"I sprinted eagerly into marriage," she writes. "I was young, naive, steeped in mainstream white feminism, and I thought equality was there for the plucking." The reality of married life was much more problematic and in 2014 an earthquake came to shake its very foundations. Brad, in his mid-forties, was diagnosed with what was thought to be a manageable, slow-moving lymphoma.
But one ordinary Saturday morning Kate was summoned to the bathroom. Brad was coughing. "Blood was splashing out of his mouth, blooming over the white porcelain of the sink. The splashes coming up out of his throat made little noises, like the gurgle of an unstuck drain. ... Each time he coughed it seemed like half a cup." Kate had to add "caregiver" to her regular duties as mom and partner, and it almost broke her.
The searing, stunningly honest story is told in "Already Toast: Caregiving And Burnout In America" ($24.95 in hardcover from Beacon press; also for Amazon Kindle and in audiobook format). Brad's cancer was aggressive; the only hope was a stem-cell transplant from his brother, but that led to further complications, including near blindness, which almost took his life.
"Fried and frazzled" as a caregiver, Washington endures a kind of "erasure." "As a caregiver, I sometimes felt like I barely existed as an individual."
"Burnout," she adds, "kills empathy and makes worse caregivers of all of us who suffer from it. More than that, it made me a worse person: less kind, less patient, less fun to be around."
Washington recognizes her own privilege is not typical and proposes the creation of "networks of care" (recommending aarp.org/caregiving), though she admits there's no single answer. But, she says at the end, "If society wants us to keep caring for others, it's going to have to show a little more care for us."