Elizabeth Chun, 65, of San Carlos, Calif., is a caregiver for her mother, Doris Fong, 88, who lives in her own house in San Francisco, a 25-minute drive away. Elizabeth, a mother of six children and grandmother of five, taught high school for 38 years before retiring in 2014.
My mother won’t consider living anywhere else but in her own house. I understand her comfort level is there, and I respect that because it’s the house I grew up in. A few times a week, I check in on her and spend time with her, buy her food, cook it, and put it in a container so she can feed herself. I have to check to make sure she eats it all because for a while she was losing weight. She’s the pickiest eater alive and she doesn’t understand that she’s losing her taste buds. I’m trying to get her to eat more meat and she only wants chicken. At this point, she’s regressing — she wants to eat junk food like ice cream and cookies, just like a kid does.
Overall she’s pretty healthy and mentally she’s quite coherent. She likes to read and watch the news or basketball on TV. When she needs to go to the doctor, I take her. She has bad arthritis in her left knee so she needs to use a walker. She can’t walk without it or go anywhere by herself. She’s always been very independent and active — she still loves gardening — and it’s really hard to see her not be able to move around on her own.
Now that I’m retired, I probably work harder than ever between taking care of my mother and my five grandkids every weekday. The last three years I haven’t done anything for myself and I realize I can’t keep giving all my time to my grandkids and my mom, so I’ve started meeting up with a friend to exercise to get rid of my stress.
I ask my brothers to help, but in the Asian culture, the mother wants her daughter to take care of her because the sons need to take care of their families. The ideology is backward, but what can you do? My mom only wants me; I’ve been the closest to her, so she’s always relied on me. Whatever happens, she knows I’ll always be there for her. I was 19 when my father passed away, so I’ve always been my mother’s friend. My mom helped me with my kids, so this is like payback. Plus, I want to help her feel that she is still a caregiver for her family since that has been her main interest all her life. She’s my best friend, too, and seeing her happy and comfortable is important to me. I want to be there to share things with her as much as I can.
— As told to Stacey Colino