The Caregiving Journey
"I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and and earth."
Psalm 121: 1-2
Fifty- three million Caregivers in the US provide care for their loved ones, according to the most recent Caregiver statistic. Some provide this care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to someone who is ill, disabled or aged. With this statistic, Caregivers need recognition!
I want to share with you how First Parish reaches out to Caregivers. Once a week for a number of years, Caregivers have met in Pilgrim House on Monday afternoons. Rev. Jill Small initially led this group.
Some, both men and women, who attend are members of First Parish, many are not. They come from Brunswick, and surrounding communities, and all are caring for loved ones, many for a long time, and some are new to the journey.
The loved one may be at home, in Assisted Living or Long-Term Care. Wherever the setting, the caregiver is always involved and advocating for a spouse, a partner, a parent, an adult child, a friend. This person may suffer from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, the effects of a stroke or another debilitating disease.
As with our other support groups held at First Parish, those who attend have an opportunity to share concerns, support one another, and make lasting friendships. For Caregivers, our church provides a place of confidentiality and a place for some brief respite.
It offers room to vent frustrations, and to know it is okay to have a healthy laugh. I am so pleased we have this outreach for those who have larger emotional and physical challenges than they ever expected, for those who feel isolated because of giving up activities with friends, for those who need to know of community resources, for those grieving the gradual loss of a loved one. Our community resources are many, and we all are very fortunate. The better the caregiver is prepared, the more the loved one will benefit!
I want to thank you, the congregation, for what you already do for caregivers, for the Caregiving Journey is not a journey to go alone! I hear of a thoughtful phone call, an e-mail, a written note, picking up from the grocery store or pharmacy, staying with the loved one while the caregiver keeps a doctor’s appointment or attends a support group, dropping off some soup or a little get together over coffee, encouraging one to attend a support group.
The list goes on and on, all ways to prevent Caregiver Burnout. Burnout is a big fear among Caregivers, and what happens if the Caregiver becomes ill??? There are Caregivers that do not complete the journey with their loved one, because they haven’t taken time for themselves, kept a doctor’s appointment, or to take some respite.
This is why it is absolutely necessary to have a back-up plan in place, an alternative plan for the care of the loved one.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are a caring congregation, reaching out to the Care-giver and the loved one. When I am about in our community, I do not hesitate to speak of our program, and convey that all caregivers are welcome. Nell Noonan in her book “Not Alone-Encouragement for Caregivers” writes: “I wait for someone to ask the question, but no one ever does. I have expected a curious type to inquire: ‘After all these years, what has surprised you most about caregiving?’ I have an answer’ says Nell. “The by-product to blow me away has been the unfolding spiritual dimension of this pilgrimage for both the caregiver and care-receiver. It is the journey of the heart and soul to know the core meaning of life- to know who you are and what gives value”.
Yes, after a number of years, I am still blown away by the loving care given by one to another. Caregivers have to be precious to God, and certainly to those in their care. The Caregiving Journey is not a planned journey, and can become overwhelming for the Caregiver. As I think of ways to help and support those on the Caregiver “Pilgrimage”, I am reminded of “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.
Prayer: May God’s blessings be upon all Caregivers and their Loved Ones as the Caregiving Journey unfolds. Amen.