By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — As the caregiver for her adult granddaughter Amy, Jan Davison says at times she needs some space. When the Nourish caregivers group at Our Lady of Victory started online last month, it was just what Davison needed.
“Personally, Amy and I have a very close relationship and I find that teaching her and helping her is also a learning experience for me. I feel it’s made me a better and more understanding person.”
Davison’s daughter, Kathy, asked her to care for Amy, 25, to establish Iowa residency and apply for an apartment with assisted living arrangement. “That was three years ago. Right now the wait time for her to get that assisted living is two years,” Davison said.
Amy was born with pulmonary hypertension and had a life expectancy of 5-8 years. Her mother, a registered nurse, is “very involved in decision making and she and Amy are very close,” Davison said.
In-person Nourish meetings at Our Lady of Victory, Davison’s home parish, did not work for her because of her granddaughter’s chronic lung condition. Davison was excited to learn that Nourish was going online during the pandemic.
“Nourish is an opportunity for me to make friends in similar situations. I’m not alone,” she said. The topics “help me learn what being a caregiver is all about, and sometimes even give me ‘aha’ moments just when I need them.”
Topics vary. The July 16 meeting focused on compassion and compassion fatigue. That theme “was spot on for me. Generally I take home insight and ideas that I can use to help do a better job for Amy, which makes me better.”
Davison appreciates the Nourish caregivers group and Bible study group (suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic), which remind her of the importance of her faith. “With all that is going on in this world, this is so important to me.”
Char McGovern facilitates the Nourish caregivers group at Our Lady of Victory, which began in August 2019 with in-person sessions. The hour-and-a-half sessions included a short break for coffee, tea and cookies and smaller group conversations. Since suspension of the in-person meetings, two virtual meetings have been held on the third Thursday of the month.
Nourish, a national program, provides live-streamed sessions of about an hour’s duration and updated leader guides and slides so “we do not have to do anything extra to be online,” McGovern said. “We discuss caregiver support, not the diseases our loved ones have.”
The drawback to online sessions “is the lack of personal contact, if someone gets upset, we could lay a hand on their shoulder, give a hug or at least pass the Kleenex. We cannot do that online. We still fellowship a little but not as much as in person.”
Nourish suggests two facilitators for online meetings. McGovern’s co-facilitator is Marianne Agnoli, marriage and family coordinator for the Diocese of Davenport. “I am so grateful for Marianne’s patience and willingness to be the ‘tech’ person. She is an asset for our diocese, easy to work with and very supportive,” McGovern said. Both women were familiar with the Zoom video conference platform and hosted a practice session for several women.
McGovern also is a member of the parish’s health ministry team and has been in the healthcare field for more than 45 years. She is also a caregiver, who first helped her with medical decisions and other support for her mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s disease.
Now McGovern serves as her brother’s power of attorney. He has early onset dementia and Lewy Body dementia. “It is difficult because he is three hours away.” Last fall, McGovern’s husband had some health issues. “I was his caregiver and still am but he is much better now. So for the last 12 years, I have given care to multiple family members.”
“So many of us are caregivers and do not even realize it,” McGovern said. “My husband cared for me when I was going through breast cancer and blood clots in my lungs. I cared for him when he broke his leg and recently had health issues. You really do not think about the care you are giving most of the time.”
As a Nourish facilitator, “I have grown in my awareness of how to be more ‘present’ with my husband and brother and have learned so many other tips from our group that have helped me grow.”
To learn more about Nourish at Our Lady of Victory Parish, open to anyone from any parish, call McGovern at (563) 508-3890 and leave a message. People without a computer or smartphone can use a landline phone to participate.
What is Nourish?
Nourish, a Christ-centered program for caregivers, provides parishes with resources that support the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of family caregivers.
The program “helps parishes equip a lay-led team to respond to the current crisis facing America and Catholics today — the millions who are juggling the challenges of life, health, career and caring for a loved one.”
In December 2018, Nourish founders Deb Kelsy-Davis and Kelly Johnson made a presentation to parish nurses and other ministry leaders in the Diocese of Davenport. “We were all very impressed with the depth and breadth of the program and how user friendly it was,” said Marianne Agnoli, diocesan marriage and family life coordinator. Nourish makes it easy for a parish to provide this ministry with minimal additional time and effort on the part of the facilitator. The program also includes a strong faith component lacking in secular options, she said.
Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport began its in-person program in August 2019 and moved to online in June because of the coronavirus pandemic. St. John Vianney and Our Lady of Lourdes in Bettendorf, Our Lady of the River in LeClaire and St. Alphonsus in Mount Pleasant all planned to launch Nourish programs until the pandemic interrupted.
Anyone may attend Our Lady of Victory’s online Nourish program. “Now that we have a virtual format, location is no longer a barrier to attendance. All are welcome.”
Nourish offers a two-year-cycle of topics presented monthly with a Catholic/Christian perspective. Each session opens and closes with prayer. A virtual group allows caregivers who are otherwise homebound or live a great distance away an opportunity to participate. “I can see the value of offering an online option even after it is safe to meet in person again,” Agnoli said.
Nourish is available in both English and Spanish. Resources for caregivers are available on the Nourish website at https://nourishforcaregivers.com/caregiver-resources/.
“Due to the isolating effects of the pandemic, caregivers are in need of our support now more than ever,” Agnoli said. Contact her at agnolim@davenport diocese.org for more information.