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Going the Distance for Dad

Going the Distance for Dad
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Fall 2020
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For MSNBC and NBC News anchor Richard Lui, long-distance caregiving is an act of love

Richard Lui’s résumé is filled with impressive roles that stretch far beyond his career as a broadcast journalist. He held positions in marketing, strategy and technology for Fortune 500 companies before pivoting into journalism as a news anchor for CNN Worldwide, MSNBC and NBC News. At CNN Worldwide, he became the first Asian American man to anchor a daily, national cable news show in the United States. In addition, Lui has received numerous awards for his humanitarian charity work. 

But the most meaningful and challenging role Lui has held won’t appear on his résumé: it’s that of an Alzheimer’s caregiver for his father, Stephen. 

Stephen Lui was born in a small apartment in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The second-generation Chinese immigrant was one of 13 children in a family that struggled to make ends meet and stretched everything they had. Stephen dedicated his life to helping others, serving as a pastor and later as a social worker when working at the church couldn’t pay the bills.

While Lui was growing up, his father would often bring him and his siblings along to volunteer in the community. Stephen was an affectionate and dedicated family man who raised his children to understand the importance of caring for those you love, Lui says. 

“We’ve always been a tight-knit family,” Lui says. “At Christmas, we would have 90 people together — cousins, aunties and uncles all celebrating the holiday. From road trips à la the ‘Vacation’ movies where we piled into the station wagon to see my mom’s family in L.A., to gathering for Ching Ming, it was never explicitly said, ‘You have to take care of your family,’ it was simply understood. We were close, and we will always be close.”

That closeness made it especially startling when, in 2013, Stephen began forgetting his siblings’ names. A year after being told by a doctor that he had the early signs of dementia, Stephen received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. 

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As devastating as the news was, one thing remained certain to Lui — his family would stick together to care for his dad. 

“When it comes to the way we handled my father’s diagnosis, each of us brought individual strengths,” Lui says. “Like many families of any background, Asian American and Pacific Islander families like ours take on the responsibility of caregiving without thinking twice — an unwritten and sometimes unspoken practice that family is number one.” 

Thanks to an understanding supervisor at NBCUniversal, Lui started anchoring on Saturdays and Sundays, giving him the ability to travel coast to coast almost weekly to be with his parents. For the past five years, he’s made the 5,000-mile round-trip journey from New York City to San Francisco countless times, sleeping on his parents’ couch and helping his mom with day-to-day caregiving tasks before flying back to New York to begin the cycle all over again. 

“For those that are deciding to make the time commitment, whether you are a drive away or a flight away, just start,” Lui says. “If you can’t do it every week, or every month, or even every six months, then just decide what you can do and spend the time to be overnight with your loved one. If you don’t stay overnight and you go for the dinner, the birthday, the Christmas Day presents being opened, you don’t get the full picture of what they’re going through. It’s always easy to look good for dinner. It’s not easy to look good at two in the morning.” 

Despite the challenges of being a long-distance caregiver, Lui has found a community through the Alzheimer’s Association. An outspoken champion for the cause, Lui has connected with other caregivers at the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement Advocacy Forum and the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®

Lui’s work as a spokesperson on caregiving inspired him to push the conversation higher, starting a film project on the topic three years ago titled “Sky Blossom, diaries of the next greatest generation.” The documentary focuses on teens and millennials who serve as caregivers for veterans, some of whom have Alzheimer’s, and offers revealing and rare insights into the country’s youth.

Although Stephen is now in the late stage of the disease and his health has declined significantly in the past year, Lui says his father is still teaching him things — don’t give up, be a good listener, and do good works of the heart. 

“When you’re in the trenches, you don’t realize until you’re out of it how much you’ve changed,” Lui says. “All of us in the family have learned more about each other, and it’s made us stronger and better people. I do believe that’s part of what my dad’s still teaching us without knowing.”

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