Syrians as an ethnic group in Swedish society are expected to care for their elderly at home. But what does it mean to be Syrian and care for an elderly relative today? In her study of Syrians as carers of relatives in Swedish society, the author has looked at what this involves by means of group interviews that were then analysed on the basis of what the participants talked about and laughed at during the groups’ discussions. The patients’ relatives are divided in the way they describe what it means to care for someone. For them, caring means a desire to preserve Syrian culture and traditions. This desire is characterised by their wanting to give something back to the elderly relative to thank them for the support they had provided to them while growing up. For some of the Syrian carers, part of their wish to do so is a sense of obligation based on their Christian faith and the Bible. One aspect of the driving force behind caring for others is said to be one’s conscience.
Another important aspect which emerges in the study is that providing such care also depends on the elderly individual and his or her adaptation to Swedish society. An elderly patient’s insufficient command of the Swedish language is another reason for the reluctance of relatives to place him or her in a Swedish nursing home. The attitude of the elderly, which is that living in a nursing home is the equivalent of a living death, is a further obstacle. Another explanation given is that sometimes the environment the carers live in, where other Syrians talk behind their back, place further demands and expectations on them that relatives should care for elderly Syrians at home. But what is it really like to care for an elderly Syrian at home? The Syrian carers have accepted caring for their elderly relatives as part of their everyday lives. However, without good cooperation with the other family members the situation would be untenable.
There is a clear division between men’s and women’s duties in the care that is given. It is unacceptable for a man, for example, to help his elderly mother to the toilet, and relatives laugh at the absurdity of such a situation. Getting through everyday life is a constant struggle for the carers. What brightens it up and allows them to forget the difficult times and problems associated with conflict and misunderstanding is the joy that caring brings. The relatives often laugh at different situations in their everyday lives, and say that the elderly spread joy and warmth around them. They have various strategies for handling the situation; going to church is mentioned as one way of finding strength. The ambivalence shown towards the task of caring may be understood on the basis that Syrians are going through different phases of adapting to life in Sweden.