What About The Caretakers
Do Not Forget About the Caretakers
Several years ago I recall walking into an intensive care unit for a visitation. There before me was a man who devoted much of his life caring for others. He was man of God and he was called to minister. In as soon as I entered into his room, the expression on his face said it all. I gently smiled and said: "Who would have ever thought that one day we would be in the position and place where we need ministered too." His eyes swelled with tears as he replied: "You are right." Here was a man who gave his life to minister to the sick, those in need of surgery, and to those struggling spiritually in need of a minister. He was too much for him to comprehend. And it all honesty, it is too much for me to understand as well.
You see, I have spent the last twenty years of my life doing what this gentle giant did his entire life--I have ministered. That's all I know and that's what I am. The problem is simply this: for the past six years I have struggled with a back injury that occurred in 1996. In fact, I have had four surgeries in the past five years...and if I continue at the present rate, I may very well have my fifth before the year's end. But this article is not about me, per se. It is about the people who to stand by my side: who bear the brunt: and who pick up the pieces when I am down and out.
All too often, our attention is primarily on those hurting while little attention is given to those helping. Words cannot describe the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that caregivers experience on a daily basis. It is difficult for them to not only have to watch but also witness the debilitating and draining effects that pain has on its victims. There is no remedy and believe there is, at times, no rhyme or reason to take away that which is causing so much anguish. And despite their best efforts to give words of encouragement and edification, they are for naught. The person being cared for, though he or she may listen, do not necessarily digest what is being fed to them in as far as emotional support. I have experienced from both sides...it has definitely opened my eyes as to the importance of caregivers and to their need to be cared for as well. In fact, this evening my wife and I had a gathering to attend. It has been a very difficult and demanding week...and my injury from years past has flared up like a fire that was once thought to be extinguished. I know how this evening would play. We would go...we would stay for awhile, we would sit at the dinner table: we would socialize: and then we would have to leave early because of pain. When we arrived home, I would take pain medications and leave my poor wife to spend her evening alone while I was in la la land. That isn't fair--for neither her nor me. So we both agreed that it would be best if I stayed home, tended to my pain while she got out and had a good time with our friends.
If by chance you know of someone who is a similar situation, then let me offer you some ways you can help both the person being cared for and the caregiver. First, when visiting take time to listen with both your eyes and ears. Yes--I said with your eyes and ears. Many times people convey messages that just simply go in one ear and out the other. As a result, subtle messages are slipping right through. And when everything between this relationship falls apart and asunder, people respond by saying: I never knew he/she felt that way. The end result could have very well been prevented had someone taken the time to honestly listen for any hidden messages verbalized vocally or physically (that is, body gestures). For instance, a very dear friend of mine has found herself taking care of her husband. He is paralyzed from the waist down. One of the issues this couple faced was getting him into the shower. There was not just enough room to turn his wheelchair toward the shower without damaging the wall. I spoke with a friend of mine and shared the situation. We both agreed that this was something that we could do to help ease the situation. While he and I were working on removing this small portion of the wall, the wife continued to explain (complain) about the damage done by her husband's wheelchair. After a while, the husband commented, well I am sorry if that wall is so important to you. Maybe you would happier if I did not exist. Some people may very interpret their comments as just everyday conversation...however, they would dead wrong. The words being slung that evening were words of frustration from both parties. You see, no one has seriously taken the time to talk with both the husband and the wife--to see how they are really,,,and I mean really doing. Believe me...I know, I have been there...I am there. I literally blow people off when they ask me how am I doing? Is it pride that prevents me from being honest? Absolutely not...though they truly mean well when asking, they really do not want to know. A few weeks ago after church, a lady asked me: so pastor, how is back this morning. I responded with the truth. I said, it could be much better. To which she replied: Well that's good. HMMMN?
And finally, you can help by giving both parties a break from one another. For me, it is encouraging my wife to go to gathering and having a good time with family and friends. For those whose situation is more complex, then let me encourage you to sit in for the care-giver to him/her a breath of fresh air. And if the party he/she cares for is able to get out of the house, let him/her experience a change of scenery. As I say this, please be mindful of some things that may serve as stumbling blocks for those being care for. For instance, it would be very difficult to go for a walk with a person confined to a wheelchair in a wooded park or very discouraging to such an individual to a sporting event when he/she was once an athlete. For me, it is a difficult pill to swallow to watch our church softball team...it is not that I am not supportive of their efforts, it is just a subtle reminder that that is something I can no loner do.