Documentary holds a mirror to America’s caregiving

A new film promises to open up the conversation about family caregiving in America by focusing on a topic that’s traditionally talked about in whispers: mental health.

In the documentary “Hidden Wounds” Writer and director Richard Lui introduces viewers to three families, including his own, to reveal the tightrope walking of family carers, balancing their daily lives with caregiving duties. The film shows how caregiving is a pure act of love, a selfless and holistic commitment that involves relationships, careers and finances. The only thing holding caregivers back is their own sanity, and if they don’t focus on self-care, everything else will crumble with them.

The only thing holding caregivers back is their own sanity, and if they don’t focus on self-care, everything else will crumble with them.

He is a reporter and news anchor for MSNBC and NBC News, and “Hidden Wounds” is his second film about caregiving. His first, “Skyblossom”, highlights the five million children in America who are caregivers, and his book, “Enough about me,” offers advice on how to lead a selfless life, which caregivers do well.

The title “Hidden Wounds” refers to both the mental health disorders and unseen illnesses of each care recipient featured in the film: Alzheimer’s disease which Lui describes as taking away pieces of his father’s brain; Navy veteran Kate Hendricks Thomas’ terminal breast cancer, believed to have been caused by exposure to burn sites while serving in Fallujah; and the dual diagnosis of Army Ranger Luke Bushatz, who developed post-traumatic stress disorder from continued combat exposure and suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) when an improvised explosive device was detonated near his vehicle in Afghanistan.

The film rotates between these three families at different points in their care journey, showing the challenges they face and the strategies that help them deal with them. Rose, Lui’s mother, learned to play the violin at the age of 79. Music gives him joy and energy. But she gives it up for a while once caregiving becomes too demanding. Luke’s wife, Amy, works out regularly and applies the tools she learned in therapy – “I’m mad at the hurt, not at Luke” – to meet the challenges of loving someone with a PTSD and a TBI while co-parenting two young boys; and Shane, Kate’s husband, overwhelmed with sadness, must learn to be a single parent to their young son while his wife is still alive. With Kate’s help, he gains confidence in his parenting skills and accepts the situation. In the end, he chooses to fall in love with her again and suspend his mourning until her death.

Amid telltale brutal challenges, Lui captures moments of joy: Luke’s family having fun at a carnival, Kate’s family laughing at the dinner table, and Lui’s mother playing the violin by her father’s bedside.

“I don’t want people to think about caregiving and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,'” Lui explains. “I want them to say, ‘It’s hard but it’s been a life-changing trip and you don’t feel stronger because of it? Didn’t you laugh in a way that you never laughed before and cried in a way you never cried before – joy despite difficulty?”

He also wants viewers to understand that mental health is not a binary conversation.

“You either have it or you don’t,” he stressed. “And it’s OK to start talking about it.”

Luke’s wife, Amy, explains this message in the film.

“The pain goes away when you look at it and talk about it,” she says of her husband’s symptoms of PTSD and TBI. “It hurts more when you put it in a box.”

He was carer for his father for six years, sharing the tasks with his brothers and sisters. They took over from their mother when the caregiving began to affect her health. In the film, he casually mentions that caregiver spouses with illnesses are likely to come first — a fact that caregiver families know all too well.

By witnessing Him’s healing journey, you realize that His story is not just His; it belongs to each caregiver. If he meets with his boss to discuss balancing work and caregiving; moving her father to a care community (a necessary step that causes her mother to run out of money); going against doctor’s orders because “the caregiver knows the patient best”; witnessing the decline of his father during confinement; or transferring his caregiving duties to his mother after his father’s death, he is not alone in his experiences.

More than 50 million caregivers live with hidden injuries in the United States, according to Lui. Unpaid and untrained, they quietly carry out their duties. In this film, however, their voices are finally heard.

Hidden Wounds will be commercially released in May 2023. To see the trailer, visit www.hiddenwounds.com.

Words of wisdom from Him for caregivers

  • Talk about caregiving at work. “When women get pregnant, they fear that conversation with the company because it often means fewer opportunities and decisions, conscious and unconscious, about their potential,” Lui explained. “Caregivers are going through a similar moment.” He pointed out that COVID has opened the door to these conversations and now is the time to have them because eventually they will close.
  • Share your story with others through a blog or by creating an employee resource group. “Helping others feel less alone will help you,” he said.
  • Give yourself grace. “You don’t have to be perfect,” Lui said. “As long as 51% of the time you’re providing care for the right reason, then you’ve got it… just advancing the ball for your loved one.”
  • Don’t give too much absolute selflessness, otherwise the rubber band will break and you won’t be able to help yourself at all.