+

Her striking photos of her father capture the struggles and rewards of being a caregiver.

True
AARP + the Ad Council

In late 2007, Safi Alia Shabaik noticed something strange about her father.

“He didn’t have the expressions he used to have,” Safi says. “His face wasn’t as reactive.”

Safi’s father was an immigrant from Egypt, and over the years, he’d carved out a successful life in America. Working as a professor of mechanical engineering, he was able to be a provider.


“He's been so generous with his family,” Safi says.

Safi and her father. Photo by Safi Alia Shabaik©, used with permission.

More than just a hard worker, though, Safi’s father was vibrant and funny. He often made Safi laugh.

But at some point, he started to change. Safi’s mom noticed this dampening in his personality. She worried that her husband, then 71, had suffered a stroke. They convinced him to see a doctor, and after undergoing a series of tests in early 2009, he received the news: He had Parkinson’s disease.

For several years, the symptoms were manageable. His limbs may have been stiff, his emotions flat, but he was still more or less himself. But then two years ago, things quickly got worse.

Soon it became clear:Safi would have to serve as her father’s caregiver.

The role of parent and child had flipped, and now, Safi had to bathe and feed her father and calm him in moments of delirium.

The experience has taken its toll. “It’s difficult to see the person you knew your whole life change and become somebody you don’t know because of a disease,” she says. “It’s emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausting.”

As she’s taken on a caregiving role, Safi has learned something important —  in order to be a good caregiver, you need to take care of yourself too.

But it can be intimidating to know where to start. Here are five lessons she’s taken away from the caregiving process:

1. Caregivers must — absolutely must — take breaks.

Being a caregiver can be exhausting on every level. And as research shows, when we’re tired and stressed, we often make bad decisions.

“The reality of caregiving is so heavy; you have to take time for yourself or you’ll implode,” Safi says.

Photos by Safi Alia Shabaik©.

By taking breaks, caregivers can increase their resilience and patience, important traits when caring for another person. Sometimes the breaks can involve small tasks, like getting a haircut or running to the grocery store.

“Just being out of the house in a room with hustling and bustling people, a vision of life, becomes a luxurious reprieve from a dark state of mind,” Safi says.

A short vacation can also be huge. Longer breaks allow caregivers to return to their loved ones feeling refreshed and ready once again to help.

2. Bridge the divide with an aging parent using something that you — or both of you — love.

Safi is a professional photographer and has a talent for capturing the hidden, unadorned moments in American cities. “Photography,” she says, “is my window into understanding things.”

She began photographing her father partly for the same reason: to understand what the disease was doing to him and how it was affecting their relationship.

Her art, then, helped her to connect with her father in one of the most difficult moments of her life. It was an important step in taking care of herself.

Photo by Safi Alia Shabaik©.

By documenting this moment of profound change, she’s also come to reckon with some of the larger questions in life.

“I’ve come to a lot of realizations, not only about my relationship with my father,” she says, “but also about my relationship to the world — what I want for myself and what to me is a good quality of life.”

3. Remember that the disease and the person are not the same thing.

Caregivers can find themselves frustrated with the person they're caring for. That’s especially true if they're suffering from cognitive decline that often accompanies conditions like dementia. To avoid personal meltdowns, Safi found that an attitude adjustment helps.

“The things happening in front of you are not that person,” she says. “It’s the disease causing those things.”

It’s also important to remember a basic fact: We’re all human, and it’s not only OK but normal to feel frustrated in these kinds of situations.

This acknowledgment can help caregivers gain a sense of peace, which is a helpful state of mind while caring for an aging and temperamental parent.

4. Don’t forget to exercise. Seriously.

Exercise can seem like a special privilege, something to be done in one’s spare time — but spare time may be fleeting for caregivers

Exercise, however, can make a huge difference and is worth setting aside time for. Studies show that physical activity can reduce stress and depression. It can increase one’s energy levels and improve sleep.

All that is huge for caregivers. Caregiving requires a tremendous amount of focus, energy, and positive-mindedness. So while exercise might seem like a privilege, caregivers should consider it an investment in their care.

That’s been true for Safi. She finds time for different forms of exercise, like going to the gym and taking short morning walks.

5. And, most importantly, remember that you’re not alone.

Caregiving can be an isolating experience with so many hours spent at a parent’s bedside. But caregivers are not alone. When Safi talked with her friends, she quickly realized that many were going through similar experiences and had parents suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

“There is this new bond bringing us together,” she says.

And, in fact, Safi was able to reconnect with old friendswho are also serving as caregivers— old friends she loves but hadn’t talked to for a long time. Sharing their stories, she learned, was profoundly healing.

