The responsibility to be a caregiver comes to most of us as a surprise, like an unwanted task that presents itself in our “to do” box.
This was my situation when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We had just moved away from family and friends to a new home in the Texas countryside where we planned to spend our retirement years. All of a sudden the future looked bleak and very frightening. As a teacher, I began to research everything I could find about this disease. I sought counsel from my pastor and he guided me to other Christians who had experience being a caregiver. They, in turn, promised prayer support and gave me books to read. So began my caregiving marathon.
Why do I call my service as a caregiver a ‘marathon’? The answer is that most caregivers need to pace themselves, just like a marathon runner. There are no quick fixes to our care receiver’s disease; in fact in some cases there will be just “a long goodbye,” as Nancy Reagan called Alzheimer’s. Caregiving is not a sprint; we must develop endurance, patience, and resiliency to run this long race. There will be ups and downs, as I’ve had to learn over the past four years. However, as I’ve studied the research and literature about caregiving, I’ve realized that there is a great deal of support available, if you know where to look.
As I sought out other Christians who could give me guidance, I found a couple of devotional books that really spoke to me. These authors challenged me to be honest with myself about my anger, fear, and frustration. In the process of this soul-searching I found that there are many scriptures, songs, and books that could offer comfort and guidance to caregivers. Further, I realized I was not alone in this long hard run.
According to a recent study, an estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States provided unpaid care to an adult or a child for some time period during 2015. On average, these caregivers have been doing so for 4 years, and 24% have provided care for 5 years or more. And those who provide the most hours of care are twice as likely to have been providing care for 10 or more years (NAC and AARP Public Policy Institute). These are staggering statistics, but they indicate that there are a large number of people running the race together, and these communities of caregivers rally together like sports fans do in a pep rally.
When I sought guidance concerning a dementia patient facing surgery, caregivers on the Alzheimer’s discussion forum gave me excellent advice. At the same time, my own support group offered prayer and help sitting with my husband as he recovered from surgery. A church in our small town offers respite care for dementia patients, and this church has become a vital link with other caregivers in the area. I also had opportunities to support a fellow caregiver in my Bible study group by offering prayer and reading materials. As I encouraged her, I was also learning about the power of community. I came to the realization that I could be a support to other caregivers and share what I’d learned over the past four years of my own caregiving journey.
I’ve come to care so deeply about supporting those who are providing care for their parents, children, and partners that I have designed a course for caregivers and those who want to minister to them. In this course, we’ll explore the latest literature and research about caregiving, and we’ll listen to testimonies from other caregivers who have advice on ways to stay healthy as we serve. There will be discussions where we can share our own thoughts and offer support to others. We’ll talk about ways churches can be supportive of caregivers in their community — as Christians, there are so many different ways we can offer support and encouragement to caregivers. Most importantly, we will find joy in the Lord as we learn to reach out to God’s Word and his servant followers for support. So put on your spiritual running shoes; we want to be on your team, and we’re in this with you for the entire race. Let’s go!
NAC and AARP Public Policy Institute. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S. 2015. http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_CaregivingintheUS_Final-Report-June-4_WEB.pdf