Prayer Doesn't Do the Laundry

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Suzann Gunderson, Minnesota

I was 17 when the caregiving began. My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974. Dad worked nights, so he took care of Mom with her chemo, doctors appointments and everything else during the day and I took over the night shift with Mom and younger brothers after I got home from school. Dinner, homework, helping Mom and siblings, laundry, housework, lucky to be in bed by midnight, then up the next morning to go to school and do it all over again. As far as I know, there werent any organizations in the 1970s for people to turn to for help. So in my 17 year-old stupid mind, I thought relatives would help. Big mistake. My relatives did not want to hear about my mother or the stress my family was under, much less help. And the comments: Youre not doing it right, Try harder, What's wrong with you?”, or just go on about the vacations they were taking, where they went out to eat, the sport games they attended, the fun things they did or were going to do. We were tired, exhausted and needed a break. Hey relatives, how about visiting my mother, talking with my mother, sitting with my mother so my father and I could get some rest, go grocery shopping, bring over some food, or do a load of laundry? Hey, how about spending time with my younger brothers: take them out to a game, dinner, have them stay with you and play with their cousins, take them to the playground, play games with them, or take them to a movie? The list goes on.

The church was of no comfort or help — we'll pray for you” — and teachers at the high school didnt want to hear about it. Maybe I tried too hard, but all I know is my immediate family was ready to implode from caregiving stress and no one wanted hear about it from a 17-year-old girl. We were emotional zombies from the exhaustion. All I wanted was to sleep, rest and relax. Get a well-needed break. We all did. Why didnt anyone listen? This experience definitely influenced my life choices: it is because of this stress and the lack of concern for my well-being I decided not to have children. To me, I did not want to exchange one form of caregiving for another. It also caused a certain callousness to develop: when I learned some relatives in their 50s were going through caregiving, caring for their ill/elderly parents and complained how hard it was, my first thought was: Yeah, so? Shall I play the violin? Just didnt care. Recently, when wanting to talk about it, someone told me,no-one wants to hear that. Okay, turnaround is fair play. Even if this reviewed, I doubt it will be selected for others to read because it is negative. It was a negative experience. There was no one to turn to for help and support, or just to talk to about the overwhelming feelings, stress, exhaustion without being judged and not being treated as though I was doing caregiving wrong. If you know of any 17-year-olds that have the emotional capacity for doing this, let me know.