In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, caregiving has taken on a new meaning for families across America. “Sky Blossom: Diaries of the Next Greatest Generation” is a new documentary that looks into the lives of the 24.5 million children caring for family members. Produced by news anchor, caregiver and longtime Alzheimer’s Association Champion, Richard Lui, the film highlights six military families.
“Sky Blossom” is all about people caring for people, showing that in a way that is discussable and relatable,” Lui says. “In telling the stories of America’s young caregivers, we shine a light on some of the amazing things they are doing.”
Troops used to look up to the skies and yell, "Here come the Sky Blossoms!" indicating that paratroopers were rushing to their aid in times of need. Today, younger generations are stepping into the shoes of older generations as the future “greatest generation.”
At times, the six stories included in “Sky Blossom” — candid interviews conducted across the country over a period of three years — were so honest that they genuinely surprised Lui, a veteran journalist. One such interview came from a family residing in Waimea, Hawaii, caring for their beloved grandfather, Bobby Nawai, an 80-year-old Korean War veteran. The two young caregivers, Kaleo and Kamaile Kapanui, are just 18 and 26 years old.
The Hawaiian word “kuleana” (responsibility) truly defines Kaleo and Kamaile’s care for their grandfather. They both left school and moved in to help take care of him. “Kaleo talks about getting a scholarship and having to hold off on school, which is huge. The family does not come from means, and statistically, the family is part of a group that doesn’t usually go to college. What they are doing is so courageous,” says Lui.
The film opens a window into the grandchildren’s experience as caregivers. Kamaile and Kaleo try not to leave their grandfather alone for more than an hour. They keep track of his belongings and administer his medications. Kaleo sleeps in the same bedroom as his grandfather to keep an eye on him overnight. And even with these responsibilities, Lui explains “They exude joy as people.”
Young Caregivers in America
Kamaile and Kaleo are two of the more than 12 million millennials across the country who are taking care of a loved one at home. “Young people are pressing pause on their dreams because they are dedicated to caregiving, and they need support as much as the people they care for.”
“Alzheimer’s is unique,” Lui continues, “because there are now so many multigenerational caregivers who have a family member living with them. Their courage, their innocence, their energy… These are not people to be underestimated or underlooked. They shine.”
Throughout the experience of making “Sky Blossom,” Lui also learned something about military families as a whole, and how society tends to unintentionally put them in another category. “Any military family will tell you: ‘Yes, we’re a military family… but we are SO many other things.’ I found how similar their lives are to mine. Although they have had to face the tests in life that many people will be lucky to never experience, their humanity continues to shine through. Being part of a military family seems to be a true test of resilience, and being a caregiver means not being a stranger to that test. It is part of living, and a topic that should be discussed openly, not put in the corner.”
And while military families seem more equipped to deal with some of the tougher moments in life, Lui also discovered more common ground. “I've had such layered conversations with these families about what it means to make tough decisions when caring for their loved one. I was able to empathize with them based on the decisions I have had to make. We are all human, and our parents gave us life, so we care for them and their parents in return.”
Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers
Lui loves talking to young people who are taking action as Alzheimer’s Association advocates
, volunteers who are making sure the needs of the Alzheimer’s and dementia community are being heard by policymakers.
The energy and passion he has seen in these young people is what he hoped to show in the film. The one difference? “Alzheimer’s advocates have made it over the hump, whatever that looks like: Accepting a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, openly talking about disease, creating awareness of the devastation it can leave in its wake and providing hope to other people in their shoes. In the film, some folks have gotten to those points, and some have not. It is a journey.”
If “Sky Blossom” opens a door to the everyday lives of inspiring caregivers in the Alzheimer’s community and serves as a window into the adjacent space of the life of a military family, Lui will have accomplished what he wanted with the film. “I hope that people can't help but enter to see that there are caregivers of all kinds, and many of them are young. It is simple: It is people caring for people.
This film is a celebration of the people who keep going. These are the people growing up as America's next greatest generation.”
Photos courtesy of: VINO WONG/SKY BLOSSOM FILMS
The broadcast premiere of "Sky Blossom" is Saturday, May 29 at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC. Learn more.
About Richard: Richard Lui has had an illustrious career that has included roles in marketing, strategy and technology. Today, Richard is a journalist and MSNBC/NBC news anchor known for his humanitarian charity work.
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