During the holidays, stories surface about the holidays being difficult for a great number of people struggling with illness or disability. Reporters often pause to spotlight extraordinary people trying to brighten the lives of patients spending the holidays in hospitals or nursing homes – particularly bringing attention to the wonderful efforts of nurses and hospital staff working hard at transforming clinical environments into warm and friendly places. Celebrity visitors, special meals from the cafeteria, music, and decorations fill the rooms and hospital floors; truly helping patients feel less cut off from family and friends.
Patients receive a great deal of attention (deservedly so), but when addressing the needs of the patient, the loved ones who serve as care-givers can feel relegated to the sidelines. Without diminishing any of the wonderful gestures given to patients, it is important to keep one eye on the caregiver while visiting festively decorated wards. The caregiver's health and well-being serve as the support system for the patient, yet all too often, the needs of the caregiver take a back seat.
Although caregivers often feel reluctant to ask for something for themselves in light of the suffering of their loved one, their own needs are also important. In addition, caregivers also struggle with identifying their needs …due to the difficulty in defining what "help" looks like in their circumstances. Long-term caregivers seldom allow someone else to carry portions of the load, because experience teaches them, unfortunately, that others often weaken and slip away, leaving them alone to repair the damaged caused by another fractured relationship, and wearily resume the burdens.
During the holiday season, when extra attention is on the chronically ill and disabled, take a moment to look into the corner of the hospital room you visit, and see the one with a weary face and heavy bags under their eyes. If unsure as to what to say, the following questions/conversation starters may be helpful:
- "Are you getting enough sleep?"
- "I have a fabulous recipe that is so easy to reheat and serve…may I bring you a meal?"
- "I'm stopping by the grocery store today, is there something I can pick up for you?"
- "I had to get my oil changed recently…Hey, do you need anything for your car?"
- "Do you need any yard work done, or gutters cleaned? I have a service I use, and it's so easy to get them to swing by and help…my treat."
- "Have you seen your doctor lately?"
Offer to sit with their loved one, so that the caregiver can slip away for their own doctor visit if needed. Since a caregiver probably feels a reluctance to ask for help, the easier you make the decision, the more helpful you will be to them. Caring for caregivers is not complicated; often, they are so tired …that they can sleep anywhere, eat anything , and they gratefully accept kind words when offered.
The eleventh chapter of John speaks to the tenderness of Jesus toward Mary and Martha who cared for their brother, Lazarus, until his death. Acknowledging their grief and pain, Jesus Himself grieved with the distraught sisters.
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
And he said, "Where have you laid him?"
They said to him, "Lord, come and see."
–John 11:32-35 English Standard Version
Caregivers know the harsh realities better than most, and do not desire platitudes, but instead require real friends with the courage to shed tears and share grief. When ministering to a caregiver, engage the grief first – then point to the Savior.
This Christmas and holiday season, make an effort to reach out to a caregiver, and even after the decorations come down. As you do so, it is important to remember that if you love someone, odds are you will one day be a caregiver yourself – or need one.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
–Philippians 2:4 English Standard Version