The media has made us aware that diseases like cancer, dementia and Alzheimer’s are on the rise because the population is aging. We’ve witnessed the dramatic increase in mental illness due to COVID and other factors. We’ve seen the rates of autism more than double over the last 20 years. Families are struggling, and the government has declared a “caregiving crisis.” There are simply not enough care professionals (in home support staff, nursing home assistants, etc.) to meet the exploding need. This creates new challenges for our society and demands new solutions. Currently, the burden is fully on the shoulders of family members and friends who’ve stepped up. But no one can carry this load alone.
The story of Simon of Cyrene comes to mind. As Jesus was being forced to carry His cross to the site of His crucifixion, Simon was “just passing by.” He wasn’t there to gawk and jeer, but from out of nowhere Simon gets a shove onto center stage and he’s forced to carry Jesus’ cross.
This is how the story begins for many caregivers. They were just a spouse, a child, a parent and overnight, they find themselves becoming a “caregiver” – someone who is shouldering the weight of another person’s suffering.
Like many new parents, my husband and I were prepared to love, care and sacrifice for our children, but when our daughter was born having seizures and the care of my mother-in-law was added to our load, we found ourselves thrust into a completely unexpected and unknown world that demanded faith, patience, and sacrifice on a superhuman level. Our careers, finances, marriage, and social life all began to crumble. At first, our church offered meals, prayers, and some helpful funds to pay for our trips to specialists. But as weeks turned into years, it became harder and harder to get to church and participate, and we became forgotten.
Millions of caregivers around the world find themselves in the same predicament. They need Jesus, they need community, but unable to get to a church, The Church has lost sight of them. They have lost hope, become depressed, are angry with God or have lost faith altogether.
The government has enacted the R.A.I.S.E. Family Caregivers Act – developing ways to Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage families. How will The Church respond? I’d like to suggest that Jesus gives us the answers plainly in the parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
In this parable, Jesus tells us the way to inherit eternal life is to love God and to “love your neighbor has yourself.” Then He tells us that our neighbor is anyone in need along our path, including an enemy! Jesus walks us through the characteristics of mercy and compassion displayed by the Samaritan and then charges us to “Go and do likewise.”
1. Empathy – Unlike the other passersby, The Good Samaritan noticed the suffering of a stranger and let it move him to action.
• Consider whom you know that’s a family caregiver and let them know you see them and the good work they’re doing. Remember there are family caregivers taking care of children with disabilities, a spouse with cancer, an aging parent, a family member effected by mental illness or addiction. Consider those caring for someone with Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Autism, Down Syndrome, recent surgery or injury.
• Let them know that you recognize how much commitment and effort it takes.
• Send them an encouraging note. Give them a pat or a hug and ask how they’re doing.
• Put the caregiver on the prayer list – not just the person who’s sick. Let them know they and their loved one are being prayed for.
2. Fearlessness – As Christians, we’re to be drawn to suffering, not repelled. The Good Samaritan touched the stranger’s wounds, not afraid of his pain.
• Offer to go to where the caregiver is (home or hospital) to simply be
with them and their loved one. Don’t make them come to you. Your not being afraid of the disease or disabling condition relieves the sense of isolation.
• Listen. As simple as a phone call or chat over a cup of tea, listening lightens the load more than you know.
3. Personal Investment – The Good Samaritan used his own wine as antiseptic, his oil as salve, his garment as a bandage, his donkey as an ambulance, his own money as health insurance. Too often, we point those who are suffering to an institution or professional instead of getting personally invested.
• Take food, magazines, or books that the caregiver might enjoy.
• Offer to care for their loved one for a couple of hours while they spend time away.
• Offer to escort the caregiver and their loved one to appointments. Just dropping them at the front door, helping everyone get into the office and parking and retrieving the car is a huge blessing when dealing with folks who are frail and slow and may even have equipment to manage.
4. Commitment – In this parable, Jesus makes it clear our service is to not just be a one-time “gesture.” The Good Samaritan promised to return for follow-through.
• Perhaps you can commit to providing a meal (and Eucharist) once a week or once a month. Regular, dependable meals and visits offer tremendous encouragement.
• Consider a fundraiser to help with medical expenses or to purchase a costly piece of equipment.
5. Pro-Activity – Jesus tells his listeners to “Go and do likewise.” Caregivers will almost always say, “I’m fine,” too embarrassed to ask for help. Don’t use that as an excuse to do nothing. Whatever you do that says “I’m here for you. You belong,” makes it easier for a caregiver to accept what you are already offering.
• Start a support group for caregivers in your home, church, or community center.
• Organize a respite program.
• Ask your church to consider becoming more accessible.
In the words of George Eliot, “What do we live for if not to make life less difficult for each other?”
By Mary Tutterow, Author of “The Heart of a Caregiver”