Eugene Snowden is a musician. Eugene Snowden is a caregiver.
His worlds collide in the most poignant of ways. Snowden, an iconic figure in Central Florida’s music scene for decades, has put his career on hold to take care of his 77-year-old mother Ruby Rae Snowden.
“I’m still in music, but now it’s more therapeutic,” he said. “It’s totally serving a different cause. But going to the person who gave the gift to me, that’s… what can I say? I say, I’m a caregiver who is still a musician. That’s where it is right now.”
This pivot is powerful and personal for Eugene, who is the primary caregiver. And while the pivot has been challenging for him, Snowden is not alone.
Research shows there are almost 43.5 million caregivers just like him in the United States. The National Alliance for Caregiving notes that represents an increase of 9.5 million caregivers between 2015 and 2020. Family caregivers now encompass more than one in five Americans.
And just like many who walk in those caregiver shoes, Snowden has struggled.
“I cried when I first had to do it because, again, this is my mom, the one who raised me,” Snowden said. “All of a sudden, I literally do what she’s done for all my relatives. She did for them until they passed. That has been pretty heavy. But, in the role now, I want to be there all the time. I feel like I’m the one who can help her, like she’s helped everyone else. That was very heavy for me, very heavy.”
Ruby’s health issues are related to severe rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. There are good days, bad days, and some that are in-between.
“She’s up, then she’s down,” Snowden said. “She’s at the gold medal, maybe a silver,” he said, comparing her condition to the Olympics.
But Snowden knows this is no game. He carries on as best he can, painfully aware that there is a long journey ahead.
“Anybody who’s in a circumstance, you keep a brave face on,” he said. “You have to keep the strength because if you go down, they go down with you.”
Elder experts know that it is common for caregivers to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Not every day is perfect. As Mother Teresa noted, “It is not how much you do but how much love you put in the doing.”
And that’s what keeps Snowden and so many others going.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, I’m puffing strong,’” he said. “No, it’s wearing on you. I’m like, OK, I need a little… because it’s overwhelming to see someone you love breaking down, somebody you deeply care about. So, you really have to pick yourself up all the time, but you find the strength because that’s love there, man.”
Are you a caregiver looking for help and resources? You are not alone. Here are some groups that may help:
Photo by Mike Dunn for Growing Bolder