Caring for the Caregiver

By Lynette Auch

Date: October 9, 2018

Category: End of Life, Family Living

Jeff and Melissa didn’t exactly expect the change that became their new way of life, but they graciously accepted it as they love and respect God’s gift of life and see all human life as precious, no matter one’s age or abilities.

Jeff, a retired pastor, and Melissa, a former occupational therapy assistant, completely changed their lives and careers to move and provide continuous care for Melissa’s aging father, who was living with dementia and congestive heart failure.

Jeff and Melissa are not alone. Approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months (Source: National Alliance for Caregiving, AARP, 2015). About 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia (Alzheimer’s Association, 2015).

Luke 10:27-35 includes Jesus’ teaching of the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He goes on to explain “who” is our neighbor in the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. Family caregivers could be considered modern-day Good Samaritans as they often, lovingly and sacrificially, provide the most basic of needs to their family member.

Whether it is a child or youth with special healthcare needs or an adult with a disability or chronic debilitating condition, living with and caring for this loved one can be a huge responsibility. From basic daily activities (i.e., bathing, feeding, dressing, toileting), to care management, monitoring their condition, advocating on their behalf, performing therapies and treatments, and administering medicine and medical care, family caregivers provide invaluable and often life-sustaining services which may not be recognized and which are often overlooked.

Family caregivers are usually unpaid and often the sole caregiver for that family member (and sometimes even to other family members at the same time). Caregivers may have many stressors: physical and emotional strain, financial issues, lack of social support and loss of relationships, marriage strain, and feelings of loss and grief for what they dreamed their life and future would be like.

One frustration for Melissa is isolation from the world. Melissa, a full-time caregiver, is on constant alert, 24 hours a day, seven days a week; she cannot just pick up and leave everything behind to have coffee with a friend or participate in a group function unless she has someone to watch over her father for a few hours. Another sometimes overwhelming frustration for Melissa, even though she worked in the medical field of occupational therapy, is navigating the medical world.

As my own family has experienced with several loved ones, caregiving can be tremendously exhausting—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Aside from the job being exhausting, the health and wellbeing of the family caregiver impacts how they provide care; therefore, the whole family can suffer if precautions are not taken to provide respite care. Respite care provides care for the family member by someone else, allowing the caregiver time away from their loved one to care for themselves and their own needs.

Despite Jeff and Melissa’s frustrations and losses, there have been blessings. In the past, Melissa and her father have struggled in their relationship with each other. Through this opportunity to care for him, Melissa has come to understand her father more as a person and has been able to develop a sense of peace about her relationship with her father. As Scripture has taught her, Melissa believes her father is her “neighbor,” and she finds Christian joy in knowing that she can decrease her father’s anxiety, confusion, and fears of abandonment by being his caregiver.

Melissa believes there is value in honoring lives by caring for them, especially with the current world view that does not value enduring the trial of aging and suffering. There is also value in the journey for the caregiver as one walks through the trials of bearing another’s burdens.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Caring for the caregiver is just one more way that we as life-affirming Christians can be the hands and feet of Jesus and serve others as Christ has sacrificially served us.

Dear Heavenly Father, open our eyes to see the needs of these special people that we call caregivers. Help us be a servant to the servant. Let us be as Christ to others. Amen.

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my will and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

(LSB 783 - Text: Public domain)

Note: Since the writing of this article, Melissa’s father was called to his eternal home.

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