Name: Mahmood (Koli)
Occupation: Project Manager
Preferred language: Bangla
Who do you care for? Mother-in-law
How long have you been a caregiver? 17 years
Can you tell me about your day-to-day responsibilities of taking care of your mother-in-law and the living situation?
My husband and I -- between taking care of my mother-in-law, full-time jobs and my two daughters -- we did the best we could. During the weekend, I made sure to cook and prepare the week's meals for my mother-in-law.
Since the diagnosis, we even beat the cancer once. At the end, my mother-in-law passed away mid-2018 at the age of 88 .
How frequent were the doctor's appointments? How did you manage the time for appointments?
Before the cancer returned in 2015, doctor's appointments ranged from once a month to once every three months. As the cancer advanced, doctor's appointments with a specialist became more frequent to a weekly basis.
I work in New Jersey's Department of Transportation and, luckily, got one medical leave on a weekly basis from work, but there had been times, when my husband and I had to take unpaid medical leave from work to make it to the doctor's appointments.
How did you manage your time between taking care of your mother-in-law and your day-to-day activities?
During the last few years, my mother-in-law became very emotional. She also became particular about how her meals were cooked. I obliged because I understood well that she was living with cancer and old age is not kind.
But sometimes it made things harder than it needed it to be. I used to spend time gardening with her over the weekend to keep her company. And in the years my mother-in-law lived with us, our annual holiday destination was California, so that she could visit one of her daughters.
How things would have been different if you were living in your home country?
The medical care and expertise is much, much better here. The treatment is better, although it was sometimes very challenging to manage everything all at once. I am happy to have come here.
Before the cancer, my mother-in-law used to visit our old house in Uttara, Dhaka. But she did not like it. All of my husband’s siblings live abroad, and so they collectively decided that it is not the best option for my mother-in-law to live alone in a place like Uttara in old age.
Did you get/have medical assistance to take care of your mother-in-law? Can you tell more about the service?
My mother-in-law was under Medicaid insurance, which meant a social worker/nurse would come in to assist on a weekly basis. But the language barrier was an issue. She did not feel comfortable with the Medicaid social worker/nurse because they did not understand each other. And the same thing happened with hospital visits, someone had to be with my mother-in-law at all times, she felt scared and uncomfortable.
There were times when my husband spent nights at the hospital for this very reason.
Do you get support or help from your relatives/neighbors/other family members? Is it easy to ask for help?
My daughters (now aged 20 and 14) and husband actively participated. My older daughter did not mind sharing her bedroom with her grandmother for a couple of years. My husband really went above and beyond to take care of his mother, especially during the last two years of her life, when the cancer had reached an advanced stage.
My husband took special permission to work from home just so that he could take care of his mother and he completely gave up his social life.
It was just work and my mother-in-law's healthcare for him.
My friends helped by taking urgent calls. For instance, once my mother-in-law choked from eating food. (It's because of the inflammation of lymph nodes, a side effect of the cancer, doctors explained to me later). I called 911 and had to take her to the emergency room. I had to leave my 13 year old daughter home alone. I called a friend from the ambulance who agreed to come to my house to keep my daughter company. Similar incidents happened over the course of the last few years.
I have American, Jewish and Indian neighbors. We share a very cordial relationship and it is limited to the neighborly hi-hello when we cross paths. The Americans seem to like the distance between us.
Did you consider nursing home? Please explain your decision.
My husband and I never considered nursing homes. Absolutely not. We are aware of its existence here. But we wanted to take care of my mother-in-law at home. This also showed my daughters how the elderly in the family is respected and taken care of.
Do you expect your children to take care of you in your old age?
I expect my children to take care of me in old age because they grew up seeing what we did for their grandparents. A circle of life, so to speak. At the end of the day, now, my husband and I know that we did the best we could. More importantly, we believe we did right by my late mother-in-law.