Pope Francis wrote in an essay that “the antibodies to the virus of indifference … remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves, not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service” (New York Times, 11-26-20). To the 317,000 family caregivers in Iowa, take heart in that message. You are living it. In a pandemic. This editorial aims to inspire all of us to accompany you to the best of our abilities.
Serving as a family caregiver is a labor of love, now intensified because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “Family caregivers manage emergencies, juggle priorities, and suffer isolation — and all of that was before COVID. The pandemic brings even more challenges as family caregivers handle caregiving in crisis,” says Jennifer Hildebrand, a parish nurse who assists her siblings with caregiving duties for her 94-year-old mother.
Two decades have passed since the U.S. bishops published their pastoral statement “Blessings of Age: A Pastoral Message on Growing Older within the Faith Community” (1999). The message is applicable to all ages and remains relevant today, perhaps more so in this time of heightened isolation and anxiety.
The bishops noted, “The responsibilities of caregiving can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Some of you are simultaneously caring for children and older relatives. Many of you are employed; some of you have had to adjust work schedules. Finances can be a serious concern. Some of you who are priests and religious are also dealing with these issues.”
Parishes have a responsibility to provide spiritual and other support for caregivers, the bishops said. Ideas for support include helping to form support groups for caregivers, referring caregivers to community resources, sponsoring adult education programs on caregiving, and periodically recognizing and blessing caregivers. Some parishes in our diocese are responding. Kudos to those who have begun Nourish for Caregivers groups or plan to collaborate with other parishes to do so. Nourish groups (nourishforparishes.com) strive to “empower and support caregivers through the gift of faith.” During the pandemic, groups meet online rather than in person as a safe way to connect and bond while we await distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.
Catholiccaregivers.com, another terrific resource, suggests these ideas for parish support (doable even during a pandemic):
• Survey the parish to identify the needs of caregivers in your community.
• Collect and distribute information from the local Area Agency on Aging and diocesan programs (https://www.davenportdiocese.org/ff-challenge) among other online organizations.
• Talk about caregivers in homilies and remember them in the prayers of the faithful at Mass.
• Begin a program that offers respite care to caregivers.
Along with these collective efforts, our individual actions provide sustenance for the journey of caregivers. Some requests from caregivers the Messenger interviewed:
• Create “coupons” stating what the recipient will receive, such as lunch with you, a home-cooked meal, batch of cookies, a weekly phone call, or an afternoon of respite care. Being specific lifts the guilt caregivers may experience in asking for or receiving help.
• Check in on caregivers by phone, email or text. Drop a card in the mail to them.
• Offer to run errands or pick up groceries.
• Keep asking the caregiver to do things with you (in person, when it is safe, or virtually, during the pandemic).
• Pray by name for caregivers.
Finally, Nourish for Caregivers offers these tips for caregivers:
• Ask for and be willing to receive help.
• Be organized. What are the things you could receive help with? What are the things that should remain on your own plate?
• Recognize what tasks you are good at and what things you don’t particularly like to do and get help for that — volunteer or paid.
• Prepare for care. Who is going to do what? Make your end of life wishes known through advanced directives.
• Learn more about caregiving at nourishforcaregivers.com.
Among the corporal works of mercy is Jesus’ mandate to visit the sick. Lending a hand to caregivers is one concrete response. When we do this we remember, as Pope Francis said, “our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves, not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor