You Can’t Buy Love: What Happens When We Trust Strangers to Care for Our Elders?

Today I thought about my mother, and how much I hated her caregivers. You see she was left in the hands of strangers, of strangers who didn’t care about her. Who have been with her for a grand total of 3 months and pretended that they loved her. But I was there. I saw how they neglected her. My mother would tell me how one helper would refuse to give her food nor water whenever she’d ask.

No one listened to me. Instead my family chose to trust my mother in the hands of strangers, chose to listen to people they barely knew instead of me, my mother’s youngest daughter who lived with her for more than 30 years.

I spent my life with my mother, just with her. It was just me and her at home. I knew my mother like no one else. I listened to her stories, I held her hand at night. I slept beside her all throughout college. When I got married she would come see me 3 times a week and then I’d spend weekends with her. The last few years before she died, I brought my entire family, to come live with her.

It was difficult. You see, she had dementia. And while I thought she was being possessed after her personality took a 360 turn in 2015, we kept fighting. I kept fighting this stranger who I felt was inside her body. It was not her anymore. I kept crying, every single day. Living with an aging parent with dementia was like hell. At times I struggled to stay, I wanted to take my family out and live away but I knew in my heart that something was wrong and that she needed me.

Until her body started getting sick too. At first she would get hospitalized every 3 months, and then it became every month. Until she found herself going in and out of the hospital every week.

It was heart breaking. My body was tired, I felt mentally drained, and emotionally wrecked from what was happening.

I was working full-time, and only got to spend time with my mother at night after work. Throughout the day she’d be with a caregiver and a helper.

We must’ve changed helpers more than 10 times because her dementia made it difficult to care for her. She started hating people, would have mood swings every hour. There was a time she wanted to pull my son’s hair off his head her eyes filled with anger. Another time she fed my daughter food she chewed right at the time she had pneumonia.

It was a crazy time at home. It wasn’t only me who was exhausted but my family too. My children who loved my mother saw a different side of my once sweet, thoughtful mother,  a dark side dementia brought out.

The pressure of caring for her, the emotional trauma of seeing my once strong and jolly mother wither away took its toll on my family. We kept fighting amongst ourselves. Fighting like little children. It also didn’t help that the helpers and caregivers we got kept making up stories, to make it seem that I, the only child who was around to supervise them wasn’t doing my part.

Why did the caregivers hate me? Because I was the one there. I saw how they neglected my mother and there were times I reprimanded them.

One time I came home to my mother so thirsty she literally begged me for water. After gulping on what I brought her, she asked me to close the door. Whispered to me, during one of her “clear” moments, that the helper , Risa refused to give her water or food.

My mother had fear in her eyes, tears coming out. She said Risa kept slamming the doors at her whenever it was just her and Risa at home (the caregiver would spend days off) , and when she asked for water refused to come up and listen to her. She said Raisa once shouted at her and said “Kala mo ba madali tong trabahong to ha? ha?!” and slammed the door at her.

Risa is a teen age helper we found off the Internet, in our desperation because 1. I was busy with work and had children to attend to and 2. We’ve changed helpers more than 10 times, we  hired her.

I noticed that Risa was almost always busy texting, watching TV often leaving my bed-ridden mother alone in the room.

I confronted her about my mother’s story,  and of course she denied it. My sister figured it must’ve been my mother’s dementia because Risa “was nice, sweet, and hard working”.

Me and my siblings kept fighting. And I was starting to think this helper and the caregiver Beth–who kept feeding my mother junkfood and softdrinks, even sweets even when she knew full well mom had diabetes–was feeding my siblings (who were abroad) information that fueled our fights.

But no one listened to me. They chose to listen to strangers who’s been working for us only for a few months, 3 months to be exact. Both of them strangers we got off the Internet.

During my mother’s last stay at the hospital, I found her one night soaked in urine. Her back was cold, she must’ve been soaking for awhile.

She was in the hospital with nurses supposedly checking on her, she had one care giver who my siblings paid ample amount of money to, and a helper to assist the care giver. And yet my mother was soaking in urine, smelly, and filthy.

This is what happens when we trust strangers to care for our elders. While some get lucky, find jewels among many—caregivers who love their patients, who treat them like family who care for elders with love. We were part of the opposite side of the spectrum.We found horrible ones.

Beth kept flirting with the Doctor, Risa kept flirting with the nurses. They were so busy texting, surfing the Internet, braiding each other’s hair that they neglected my mother.

Whenever I would reprimand them I’d get an angry message from one of my siblings  threatening not to touch or fire their precious care givers. Because it was difficult to care for my mother and we were all working they felt we had no other choice.

No one listened to me. And they kept these vile vicious strangers to watch over my mother.

