“It’s Not a Burden” interviews scores of parents being cared for, in various ways and in varying degrees, by their adult children.
It’s a documentary collage of caregiving showcasing the relationships that endure, even if “the roles have reversed” and the parent has become, in essence, the child who needs attention and help with the most basic things in life.
Some are still living in their own homes, but many have moved in with their kids. A large number have dementia, topping the list of ailments that eat up your concerns when you reach the far end of the human lifespan.
Filmmaker Michelle Boyaner, who made “A Finished Life: The Goodbye & No Regrets Tour” and “Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson,” turned her camera on herself and the care she was giving to her mother Elaine and father Morris. She then made a movie that expands out from there, taking in a reasonably diverse cross-section of (mostly Southern California) parent-child relationships at the same stage in life as she was with her divorced parents to paint a picture of an exploding segment of the population — the very old, cared for in varying degrees by their children.
Some parents, like her once-estranged mother, live in assisted living. Others are in nursing homes. But many receive a major part of their care from their kids.
Cecile has moved into a senior community, customizing her modest house with a ramp and walk-in shower for her mother Manuela.
“My priority is my mom.”
Mike lives, with his two kids (he’s a single dad) next door to his mother Florence in Huntington Beach.
“I found out she broke her foot when she didn’t come over for dinner one night.”
The caregivers are overwhelmingly daughters like Evette, who flies out to Arizona to check on her still-living-at-home father Robert. He calls her “the drill sergeant,” as she notes that “He says ‘no’ about seven or eight times before he says ‘yes’ to anything.”
We see the cornucopia of pills many of these 80 and 90somethings have to take, which their 5 and 60 year-old children often have to organize for them. And we see and hear signs of dementia, stories about Mom slipping out to dig up the neighbors’ plants, which she then pots at home, or in the case of Boyaner’s mother Elaine, constantly needing reminding that she sold the house on “Serenade Lane in 1983.”
“And how are your folks?” “My folks? Who are my folks” Mom?
Boyaner’s parents are the anchor interviews here, with her colorful once-estranged mother (she ditched her family years ago) speaking for millions when she says “I had to give up an awful lot of dignity” — and bathing and dressing herself — “when I moved here,” to assisted living.
Her father’s declining years have made his hoarding a heartbreak for his family to deal with.
Then we meet Maxine and Esther, daughter and mother who was quite the popular singer and entertainer in Pittsburgh, back in the day — and for many many days.
“Jesus Christ! Oh. Sorry. Who do I know who’s 96? They’re all gone.”
Loneliness is the one malady that every child is most concerned with their having to endure.
A priest oversees a retirement home for monks. An old chorus dancer on Broadway and for MGM gets visits from an LGBTQ support group. A daughter recalls making sure her prospective husband realized “We’re a package deal,” her aged mother and her.
With all the different faces of caregiving and children devoted to “quality of life” concerns about their parents, about what their “conscience” has them doing as America’s largest geriatric generation requires this sort of care, “It’s Not a Burden” can’t help but be a bit of a guilt trip. It’s diverse, without being necessarily “representative.” Not everyone who is going to this extreme.
But it’s also a warning, that you can’t be “too prepared” for this eventuality. And that it might be time for that old fashioned value family “responsibility” to make a comeback.
Whatever life is left, one daughter tearfully says, “It’s been less than enough. And it’s all there is.” The level of devotion depicted here has the feel of “the exceptions.” But not to those re-ordering their lives to give something back to their parents.
“Patience,” one and all counsel. “Have the wisdom to remember that this person cared for you” the way you have to care for them.
And don’t fight the many memory disorders that come with extreme age. “Try and join them in their world.”
The film takes in so many voices, covering the same ground from different directions, that it can seem too loosely organized and repetitive. “Collage” seems the best one-word description of it, and that’s not necessarily a knock. With so many scenarios playing out, you’re sure to see one that connects with your life and maybe even suggest a solution to this hoarding problem or that dementia dilemma.
MPA Rating: unrated, some profanity
Credits: Scripted and directed by Michelle Boyaner. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:31