Share your caregiving story
For many years, the comfortable Figueroa house was a second home to neighborhood teenagers. The kids grew up, and then it became a second home for Robert Figueroa’s 91-year-old mother, Julia. Robert and his wife, Isabelle, like many Mexican-American families, tenderly cared for the older woman until her death late last year. Although they received some formal services such as help with bathing and respite care, they were the primary caregivers. When the Figueroas heard about a caregiving project called Momento Crucial at the ASU College of Nursing and Health Innovation, they wanted to participate.
Last February, when Anna Espinoza, a cultural broker from Momento, visited the Figueroas, she explained that she wanted to hear their caregiving story. Although a lot is known about Anglo caregivers, little had been documented about what the process is like for Mexican-American families. “Your story needs to be told so we can understand the challenges and rewards of [caring for] older people and figure out how to help families keep them at home,” Anna told them. Anna asked them a series of questions about how they came to be the primary caregivers and what day-to-day life was like for the family.
Anna learned that when Julia, Robert’s mother, first came to live with Robert and Isabelle, they assumed financial responsibility for her care. Significant bills needed to be sorted out, but they managed, viewing their contributions as simply “what needed to be done.” “Everything was for her. Our lives changed 100 percent in the sense that we had to plan everything now, but it was written in stone that we would do it, because I was it [the only child available to care for my mother],” Robert said. “But my wife fell right in along beside me.”
Robert’s commitment to his mother’s care is not uncommon. Many families tell Anna, along with the other two cultural brokers for the project, Berta Carbajal and Ed La Rosa, stories about reciprocating the love lavished on them as children by caring for elderly parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents. Both Figueroas watched their mothers care for their elderly husbands and grandmothers and they learned by example. “I promised my dad on his deathbed that I would care for my mother, so I’m holding up my end of it,” Robert mused. “The wrath of God would come down on me if I didn’t do it. I’m doing it because she is my mother, she took care of me. It’s my turn to take care of her, it’s that simple. One day one of my kids will be taking care of me – what goes around comes around.”
Every morning while Isabelle got Julia out of bed, Robert would make Isabelle her coffee, and the give-and-take of daily caregiving began. As Isabelle helped Julia dress, brush her teeth, and do her hair, Robert caught up with other responsibilities. Then he would transfer Julia to her wheelchair and help her with exercises while Isabelle stopped to relax and drink her coffee. And so it went, through medication management (“She’s sharp. She reminds me if I forget her pills!”), lunch preparation, constant offering of fluids, provision of an afternoon nap, dinner preparation and cleanup, and bedtime. In the event of a rare day away for Robert and Isabelle, their adult children rallied round to complete the activities, staying close at hand because someone always needed to be there to attend to Julia’s needs.