When I was the mother of a young child, a co-worker asked me what I was doing to take care of myself, how I was finding time for me. Many years have passed, but I still remember that conversation. She was right; I was so preoccupied with a full-time job and taking care of a toddler that I was failing to take care of myself.
It is so easy to get caught in this trap. We feel that what we are doing to care for others is absolutely essential—and it is, but so is caring for ourselves.
We have all been (or will be) caregivers at some point in our lives. It may be for a short time while a family member recovers from surgery or an illness, for a friend who needs help, or when our children are young. Or, it could be long-term, such as when a family member has dementia or another debilitating disease, receives traumatic injuries, or has a mental illness.
We want to provide care for those we love, and may even feel obligated, but at what point does this desire become detrimental? When we so exhaust ourselves that we have nothing left, when we are so devoted to the person that we neglect our own interests and health, we are actually contributing to the problem.
A friend’s mother was so devoted to caring for her husband that she seldom even left the house. When he died, she didn’t know what to do with herself and had wrecked her own health. She spent the remainder of her life homebound and in poor health. Another friend, whose husband had Alzheimer’s disease, accepted the offers of friends to relieve her of her caregiving responsibilities periodically so that she could continue to be involved in church activities and other things she enjoyed or needed to do. Her husband died several years ago, but she continues to lead a healthy, active life.
How can the church help in such situations? Consider some of these options:
1. Establish a list of people who are willing to provide respite care.
2. Schedule someone to take a meal to relieve the caregiver of that responsibility.
3. Visit in person and on the phone. Caregivers need contact with people who are outside of their situation.
4. Don’t wait for the caregiver to ask for help. Approach the person with specific offers of assistance. If you say, “Call if you need anything,” the caregiver is not likely to respond.
5. Take the caregiver out for a meal or a movie while someone else stays with his or her loved one.
6. Offer a “Parent’s Night Out” so that parents can do something fun or even run errands without having to pay a babysitter.
7. Become familiar with organizations in your community that would be of help to caregivers. For instance, some areas have Alzheimer’s Day Care centers or services for those who are mentally or physically disabled.
8. As your congregation is able, offer financial assistance. You may need to arrange to pay the electric bill rather than offering money, which although needed might not be accepted.
9. Surprise the caregiver with a small gift—flowers, a journal, a gift certificate, etc.
10. If children are in the home, invite them to join your family for a special outing.
There are many other things congregations can do to care for the caregiver. Assess each situation and brainstorm ways you can use the resources (human and other) that God has provided.