Encouragement for Caregivers
- Written by Jody Vickery Jody Vickery
- Published: 04 August 2017 04 August 2017
More years than not, my mom has been a caregiver to someone. She began caring for children at the age of 26. I was the first, but there were four others and one of them was developmentally disabled. Though I never heard her complain about it, caring for our sister Jean was like having a baby in the house for forty-three years.
Figured conservatively, that comes out to 78,475 diaper changes. And those were cloth diapers. Everything you do for yourself in the daily course of living, mom had to do for Jean: food preparation, feeding, bathing, changing clothes, toileting, keeping up with and giving medicine, even moving from one room to another. It was a consuming task. And it happened every day for over four decades. For a stretch of that time, mom was caring for her own mother and mother-in-law as well.
She’s not alone. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are 43.5 million unpaid caregivers serving children and adults in the U.S. every month. In 2013, the value of services provided by unpaid caregivers exceeded 470 billion dollars. To put that in perspective, that same year, Walmart did 477 billion dollars-worth of business. Next time you drive by, walk into or order something from Walmart, think about that. The volunteer caregiving “industry” is as big as America’s leading retailer.
People who give their time and energy to care for another share some things in common. They know that what they are doing is important and they do it out of love. But they worry they aren’t doing enough. Or that they are doing too much. Or that they are not doing it right. Or for the right reasons. They feel bad that they do not approach every day – and night – with unbridled cheer. They feel regret for a decision that, at the time, seemed right, but with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight might not have been the best option. They feel guilty over a remembered moment of frustration. And guilty because caring for this loved one means less time and energy to love others they care about.
Caring for someone who cannot care for themselves is hard. The physical actions themselves, the logistics of helping someone get dressed or fed or bathed or moved from the bed to a chair and back can be laborious. The emotional effect can be just as taxing. Especially if the person you are helping suffers from some form of dementia. I cannot imagine the pain when the parent who brought you into this world, raised and loved you says something like, “You are so kind to be here. I wish my children would come to see me.”
When I think about the hard work caregivers do, this passage comes to mind:
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2 – 3)
Work Produced by Faith
I’ve heard caregivers apologize for not being more active in church ministries in seasons of life where they are called to look after a loved one. Have mercy! Giving care to a family member in need IS a ministry of the church. It IS a work produced by faith. Paul even said that if anyone does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their immediate family, they have denied the faith, (1 Timothy 5:8). Just because the care you give doesn’t happen in the church building on a Sunday or Wednesday does not mean it is not a work of faith. That’s exactly what it is.
Labor Prompted by Love
I know a guy who, through a series of unusual circumstances, wound up caring for the father who had abandoned him when he was a child. I’d like to tell you that in his final years the father’s heart was softened, that he regretted having deserted his son and that he was grateful for the grace his son showed him. But it didn’t happen that way. The father was difficult, ungrateful and hateful to the very end. The son, though, did all he could to care for his father. It was love, but it was a labor.
They don’t make Hallmark movies about that kind of love. That love isn’t dreamy or romantic and there isn’t a heart-warming soundtrack. It’s the kind of love that cleans up a soiled bed and answers the same question three times in thirty minutes. It clips gnarled toe nails, manages limited finances and navigates the confusing maze that medical care has become. It may not feel all warm and fuzzy, but rest assured – that’s love.
Endurance Inspired by Hope
It is no simple thing to minister to someone in the last few days or weeks of life. Caring for another for years or even decades, however, requires an entirely different kind of commitment. It’s the difference between a sprint and a marathon. And if you are running that marathon, one of the things you need is hope.
Sometimes, hope springs from just having a good day – or even a good hour. Having something to look forward to like a weekend off or a vacation can generate hope. But the surest, purest hope is found in God. In Romans 8:18, Paul said that present suffering is not even worth comparing to the glory that awaits the children of God.
One day, the fog of dementia will clear and we shall know fully even as we are fully known, (1 Corinthians 13:12).
One day, our bodies, weakened by disease, will be strong and vital again, (1 Corinthians 15:42 – 44).
One day, groaning will give way to joy, burdens will be laid aside and death will be swallowed up by life, (2 Corinthians 5:1 – 5).
If you are caring for someone – or in someone’s care – cling to this: Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Not a single thing or any combination of things. God knows who you are and what you are enduring. One day, he will make all old things new. One day, all burdens will be barely remembered, if at all. One day, there will peace and rest and joy.