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I ended up being a caretaker for both my baby boomer parents. My Gen Z friends were surprisingly understanding.

Ivannia Morton   

I ended up being a caretaker for both my baby boomer parents. My Gen Z friends were surprisingly understanding.
  • When both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer around the same time, I became their caretaker.
  • They didn't want me telling my friends what was going on at first, but I needed the support.

I've always known that my parents were older than the parents — and occasionally even the grandparents — of my peers. My parents were in their 40s and 50s when I was born, both baby boomers, while I was a Gen Zer.

My friends always raved about my parents. "Can you ask your mom what she thinks I should do?" or "Can you ask your dad what he thinks?" are questions I've always heard. Their seasoned expertise came not only as part of being older parents but also from having already raised a child — my sister, who is 18 years older than me. Having older parents than my peers was both rewarding and challenging while growing up.

I would never have thought that at the age of 22, I would become their caretaker.

They were both diagnosed with cancer around the same time

In 2021, my mom received news that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not long after we weathered the storm, my father received a cancer diagnosis of his own.

My fantasy of not having to take care of my parents until I was a bit older had completely disappeared, and I felt unprepared. I had always been the one being looked after and taken care of. I wasn't quite sure if I could do the same, and certainly not by myself.

Almost any child with older parents, regardless of the generation they were born into, can tell you they've imagined what taking care of their parents would look like. I had always pictured us discussing the forecast or arguing about the best place to hang their photos.

To my surprise, many of my Gen Z friends knew exactly what I was going through. Their worries over their parents' well-being had heightened as a result of the pandemic. While tomorrow is never promised, the gap between life and death seemed to close in on all of us.

In our family, it's expected that you lean on each other and take care of one another. You rarely tell the "outside" — be it your extended family or friends, what's going on "inside" — or in the home. I've always appreciated the comfort of my family's care, and the confidentiality of our lives, but I knew in order to help them heal, I needed my community of friends.

I leaned on my friends for support

At first, both my parents were hesitant to hear I'd mentioned details of what was going on in our lives to my friends. Their idea of community — which I attribute to our generational difference — was always family only, and typically, we'd offer censored versions of the truth to anyone else. What they soon realized was that my friends are my family, and sharing what was going on with them proved invaluable for us all.

I have a friend who's a hair expert, and she knew what wig products I needed to buy when my mom's hair loss began. Another friend started her own skincare company made products formulated to be chemo and radiation-safe. My classmate would stay on Zoom with me until 5 a.m. to ensure I was completing my assignments and took extra notes for me in class. Friends in different time zones would send me meal prep ideas while I was asleep, and those nearby would text me encouraging paragraphs or send me funny videos to pass the time.

I didn't have to ask for my community of friends to show up for me. All I did was open up, and in turn, I learned that we all care about each other as deeply as we do our families. Witnessing how I managed the situation, my friends gained insights and ideas for how they might support their parents as they age, and the importance of building a community of friends you trust.

While both my parents are now in complete remission, my desire to show up and shower them with a fraction of the level of care they provided me while I was growing up still remains. Their legacy of love and sacrifice reinforced the bond of our family, and reminded me that care is a continuous circle that endures through generations — and genetic bonds.

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