Family carers are those who care for a family member with a long-term illness of one description or another whether it be a neurological condition, mental health or caring for elderly parents, or those terminally ill etc. – the list goes on.
As a result of these caring roles, family carers can experience social isolation, high levels of stress which naturally results in affecting their own health and well- being.
Particularly difficult, are those times when carers have to face placing their loved one in a nursing home or watching their loved one decline even further, losing yet another faculty. These two occasions can take an enormous toll on carers’ emotional/physical and mental wellbeing. This is even without mentioning the difficulties encountered when a family carer re-adjusts to life after the caring role is finished.
Part of my work in Crosscare involves facilitating support groups for carers who are living with the reality of what I’ve outlined above. After last month’s set of support meetings, I felt terribly moved by the intensity of their stress coupled with the weight the caring role has placed on their shoulders while being struck by their unfailing love for their loved one.
Reflecting on the essence of the family carer support groups, I realised, that the corner-stone was for members to have a space where their suffering is ‘witnessed’ and acknowledged but in the context of ‘community’. It’s also a space to be authentic – to truly express what this experience is like for me in my ‘now’ and not my ‘tomorrow’. All of this is bounded using ‘meditation’ – a meditation where members can tune-in to their own hearts and spirituality and speak their truth from that sacred space.
Anna recently wrote her blog on ‘Encouragement’ and its importance – these support groups offer just that – an encouragement to speak one’s truth, to leave the angst in the ‘room’ and find renewal through community and through the power of deep honesty soothed by the quietness of the meditation. This does not change their reality but it does encourage participants to transcend their reality.
I find it incredible the depth of values these family carers show – values which are clearly honed by their years of service and silent suffering as outlined below:
- Truthfulness – being able to deeply admit what being a family carer feels like– I seldom witness that level of authenticity to the degree I do at these groups
- Devotedness – they never once give up on being present to their loved ones
- Patience – ongoing when dealing with the difficulties of their loved ones’ condition
- Endurance – especially when dealing with state agencies
- Compassion – in spite of the cost to their own lives, they have profound compassion and a deep care for others outside of their immediate family
- Faithfulness – regardless of the hardness of their struggle, they “dig deep, get inspired and get going” as put by Brene Browne in her book: “The Gifts of Imperfection”
- Wisdom – in accepting life on its terms and not as they would have it
- Gentleness – knowing how to tenderly love their spouse or adult child or elderly parent , brother/sister
- Profound Love
These are just a few of the “pearls of great price” that I have witnessed.
The example set by family carers reminds me of what St. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:7 “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold”.
I am utterly aware that if I was to say to any family carer, “these are the values I see in you” – they would probably be too tired, stressed and even too sad to really care as all that’s important to them is the one they are caring for. It puts me in mind of that line from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” Matt 25:38 To me, family carers are certainly the “faithful of my father” that Jesus spoke about.
In conclusion I’d like to offer this simple and familiar prayer for all family carers:
“May Yahweh bless you, and keep you; May Yahweh let His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; May Yahweh lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace” – Numbers 6:24-27