When is a caregiver not a caregiver?
In today’s American culture, there is one virtue that seems to be held above all others as the one to be achieved at all costs. That is individual perseverance. And what is wrong with that, actually? After all, isn’t perseverance one of the things we are told we will learn as we go through trials? So, we welcome trials because we know we will get perseverance and, once we get that, we’ll stick to everything and we’ll get everything done possible. And, again, aren’t we told we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us?
But what if you can’t do everything? I mentioned that in yesterday’s post. There are times when you just can’t do everything and you need someone to come along and show you mercy. And, in my first article, I mentioned about how my family gathered around each other and supported each other in our grief and trials. But that goes counter to everything our society teaches us.
“Buck up!” “Stiff upper lip!” “You can do it!” “You don’t need anyone!” “Stand on your own two feet!” “Pick yourself up!” Subtly, constantly, our society teaches us that this is normal, this is virtuous. To ask for help, to even need help means that there is something wrong with you. This is part of the reason why caregivers, I believe, get the short end of the stick at times. Everything is focused on the person going through the struggles. They are the heroes. They are the ones that need the encouragement to get through, to pick up, to move on, to conquer. The power of one! Stick to it! You can do it!
But the caregiver, sitting in the background, has to keep the strength going and keep the power going. They are the ones that make it all possible, really. My wife has told me time and again that if it wasn’t for me, she would have despaired in her own cancer treatments. My wife wasn’t able to make it through alone. Did she fail? Of course not! She is still here. She and her doctors beat the cancer and now she’s back to her recovery. And I was the caregiver that also helped her through.
But when is a caregiver not a caregiver? The answer: when the caregiver needs care themselves. There were so many times when I was helping my wife through her treatments that I felt so utterly drained, so alone, so tired, that I felt I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was filled with intense grief, suffering, and pain of the heart. Yet, I had to keep on going. “Stiff upper lip!” and everything. But I couldn’t do it on my own.
You see, caregivers are people experiencing suffering and pain as well as the ones cared for. It isn’t the same, of course, as the people going through the illness. But they are certainly hurting. They need as much comfort, encouragement, and strength as the people fighting off the illness, because caregivers are fighting off the darkness of despair; they just cannot bear to watch their loved one in pain any more.
This is, really, why I wrote The Caregiver Beatitudes. I realized that I needed something other than myself to get through it. There was so much I was being asked to do, but I needed to know how to get through it. And I realized, as I was writing, that it was not something I could do on my own. I needed God to get through. And, as I found out, I needed a whole family and network of others as well. A caregiver needs their own caregivers. This is how we get through. And this is how, ultimately, we win the fight.
Again, this is excellent advice. The caregiver can feel that he or she is showing inadequacy or even selfishness by asking for support but that’s not the case at all. I think the advice applies to all ministry. If you do not take care of yourself, your ability to serve others will cease.
During our son’s illness, a friend stopped me at church one day and asked “How are you doing?” As usual, I interpreted it as a question about James, so I told her how he was doing as well as how Jody was doing.
“But what about you?” she asked. “You know you’re hurting in this as well.” I didn’t want to admit it. To me James bravely endured his trial, Jody took care of him and I took care of Jody. But she was right.
Which again illustrates the importance of the family and friends, who can help us see more clearly.
I have suffered so little in comparison with you, Robert, and with you, Henry (and Jody). But I was suffering with depression last weekend from issues with family and also attacks on myself for standing up for what I believe from Scripture about social issues in our nation. I have a group of prayer warriors that I go to via e-mail when I especially need support, encouragement, and advice. After sending out a mass e-mail (names I have accumulated over the years) with an S.O.S. for prayer, I almost immediately began to feel the depression lift and light come pouring in! There were so many replies which were filled with love, pledges to pray, and good advice, that everything changed! As the saying goes, “Everything’s gonna be all right!” I certainly agree with you, Robert, that God works through the whole body of Christ to meet needs. Sometimes we have to be transparent and reach out for that help.
I was asked by a church member some time ago to preach about caregivers and their needs. This book offers solid help for a pastor to address this important issue. The book is helpful for the pastor and those who are caregivers.
I’m glad you were able to use it! That was my hope in writing it, that by sharing my own journey, that I would help others. I’m glad God is using it in this way. Thanks for sharing!