times. We had a baby monitor next to her bed, because the second she started to get up we had to go and help her. We switched off days, but it was exhausting, stressful, and lonely. There was no internet or cable, and Ellen’s Alzheimer’s made it so that she could barely talk, so conversation was out of the question. She lived with her sister, my grandmother, but she only made the situation worse. My grandmother was always a very cruel and verbally abusive woman to my mother and my sisters, but for some reason she hated me especially. The arguments and insults from her only made the hours drag longer. Towards the end of the summer, one of my sisters left the country to do work with a hospital in Africa, and my other sister got a job. What this meant was that I had to take over their “shifts” in caring for Ellen. My three days a week turned to four, which turned to five. Five days a week of no sleep, caring for a completely helpless woman who didn’t even remember who I was, and with nothing but the company of a horribly mean and abusive grandmother was one of the most difficult times of my life. I had to sacrifice almost all of my time, energy, and sanity to care for my aunt, but I loved her and knew there was no other option. I watched as all my friends partied, travelled, worked part time jobs and internships, and overall enjoyed the perks of being young during the summer. I felt like I was robbed of my college youth and forced into adulthood prematurely, and battled with depression and stress. Looking back though, I know I grew so much from the experience, and was able to give my aunt the company and care of family as opposed to putting her away in a lonely home full of strangers. I do not regret the experience, and I’m happy that I was even around and physically able to do the care taking, proud because that meant my own aging parents didn’t have to do the majority of the work.
That summer and the following year my family was absorbed with the care of my great-aunt, followed by the care of my grandmother until the time of both of their passings. Since then, although my family has had less stress and pressure, new challenges have been arising. This past year I consider my second and most significant coming of age experience, as I have had to finally give up my “carefree youth” and become a caretaker and even a parent at times for my own father. My father has advanced Parkinson’s Disease, and in the past year his symptoms and health issues have exponentially increased. His movement is very limited, and he has difficulty with everyday tasks such as talking, eating, and even walking. I never imagined that my experience as caretaker for my almost 90-year old great aunt would come in handy so soon for my own father, who is only 66.
Starting this summer and going into this semester, my father has needed several trips to the emergency room, and underwent two heart procedures. There were many days and nights where he lost all ability to move, and my mother and I had to help him off the floor where he falls often, and in and out of bed or the couch. I have missed many classes and shifts due to the need to care for my father or take him to his appointments. Although I am the youngest of three sisters, “the baby of the family,” much of the physical responsibility of caring for my dad falls on me. My eldest sister lives in Northern California and only visits a couple days a month. My other sister lives at home as well, but isn’t as patient or even present as much as I am. Also, since my father can’t drive and neither my mother nor my middle sister have their driver’s license (long, long story), it’s up to me alone to drive my dad to the doctor and run errands. Although I am the youngest in the family and still at the age where people are living on their own, partying, and traveling, I have been forced to grow up. I never thought that I would have the pressure of aging and sick parents in my early 20’s… it always seemed that that time would come much later in life. This semester I have been grappling with the loss my father figure as the man in my life who took care of my family, and the rise of my need to take care of him. I have had to be more patient, more gentle, more strong, more flexible, and more responsible than ever before. That is why I consider this overall experience as my coming of age.