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The Weight and the Gravity

Jun/07/2024 / by Amita Mehta

Being a full-time caretaker takes time, but comes with its own special joys

It’s been more than a year since you died, and yet it feels like yesterday. You took your last breath in my arms. Just like that, the nurses removed your bangles and beautiful gold necklace and placed them in my trembling hands as if it was a normal day, as if you hadn’t left the earth. Left me. It felt surreal, leaving me with a hole in my heart. I was your caretaker, daughter, best friend. You were my sunshine, my biggest cheerleader. I made you proud and I made mistakes. You never judged me. You even laughed at my goofy jokes. What was I going to do without you?

Over the past two decades, my role in our family became more prominent as a caretaker for my parents, especially as my mother’s health deteriorated and her needs became more complex.

Despite the fact that my parents wanted to remain independent and maintain the roots they established as refugees in Lancaster County, PA over 50 years ago, I finally convinced them to move closer to me in New Jersey.  My three older brothers were sprawled out from Atlanta to Hawaii. 

I never gave it a second thought. I never considered the impact it would have to be the point guard, taking care of everything from their health needs to their finances. I never thought about sitting down with my brothers (even “mota bhai”) to have holistic discussions about their future needs. Even as it became increasingly labor intensive, I mostly relished the opportunity to take care of them, and I never really considered handing that role off to one of my brothers.

While I embraced my caretaker role, as time went on, balancing my own family’s needs and pursuing my career ambitions became more and more challenging. Parent care was becoming another full-time job. It was less and less about spending time together enjoying a Sunday afternoon feasting on mom’s staples of dal bhat shaak and rotli. 

Birthday celebrations and holidays were not as central to our lives. I was playing the role of mission control, from navigating weekly/daily doctor appointments, investigating ways in which home cooked Indian meals could be readily available, and morning insulin shots could be administered in the event I couldn’t do it. I was becoming the parent, an advocate when they couldn’t make critical decisions. No pressure, right?

I felt the gravity, the mortality of it all. And yet I was proud of being the dutiful daughter fueled by the sacrifice they made for me to pursue all the things I want in life. My sense of purpose was defined by keeping them happy and healthy.

My mom was always a ray of light; she never asked for anything, which made it easier to want to care for her needs even more. I knew I wouldn’t have her with me forever, but I wasn’t ready for the void her absence would leave. 

I wake up on Mondays reminding myself that there are no more check ins, rides to appointments where we would laugh and mom would recount all of our memories. In this, I am trying to find the gift of time. 

Though caretaking often stereotypically falls to women, I appreciate the time I was able to spend with my mother just as I appreciate my Indian heritage. But one of my mother’s gifts was that she always encouraged me to put myself out there, take the risks she couldn’t or didn’t.  In that, I  learned that patriarchal roles can be deconstructed. I am not a big fan of rules. Mom always said I was not only her favorite child, but I was her favorite son. She liked when I broke the rules.

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