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The Role of Spirituality in a Caregiverís Life

    When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
                                                                           John 19:26Ė27

     One of the last things a caregiver wants or needs is pious platitudes about the spirituality of caregiving. Those saccharine, greeting-card sentiments with a religious spin often fall flat. Some of the "spiritual" things that get said to caregivers make matters worse.

     Letís be honest: there are times in our lives when our spirituality is on the back burner at best. SpiritualityóGod, prayer, sacraments, and all the restómay not make the top-ten list of our concerns when weíre caught up in lifeís many demands. But there is some good news.

     If you havenít been too spiritual before now (or if itís been awhile), itís a small step for your "Oh dear God!" to be transformed from an exclamation muttered in fear and frustration to a quick prayer . . . muttered in fear and frustration. Itís Godís presence that not only lets you take that small step but also makes you aware youíve done so.

     How did that happen? Grace. Amazing grace.

     A prayer that begins, "I know I havenít talked to you in a long time, and there are a lot of things Iíve done that I shouldnít have and a lot of things I didnít do that I should have . . . ." is a very good prayer. So, too, one that begins, "I know I havenít believed in you in a long time . . ." or "I know Iíve been mad at you for a long time . . ."

     What if your spiritual life is strong and active? When you find yourself in a caregiving role, you might feel as if you have to put your spiritual life on hold. You canít make it to weekday Mass. You canít attend the prayer group meeting. You canít head to the retreat house for your annual weekend away.

     But you donít need to "go there" to experience God in a very particular and personal way. God has come to you. Or, more accurately, Godópresent with your parent at this time in his or her lifeóhas invited you to join him.

     Now your spiritual life may consist of receiving Holy Communion from a Eucharistic minister who has come to visit your parent. Now it may be saying prayers and reading Scripture with Mom or Dadófor the first time in a long time, if ever. Now Godís presence may help you realize that a bedside, a car, or a doctorís office has replaced the retreat house this year.

     Now you may realize that you and your parent are on a pilgrimage. The bedroom, the car, the doctorís officeóall are holy ground, because the two of you are making a truly sacred journey. Together, you are preparing for what is to come: one of you will continue into the next world, and one will remain behind. On that day, one will grieve, even as she knows her parent is rejoicing. And one will rejoice, even as she knows thatófor a timeóher child is grieving. This can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience: a walking with God that can never be duplicated or repeated.

     These arenít pious platitudes meant to gloss over the realities of caregiving. You know the truth: Caregiving is exhausting. Caregiving is maddening. Caregiving is frightening. Caregiving is frustrating. But the truth is also that, in the middle of all that, you can experience an awareness of the presence of God.

     Whether you feel it or not, God is constantly present with you in your new role. And whether you like it or not, youíve been given an assignment, a mission, a vocation: you are a caregiver. ("Oh, God help me!" That's another good prayer.) This is Godís will for both you and your loved one. He has prepared you for this all your life. By loving you, God and your parent have taught you to love. And love is the essence of caregiving.

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