Encouragement for Caregivers
By Pauline Sheehan
If you’re like me, you probably know many friends in your church who are caring for their loved ones. It’s no wonder, because one out of four people over the age of fifty is a caregiver. There are many reasons that 22 million households face caregiving issues. People are living longer with chronic illnesses. They continue to need assistance with daily living tasks after they are discharged from the hospital, yet desire to live as independently as possible in their own homes. Their adult children may live far away from them, and have full-time jobs out of the home as well. Additionally, many caregivers still have children at home, many who are still young.
What can people in the church do to encourage a caregiver? First, they can assess what the real issues are and address them individually. For example, for caregivers who are lonely, there are gifts that appeal to the senses. If the caregiver is physically fatigued, provide gifts that offer time relief and nourishment. For grieving caregivers, provide gifts that offer hope, provide symbols of life and present creative opportunities. Then coordinate through the deacons, women’s groups, or study groups in your church to begin ministering to the caregivers’ specific needs.
Too often caregivers find themselves struggling in isolation. There is a constant tension between giving the necessary care to their loved one and maintaining their own lives. In an all-too-familiar scenario, an elderly man who was caring for his wife missed his senior citizen events. Then, over several months, he began missing evening church services, and finally Sunday services. As his wife needed more of his attention, he gradually withdrew from his usual activities, resulting in loneliness.
Use some of the suggested ideas or create your own as you prayerfully consider how you might minister to the caregivers in your congregation. And don’t forget that hugs can help too!
To help caregivers facing similar situations, try some of these acts of friendship that just might lighten their load:
- Even if you haven’t seen the caregiver and their loved one for a while, they will still enjoy a telephone call. Ask immediately if it’s a good time to call because caregiving duties have intense periods.
- Offer to relieve them so that they can attend a wedding or graduation, or even get a haircut or run to the bank if they need to.
- People love to receive notes or letters. Cards are also welcome so caregivers know you are thinking and praying for them during this difficult season of their lives.
- Offer to help them keep in touch with their family. Help them buy the supplies to start a “Round Robin” letter. Perhaps you could put the family photos onto a video, lend them a video camera or buy them film.
- Invite them out for coffee.
- Some caregivers may enjoy scented sachets for dresser drawers, an assortment of scented bath salts, oils or bubble bath, or new bath towels.
Gifts of food can help lighten a load and save time.
One mother of teenagers cared for her husband who was recovering from a car accident. She tried to take over her husband’s duties as well as give him the exercise therapy that he needed while also keeping up with her teenagers. Understandably, she faced physical exhaustion.
Another common experience of caregivers is fatigue. While trying to balance their own lives while caring for someone else, chronic exhaustion can often settle in. One of the ways you can help out with this stress is by providing some practical help.
Try one of these ideas for a caregiver you know:
- Take turns delivering home-cooked meals in disposable containers. Some foods that are special, yet can be stored for later use, are ice cream with toppings, blocks of cheese, packages of deli meat, baked potatoes with toppings, tea bags with a new teacup, fruit with a peeler, flavored vinegars, nuts in a wooden bowl or dried fruits in glass candy dishes.
- Arrange the ingredients for ethnic food such as Irish soda bread mix and a jar of jam, pasta sauce with garlic bread spread and dried pasta, or pizza mix with canned Canadian bacon, olives, and cheese.
- A box of matzo ball mix and a can of chicken broth is easily stored, or try canned tamale sauce with cheddar cheese soup and flour tortillas.
If the caregiver is grieving, try these gift ideas to encourage:
- Colorful postcards or notecards can offer inspiration.
- Give an inspirational book, poster, or Bible on CD.
- Organize a prayer chain for their requests.
- Give a blank book for journaling.
Encourage with symbols of life.
- Fast-blooming plants such as amaryllis bring hope and expectation. Other symbols of life are pets like birds, fish, cats or dogs, but be sure to ask if a pet is wanted.
- Purchase an art print or inspirational calendar.
Encourage with creative opportunities.
- Organize artistic supplies for crocheting, knitting, needlepoint, quilting or counted cross-stitch.
- Furnish supplies for drawing, painting, ceramics, stained glass, modeling clay, woodcarving, or origami.