Another time I went in to see my mother, I held her hand as always and noticed that something was amiss. She was running a fever. The caregiver Beth kept denying it,  in her proud tone she declared “The nurses just got out and checked her temperature, she doesn’t have a fever”. I insisted that they check again. And Beth, now backed up by the teenage monster helper knowing full well they have my siblings wrapped around their pretentious, manipulative, filthy fingers said “Kakacheck nga lang eh!” (I told you they just checked).

And I lost it. “This is my mother, I spent my life holding her hand and I know she has a fever. I slept  beside her almost all my life, go get the nurse again!” I blurted out. The nurse came back and confirmed that she was indeed running a fever.

And again I got a precautionary text from a sibling not to reprimand precious Risa and Beth.

Another time my mother kept saying “ouch” but couldn’t tell me well which one was painful. The next day I went in to investigate.

The rubber from her oxygen mask, which Beth the caregiver kept tightening, cut through the skin behind my mother’s ears. She had infected wounds in both ears. They were red, swollen, and oozing with yellow pus. It took hours for a nurse to bring me ointment.

(I’ll discuss the hospital staff’s neglect in another post)

During the days when my mom’s condition went from bad to hopeless I kept asking these women to tell their bosses to come home because my mother’s condition was alarming. I knew my mother. I knew that time it was different and she might not recover.

Did they even tell their bosses to come home? I doubt. I’m betting they pretended everything was peachy and they were taking good care of my mother. While demonizing me, the only daughter who knew they were wasting my mother’s money getting cellphone credits so they can flirt with the nurses.

A few hours before my mother died I asked Risa to go get the hospital wifi because I couldn’t get proper cellphone reception. I figured, I show my siblings my mother’s condition via Facetime or Skype. Maybe these caregivers weren’t telling them the truth about my mother’s condition.

Risa, knowing full well she had her bosses’ confidence, refused to listen and do as I said. She went inside the bathroom cooped up trying to call  her bosses. The nurses asked for payment for a procedure and I asked Risa where my mother’s money was kept (even that was controlled by the helper and the caregiver imagine that!). I opened my mother’s bag and Risa snatched it away, shouted they needed what’s left to buy their (the helper and caregiver’s) supplies . I snapped and said “That’s my mother’s money and she needs this one procedure to find out what’s wrong!”.

I called my husband and asked him to bring my bag  which I left in the car. While we were waiting for the procedure’s results my mother ‘s stats started going haywire.

And Risa came out of the bathroom crying like a baby confronting me about snapping at her. While my mother was dying! She felt like a baby I should say sorry to, while my mother was fighting for her life. So I snapped again, at this stranger who felt like a princess because my siblings treated her like one. “My mother is dying Risa!” I shouted at the top of my lungs.

Even this didn’t mean anything to her. To this stranger.

Hours after my Mom died, her body starting to get cold, her caregiver Beth came back from her 3-day break. She was already fixing her papers for a job application,

Sad, but I could tell there was a feeling of relief for her. That my mother was finally gone. And that she could focus on applying for a job abroad and not be bothered by my siblings who kept asking her to find a replacement before she leaves.

It was too late when I found out about Risa’s true colors. On the day my mother died I realized my mother wasn’t making those stories up, it wasn’t dementia. Risa is a vile, spoiled 19-year old who is capable of shouting at people and act so innocent after. She did to me what she did to my mother on the day my mother died.

Even if I confront these horrible caregivers now, even if I tell my siblings about them. None of it would matter. My mother’s gone. And we can never have her back. But this experience left me lessons. Many, many lessons about life and about parenting.

It’s a story I will pass on to my children. In hopes that someday when I’m old, sick and too weak, or too out of my sanity, to tell them about what’s happening they will know that there is a chance the caregivers aren’t being honest. That elderly parents might be neglected when no one else is around.

Because at the end of the day these are strangers and getting them is a gamble—they may be good people but there’s a chance they may be bad. Even with CCTVs which we had you never know what they could be saying, or doing in areas not suprvised.

Nothing can ever buy genuine love of a child for a parent. Not an army of caregivers can replace that. I might not have had the money to pay for the million pesos hospital bills, and the expensive medical equipment, I might not have had the money to pay for these caregivers’ salaries, but my mother had me. Througout her battle with dementia we kept fighting, but she had me.

I sang her favorite Carpenters songs to her on her last day on earth. I was holding her hand when she took her last breath. A memory I will hold on to for the rest of my life. During her final hours she had me. In the end it was me and  her just like always.

4 thoughts

  1. Heartbreaking. virtual hugs to you, Loraine. Your mom is very blessed to have you as her daughter, Ive witnessed how she showed her love and support to you during our college years…she’s one of the kindest, even to your friends. I know she’s very proud of how you’ve become as a parent and as a person. ♥


  2. Hello. So sorry to hear your family is affected by Dementia. It is a wicked disease and the family has to bear the brunt of it despite those moments of much yearned for clarity and lucidity the sufferer, like your mom still has.


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