This is the second part in a series focusing on the importance of caregivers. You can read the first post online. The first part focused on looking at the Biblical meaning of care and the third focuses on creating a culture of care.
Life comes full circle. It’s almost elegant in its symmetry. We enter this world small and helpless, dependent on our parents. As we age we gradually become more independent and eventually parents and caretakers to others. And then, as we age, our faculties begin to fade, and we leave this world much as we began. It’s a natural progression that humans have been following since the Garden of Eden.
Natural? Yes. Elegant? Perhaps for the more poetically minded. Pretty? Ask any caregiver, long-term or short-term, and I can guarantee their answer will be unanimous—no. No, it’s not pretty. It’s often difficult and painful, for both the loved one or patient and those caring for them. To pretend otherwise would be a great disservice to those who have dedicated their time and energy to their care. This blog will focus on the very real physical, emotional, and spiritual burdens faced by caregivers and how you can serve them.
The most immediate needs for aging and ailing patients or loved ones tend to be physical ones, so it is little surprise that some of the most common burdens felt by caretakers tend to be physical ones also. For one, the work of giving care can be physically exhausting. For adult children taking care of an aging parent in their home, there may be necessary renovations needed to help their parents move around the house. Sleep can be interrupted and carefully planned days overturned by a sudden emergency. Those caring for dementia and Alzheimer patients know the danger of leaving those patients unsupervised. And hospice and hospital nurses have more than one patient to care for at one time!
And, of course, caretakers need to care for the physical realities of aging and failing bodies. Western culture in general is more ashamed of, for lack of better word, the “gross” bodily necessities. But pride and privacy often must succumb to necessity, and that includes cleaning, bathing, and supporting patients and loved ones through all of their bodies’ physical needs.
There is also a real emotional toll on the caregiver as well. A number of studies have connected caregiving to depression. Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine found that nearly one third of caregivers who are nursing terminally ill loved ones at home suffer from depression. Additionally, research in Great Britain found that about one in four family caregivers meet the clinical criteria for anxiety. It is small wonder. As well as the daily physical toll, adult children caring for aging parents must watch loved ones decline, physically and mentally, all the while grieving the eventual loss of those who once cared for them. Hospice workers who work exclusively with the sick and aging see decline and death on a daily basis and also suffer. According to one study, the frequency of hospice workers feeling depressed was between 26% and 57% of those who participated.
Finally, there are spiritual burdens of caregiving. Human beings in general struggle with the idea of suffering. We avoid looking at painful things. We turn to the things of this world to provide relief. But caring for the aging and sick forces caregivers to confront and grapple with suffering. Why is God doing this to them? What is His purpose in all this? These are questions without easy answers. But the Scriptures frequently show the purpose for suffering—God uses suffering to draw us closer to Him, forcing us to see the sin in our lives and our dependence on Him. Still, while suffering can be an important part of a caretakers spiritual journey, that does not make it easy.
There are also caregivers who seek to share the Gospel to unsaved loved ones. These may be nurses or doctors working in secular hospitals, who are restricted by hospital policy from actively sharing their faith, or adult children seeking to ensure that their loved one’s souls are redeemed. At least Christians who know if patients or loved ones are believers have the comfort of seeing them off to Glory with God. Those who don’t have that certainty must worry not only about the physical needs of the patient but their spiritual ones as well.
Not every moment of being a caregiver is full of despair. Those suffering dementia may have periods of clarity. Caring for the physical needs of parents may create a stronger bond between caregiver and parent. Knowing that a loved one is at the end of their life can bring out old stories and warm words that would otherwise be unspoken. But we cannot ignore the physical, emotional, and spiritual burdens placed on caregivers.
What can you do for a caregiver in your life? Could you give them some personal time by regularly visiting with or watching over the patient? Could you take time to pray for and with them as they struggle with depression and sadness? Caregivers have many burdens to bear. Take time to learn what they are and discuss with them how you can help.
 Swartz, Karen L, M.D. Depression and Anxiety. (2007) John Hopkins, pg 12.
 Oliver, Debra Parker et al. “Hospice Caregiver Depression: The Evidence Surrounding the Greatest Pain of All.” (2013) Journal of social work in end-of-life & palliative care 9.4.
By Robin Ferguson, AFL Administrator