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Caregiving Up Close: Selene

February 6, 2018

The first in a series of three caregiver portraits in honor of FCA’s 40th Anniversary

“A wise friend once told me, ‘your mom gave you the gift of life … now this is your gift to her,’ and that always stayed with me.”

Sometimes, becoming a caregiver is a gradual process. Families or friends slowly take on more and more responsibility for a loved one and spend increasing amounts of time and energy providing care.

For Selene, however, a Bay Area 48-year-old married mother of two, the transition was sudden, with no time to plan for or absorb her new role. She unexpectedly became part of the “Sandwich Generation.” In 2008, her 70-year-old mother Donna suffered a devastating stroke. Her mom was paralyzed, unable to speak clearly, and cognitively impaired. She could not live on her own.

“She came to live with us—we did not want to put her into a nursing home,” Selene recalls. “We felt that she would be happier surrounded by her family and pets. It is also part of my culture (Chinese American) that we don’t put our parents in nursing homes, at least until you absolutely run out of means to provide adequate care. We took care of my mom for nine years, but it was very challenging with work, kids’ school and sports activities, pets, etc. At the time she first came to stay with us, our kids were eight and three years old.”

There is no question for the family that there were immense rewards in providing care for Donna. “We were able to spend the past nine years with her! Her grandchildren got to grow up with their grandmother and know her a little better. Even though she was not ambulatory, emotive, or talkative, her eyes always expressed a deep understanding and appreciation. That is invaluable to us. A wise friend once told me, ‘your mom gave you the gift of life … now this is your gift to her,’ and that always stayed with me.”

But, says Selene, “I will be honest, it seemed stressful much of the time. There were moments of some calm, but in many ways, I felt … like I was tethered. It was difficult to go anywhere as a family, and my husband and I missed a lot of important events because someone always needed to supervise my mom. We brought my mom along with us whenever we could, but trying to figure out how to get coverage and a break—not to mention the finances for covering that—it was always a challenge.”

As she tried to manage her caregiving role and still handle all her other responsibilities, Selene reached out to FCA for help and support. “A social worker told me about resources because she saw that I was spread very thin, and usually on the verge of burnout. Just being able to speak with specialists who truly understood what we were going through was highly beneficial,” Selene says. FCA Family Consultant Christina Irving “has been a lifesaver to our family during this time. We were provided opportunities where we could seek respite, and have time off from caregiving now and then. My mom was able to go on retreats with other people who were in situations similar to hers. She had a social outlet through this.”

But in May of 2017, she says, “we finally reached a point where we knew in our hearts that we could not provide the care that my mom needed. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. My mom was having respiratory issues, and we were dealing with teenager issues. That was our sign that it was finally time to stop being caregivers because we had to care for ourselves and our children.” It was necessary to place Donna in a care facility.

Over the years of home care, Selene’s experience taught her a lot, and she offers important advice for other caregivers: “Take care of yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup. When you start feeling that you are getting burned out, ask for help!! There are resources like Family Caregiver Alliance.”

“I am very grateful for the support that FCA has provided me. We would not have lasted caregiving for nine years if it weren’t for this agency.”