In March of 2020, we took part in a shared experience that opened our eyes and hearts to the realities of the physical and emotional toll of isolation. This experience may have started with a phone call from a school, an email from an employer, or a television news report. You can probably recall the moment you received the news that emergency safety orders were in place that would require most Americans to self–isolate in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. For months, the mass population remained physically distant from one another, missing annual events, family gatherings and other important milestones. This isolation showed us the necessity for social contact and the importance of community to our wellbeing.
For caregivers—those providing care for loved ones with lifelong or temporary disability—isolation has been a part of life even before the pandemic. But after the COVID-19 experience, people have a better understanding and thus are more motivated to make changes in ministry for caregivers who continue to live in isolation.
A caregiver’s life is not easy. Besides the isolation, caregivers often experience elevated and prolonged stress that effects their wellbeing. Many also have developed strained relationships and financial complications due to limited employment opportunities and expenses associated with the loved one’s disability.
As members of God’s church, we cannot alleviate all the challenges related to being a caregiver. However, we can do some things to show love to those who spend their days caring for the most vulnerable among us. Here are some suggestions:
- Enter their life
Gracefully enter their life without judgement and unsolicited advice. Their family has various needs that may require an approach different from yours. Though meaning well, you may unintentionally communicate that the caregiver is wrong in how they provide care for their loved one.
- Ask the deeper questions and listen to their heart
It is not uncommon for caregivers to go days without friendly conversations with adults. They may spend hours talking to doctors, teachers, or specialists about issues their loved ones are experiencing, but sitting with someone and talking about life and entertainment can be almost nonexistent.
- Offer encouragement
Because caregivers are usually engulfed in their demanding responsibilities, a small word of encouragement can help them feel appreciated and seen. It can be in the form of a text message, email, cards, or simply a whisper of acknowledgement when you are with them. If you are aware of an upcoming event that may be particularly difficult, such as a doctor’s appointment, an evaluation, or educational meeting, be prepared to extend words of affirmation.
- Provide respite
Caregivers may go days and weeks with very little time to rest, care for themselves or even enjoy a hobby. By providing respite (a short-term relief for caregivers) you give them a much-needed break and time to relax. Respite can be as simple as sitting with the loved one, playing a game or watching a movie, giving the caregiver time to run an errand, go on a date, or simply spend time doing something for themselves. Respite can also be tied into a corps program. A volunteer can provide care for the loved one which will allow the caregiver the opportunity to attend women’s ministry, Bible Study, or to do projects around the home. Because of the vulnerabilities of the loved one, special care and supervision are needed. Provide the volunteer with the necessary tools to make sure the individual’s needs are being met while adhering to safety practices.
- Extend an invitation
Caregivers often feel forgotten since their schedules and responsibilities prevent them from fully engaging in meaningful relationships with peers. By extending an invitation to a program or event, you show the caregiver that you are thinking of them and that they are wanted. Offer to arrange for a volunteer to stay with their loved one during the event. If the invitation is not accepted the first time, don’t take it personally. Continue to extend invitations and remind them that they are wanted if ever their schedules allow.
- Be prepared to make modifications
It is quite possible for a caregiver and their loved one to want to participate in programs, but modifications may be required for them to attend. Talk to the caregivers and find out what modifications can be made to make their attendance possible. As an example, accessibility may be an issue, and the program might need to take place in a different space. If they need a sanitized space for worship, an unused cry room may be a great way for the family to be present while still staying safe. Small changes can make a big difference in their lives.
- Provide practical help
Caregivers spend much of their time and energy meeting the needs of their loved ones with little to spare for other tasks such as shopping, cleaning, or general home maintenance. Offering to provide practical help for tasks shows true care and concern for the family and makes their life a little bit easier. A corps group can even come together for larger projects such as yard work or painting.
You will not be able to meet every need of the caregiver, but if you do what you can with the love of God, you will make a world of difference in their lives.
“It is not about how much you do, but how much love you put into what you do that counts.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta
“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta