A young caregiver, now 18 years old, reflects on her commitment to care for her grandmother at an early age. (TCV Ed.)
A Commitment to Care
Guest article by Leah Bender
When the tornado warning sounded, I could have gone into the basement even though my grandma wouldn’t be able to join me.
I realized the choice I had set before me–life or death.
My family would be hurt if I died. Yet, if I went into the basement and my aunt and grandma died upstairs, I was going to face the guilt and pain of knowing I hadn’t done everything in my power to be with them in the remaining moments of their lives.
I decided to stay with them come what may.
When the winds began blowing, I was sitting between a window and Grandma’s bed and I began to wonder what I had done.
PEACE OVERCOMES ME
Soon, a feeling of peace came over me; it was like nothing I had ever felt. Yes, I was sitting between a window and someone’s bed. I was sitting there and watching the tops of pine trees bending and breaking and I felt at peace because I was right where I belonged.
I was a caregiver to my grandma and I understood the commitment, honor, courage, and determination it took to hold onto someone I loved.
CAREGIVER at AGE 10
I began caring for Grandma at age 10, and there was nothing else I would have rather been doing. I do not regret how I lived those 3 years of my life. For those of you who are young caregivers, and don’t appreciate it, I understand and do not shame you; it is a great and powerful responsibility.
NEED TEACHERS and ADMINISTRATORS to UNDERSTAND
For those who are caregiving students in a public school environment, I hope that teachers and other authority figures will understand why some of their students fall asleep in class. I hope that in the near future we will see teachers who understand and are willing to help their students rather than scold them. Please click to learn more at the American Association of Caregiving Youth.
A YOUNG CAREGIVER – NOT BY CHOICE
Very few of us who became caregivers at a young age do it by choice. Very few of us got the support we needed. Even now, it is not enough. However, since we are caregivers, we have a responsibility far greater than many will ever understand.
Becoming a caregiver at a young age shaped me and made me the person I am now. I cannot imagine where I would be if I hadn’t been a caregiver; perhaps I would be in a better situation, perhaps worse, I do not know.
I do know that it made me more intense and more willing to insert myself into situations I would never have considered before. I have come to appreciate being alone and quiet because I had so little support when I was a caregiver. Re-integrating into “everyone else’s world” was and is painful. I am quite happy to spend time alone! This isn’t particularly healthy, and I am growing out of it, gradually.
Caregiving at any age is exhausting. It is an intense and bittersweet journey that often leads us to one point. The point at which you lose the person you love or they heal; either way, caregiving is over.
When it ends, an emptiness forms inside you and for a time you just wander around, then you cry and fuss a bit. After this comes the hard part, re-building your life based on what you remember from your life before caregiving. You start filling in the holes that remain by watching those around you go on with their lives. At last, you have one tiny hole remaining in your heart. You keep that place for the person you cared for–a spot you’ll never fill.
Leah Bender became a caregiver when she was 10 years old. She continued caregiving for three years. She is now 18 and realizes how little support young caregivers receive. Since then, she’s grown her passion to help those who are in the position she once was and beyond! Her twitter handle is @