I remember the day when my father-in-law told us his memory was failing him. I remember the flurry of medical tests, the devastating diagnosis, and the quiet times spent trying to absorb the ramifications of this turn of events. I remember worrying over my children as we searched for ways to explain Grandpa’s behavior. I remember so much because it was a pivotal time in our family’s life. But, sad as I am to admit it, one thing I don’t remember doing is thinking about my mother-in-law. She lived in the shadow of our concern for her husband from the beginning of that journey.
Strong, but Fragile
My mother-in-law was indeed a take-charge kind of person. She had seen both of her parents through dementia and tackled her husband’s diagnosis as a new challenge. So on the face of things, she didn’t seem to need our help.
But she did need help. Unbeknownst to us, caregiving was likely subtracting years from her life even as it added work to her daily routine. We could see the deterioration in her husband’s memory. Still, we did not consider what chronic stress was doing to her physical and emotional health. The list of things she needed to do increased slowly, each new task adding to the pressure she felt. She absorbed the extra work and managed to hide her increased stress from us until one day when she announced that she thought she might have depression.
The consequences of caregiving creep up on the caregiver. These life changes impact finances, emotional health, and time to do favorite activities. A person’s life gets smaller and the daily schedule more rigid with more to do and fewer choices. The family’s focus is so intent on the loved one that it becomes easy to dismiss the caregiver’s personal needs. Yet the needs of the caregiver are essential because they offer care that extended family cannot replicate in any other way. The caregiver’s health is crucial to the loved one receiving care.
Caregivers Need Caretakers
I believe that every caregiver needs a caretaker. Someone to listen to concerns, identify solutions, and help the person find some measure of joy. If you are a caregiver, I strongly encourage you to find such a friend and ask that person to walk alongside you by checking on you.
If you are not a caregiver, could you fill this role for someone who is? It doesn’t mean you have to fix anything or be an expert. You will simply be the person who focuses on the caregiver by checking in on them. Here are some things a caregiver should regularly give thought to:
- Have you noticed any changes in your health?
Caregivers need a reminder to consider their health. By asking, you will draw attention to small changes that might indicate the need for a check-up.
- What is your mood like today?
Depression is a common occurrence for caregivers. It is not your job to diagnose or screen, but this question can help caregivers reflect on their emotional health.
- Do you have any tasks that overwhelm you?
Caregivers might assume that all responsibility is on them. This discussion allows you to point out options for help.
Opportunity for the Church
Serving as a caretaker to a caregiver is a poignant opportunity for the Church to offer support. Think of what a handful of volunteers, willing to make weekly phone calls, could do to support the vocation of caregiving. This type of program requires no money or specialized training. It only needs someone to coordinate the volunteers who call or visit. It also allows for more extensive problems to be passed on to a professional.
For I, the LORD your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”
(Isaiah 41:13 ESV)
God is our helper, taking our hand and preparing the caregiving road. As members of the Church, we can participate in God’s work by attending to the needs of those engaged in caregiving. We can bring them out of the shadows and into the loving care of their Savior.
Read more about caregivers’ faith and needs in Weary Joy: A Caregiver’s Journey.