Becoming a caregiver happened unexpectedly for Drew Kanallakan, as it does for many.
It all started with a favor from Kanallakan’s mother, who asked him one day if he could take his grandmother, Betty, to the doctor. What started as one appointment, however, turned into three—and slowly became a larger responsibility.
“It got more and more to the point where it was me taking her most of the time and up to the point now where it’s all of the time,” he said. “It just kind of evolved into what it was, but I didn’t really ever complain about it.”
Prior to becoming a caregiver, Kanallakan worked full-time in manufacturing but realized he needed to move closer to his grandmother. And because he happened to be the closest – and because some of his other family members live out of state and have other responsibilities or health conditions – it made the most sense for him to drive Betty to her appointments, pick up medications and help with other needs.
“It’s kind of difficult for some of my family members to be available for her whenever she’s got so many appointments,” he said. “Over the past few years, she’s had a few extra medical conditions over time—nothing that’s super severe but just things that require more regular visits to the doctors.”
Even though Betty doesn’t live with any severe diseases, like Alzheimer’s, dementia or Parkinson’s, Kanallakan said he realized he needed to make a big sacrifice and leave his full-time position.
“I decided to stop working full-time temporarily to make sure that she can get wherever she needs to get,” he said.
Learning to return the favor and make sacrifices
Beyond leaving his job, Kanallakan found himself giving up other parts of his life as well—visits to other family and friends, trips and vacations, and social events such as conventions or seminars.
And while looking after his grandmother occasionally impacts his ability to schedule other things, it’s not something he allows himself to stress about too much.
“If I miss a convention, there will be several others. If I miss a seminar, I’m sure there will be a thousand more, right?” he said. “So, I don’t really worry about it. If you can’t go, you can’t go. It’s just one of those things that you just can’t control.”
Truly a caregiver by chance, Kanallakan just happened to be available when his grandmother needed someone to get to her doctor’s appointment, but over time, taking on that role became more of a choice. He said that despite the sacrifices, he’s choosing to return the favor and take care of someone he loves—someone who did the same for him when he was growing up.
“When I was younger, my grandma and grandpa (before he passed away) were kind of one of my main babysitters for my mom,” he said. “A lot of the time, my brother and I would go over there, whether it be after school or for the night.”
Food was always made, he said, and the house was always cleaned. Even when he was recovering from a surgery as a child, his grandparents took care of him when he couldn’t go to school.
Knowing how much his grandmother had to sacrifice to care for him, he said he has no problem doing the same for her—even if it can be stressful at times.
“Everything was always done for us, but now, growing up over time, she needs my help a little more, and I’m totally fine with it,” he said. “It’s not like she hasn’t put in more than enough time in helping me as I grew up.”
Understanding and accepting caregiving as a new role
Because his grandmother still lives alone and can handle a lot of daily activities on her own, Kanallakan said he doesn’t see himself as a caregiver. Nevertheless, he’s been finding more joy in the things he has to do for his grandmother, especially at only 29 years old.
“On the upside, my grandma likes eating out and trying new places, which is something I love, too,” he said. “So, a lot of the time, if there’s a doctor’s appointment immediately after, the first thing we’re talking about is where we’re going to eat. That’s something that we enjoy doing together.”
In terms of advice for others who find themselves taking on similar responsibilities, he said the best advice is to focus on the now and ask for help—because there’s help to be given.
“Try not to think or stress out about things getting worse over time; just focus on what you have to do now,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re just going to put more pressure on yourself, you’re going to feel worse in the end, and then everything just gets worse. So, just kind of roll with the punches and be flexible.”