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.
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.