“The best remedy is to share information and learn from each other,” she says.

Photo by Safi Alia Shabaik©.

Caregiving can be exhausting, but by taking all these steps, Safi has come away with a new understanding of her father, of herself, and of the vision she has for her life.

And she’s seen just how resilient all of us can be.

“When you’re thrown into a situation where you have to be the strong one, you take the role,” she says. “When everything is crumbling around you, somebody has to be strong.”

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Linda Ronstadt's 1970's ballad is a chart-topping hit once again thanks to 'The Last of Us'

The iconic 70s song "Long, Long Time" was an integral part of an unforgettable episode that fans are calling a masterpiece.

Linda Ronstadt (left), Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett (right)

HBO’s emotional third episode of the zombie series “The Last Of Us” became an instant favorite among fans, thanks in no small part to Linda Ronstadt’s late 1970s ballad, “Long, Long Time.”

Using the song as the episode’s title, “Long, Long Time,” moves away from the show’s main plot to instead focus on a heartbreakingly beautiful love story between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), from its endearing start all the way to its bittersweet end.

The song makes its first appearance during the initial stages of Bill and Frank’s romance as they play the tune on the piano, just before they share their first kiss.

We see their entire lives together play out—one of closeness, devotion, and savoring homegrown strawberries—until they meet their end. The song then plays on the radio, bringing the bottle episode to a poignant close.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

13-year-old ventriloquist sings incredible, sassy version of 'You Don't Own Me' on 'AGT'

Ana-Maria Mărgean only started her hobby in 2020 and is already wowing audiences on "America's Got Talent."

America's Got Talent/Youtube

Ana-Maria Mărgean singing "You Don't Own Me" on "America's Got Talent"

It’s not every day a ventriloquist act is so jaw-dropping that it has to be seen to be believed. But when it does happen, it’s usually on “America’s Got Talent.”

Ana-Maria Mărgean was only 11 years old when she first took to the stage on “Romania’s Got Talent” to show off her ventriloquism skills, an act inspired by videos of fellow ventriloquist and “America’s Got Talent” Season 2 champion Terry Fator.

Using puppets built for her by her parents, the young performer tirelessly spent her quarantine time in 2020 learning how to bring them to life, which led to her receiving a Golden Buzzer and eventually winning the entire series in Romania.

Mărgean is now 13 and a competitor on this season of “America’s Got Talent: All-Stars,” hoping to be crowned the winner and perform her own show in Vegas, just like her hero Fator.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

34-year-old man is learning to read on TikTok in series of motivational videos

His reading skills have improved so much that he plans to read 100 books this year.

@oliverspeaks1/TikTok

Oliver James is the biggest star on BookTok.

With over 125,000 followers, 34-year-old Oliver James is a star in the BookTok community. And it all started with a very simple goal: Learn to read.

For most kids, school is a place where they can develop a relationship with learning in a safe environment. For James, school was the opposite. Growing up with learning and behavior disabilities subjected him to abusive teaching practices in special education, which, of course, did nothing to help.

"The special education system at the time was more focused on behavioral than educating," he told Good Morning America. "So they spent a lotta time restraining us, a lotta time disciplining us, a lotta times putting us in positions to kinda shape us to just not act out in class."

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what led to her openly breastfeeding on 'Sesame Street' in 1977

The way she explained to Big Bird what she was doing is still an all-time great example.

"Sesame Street" taught kids about life in addition to letters and numbers.

In 1977, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: She fed her baby on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-Ameican singer-songwriter wasn't doing anything millions of other mothers hadn't done—she was simply feeding her baby. But the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant since breastfeeding in the United States hit an all-time low in 1971 and was just starting to make a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children's television program was even more notable, since "What if children see?" has been a key pearl clutch for people who criticize breastfeeding in public.

But the most remarkable thing about the "Sesame Street" segment was the lovely interchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he asked her what she was doing.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Pexels

A couple celebrates while packing their home.

One of the topics that we like to highlight on Upworthy is people who are redefining what it means to be in a relationship. Recently, we’ve shared the stories of platonic life partners, moms who work together as part of a “mommune” and a polyamorous family with four equally-committed parents.

A growing number of people are reevaluating traditional relationships and entering lifestyles that work for them instead of trying to fit into preexisting roles. It makes sense because the more lifestyle options that are available, the greater chance we have to be happy.

A recent trend in unconventional relationships is married couples "living apart together," or LATs as they are known among mental health professionals.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and producer Brad Falchuk, and photographer Annie Leibovitz and activist Susan Sontag are all high-profile couples who’ve embraced the LAT lifestyle.

Keep ReadingShow less