Reverend Geoffrey Kerslake, Episcopal Vicar of the Archdiocese of Ottawa, kindly shared this statement on caregiving:
Caring for a sick or suffering family member or friend is a tremendous act of love and service. The care provided is proof to the ailing person that they are loved and appreciated and that they do not suffer alone. The gift of being present to another person in their suffering is one of the noblest, most charitable acts we can do for someone. Jesus in the Gospel of St. Matthew speaks these words: “truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my brothers or sisters you did it to me.” (Mtt 25.40) Serving others in their suffering is a way we encounter and serve Jesus Christ himself.
But being a caregiver can be a very demanding service of love. Oftentimes one person becomes the primary or sole caregiver at a great personal cost. We need as a community to support those who are caring for ill and suffering family and friends. The local parish community can be a source of support and may be able to offer help for caregivers. Approaching the pastor to share the circumstances of the illness or chronic condition is a way to both spiritually connect with the parish community as well as to find support for the caregivers. Even if the support consists mostly of a listening ear, this is a great benefit to caregivers who often feel disconnected with little time or energy to reach out for support for themselves.
Some parishes have a pastoral care team which is able to do home or hospital visits in addition to the ministry of the parish priest. The great blessing of periodic Holy Communion is a tremendous source of encouragement, grace and strength accompanied by a personal visit with prayer.
Parishes may have also have scripture study or prayer groups where caregivers can spend a few moments encountering the Lord in reflection and prayer with others, thus also increasing social contact outside of the place of care. Caregivers needs to be recipients themselves of attentive listening and social support.
Some parishes also have bereavement groups to help caregivers cope with the loss of a loved one which can be especially difficult after much time spent together meeting the needs of those who required constant care. Sometimes caregivers can feel themselves adrift after the death of their loved one having spent so much time and love caring for someone else that their own needs were set aside. The support of a parish community can be very helpful.
Even when it is difficult to find a few moments away, we can always find a couple of minutes for a quick, heart felt conversation with God – which is what prayer is all about: spending time speaking and listening to God who loves us so much He sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, suffer and die for our sins, and rise again so that we might have the possibility of eternal life.
In the Catholic tradition, we have prayers like the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, as well as devotions like the Rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet, that many find comforting and which require little effort to pray, which is especially important when caregivers are weary and are seeking strength and consolation. Many people own a Bible or a weekday Missal with the daily Readings or have access to a televised Mass or Christian TV networks like Salt and Light or EWTN. A few moments spent catching reading the Word of God or listening to a talk or special presentation can also be very encouraging.
The best spiritual support for caregivers is to put them in contact with their local parish where they can have a personal encounter with the pastor and fellow parishioners who can help them on their often difficult journey. Each person’s faith journey is unique and what nourishes some does not prove as helpful for others, hence the need for personal contact and attentive listening.