the compassionate caregiver
When Michael noticed his elderly father was
having trouble doing some tasks, he started pitching in more. He would spend
his weekends cleaning his dad’s gutters and mowing the lawn.
As time went on,
he started to do more and more for his father. Soon, he found himself handling
his father’s errands, then his laundry and meals.
Nadia was at work one day when she got a
call from the school nurse that her child had been transported to the hospital.
She raced to the children’s ward, where a doctor informed her that her son had
type 1 diabetes and was in the middle of an acute crisis.
Her son recovered from the crisis without
serious complications. But in the coming weeks, Nadia had to learn how to
navigate the medical system, advocate for her child, and apply to cover the
cost of insulin.
Sometimes, becoming a caregiver starts gradually as it did for Michael. Other times, a sudden crisis can lead you to become a caregiver in the blink of an eye. Regardless of how it happens, caregiving is often overwhelming and exhausting.
5 Things Every Caregiver Should Know
Caregiving often requires that you give a
lot of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. You might think that you
should face this trial stoically and with perfect faith. But there are five
things that you should know as a caregiver.
It’s Normal to Be Overwhelmed
While you’re caring for someone else, it
can be easy to get overwhelmed. You might feel frustrated and stressed because
of the demands on your time. That’s because life doesn’t stop just because you
become a caregiver.
You still have to juggle all the same
things that you used to before. But now you have new tasks on your plate. You’re
responsible not only for yourself and your family but for an additional person as
You might have days where you feel like you just can’t cope. This is
completely normal, and it doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible person or that you
don’t care about your loved one.
It's OK If You Can’t Do It All
Some caregivers forget this. They often
want to care for their loved one but don’t realize how big the task can be or
how draining it is. This could be doubly hard if your schedule was already packed
before you became a caregiver.
There will be days when you simply don’t
have the energy to care for an aging parent or a sick child on top of making
dinner. When you add having to keep the house clean or working outside the
home, the load can quickly become too much for one person to handle.
It’s Normal to Be Scared
The emotional side of caregiving can take a
heavy toll on you. It’s hard to watch someone you love suffering. It may be that
you’re watching an aging parent struggle with dementia or seeing a beloved
child unable to do things that other kids can do.
Maybe you’re watching a friend become frail
or lose their ability to communicate the way they once did. You may even feel
as if you’re caring for a stranger at times.
It’s OK to be Angry
This happens when you’re no longer living your normal life. Not only are you often physically drained, but you may feel anger you don’t understand. You can’t just go out of town now that you have another person depending on you. You might be angry at your loved one, at yourself, or even God.
David Whyte says, “Anger is the deepest form of compassion, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt.”
Anger can be a sign that you feel helpless and can stem from a place of compassion. It may also stem from the frustration of being unable to comfort your loved one.
In these moments that you feel anger, remember that God has great compassion for you. He sees your suffering and the suffering of your loved one. He is near to you, beloved (Psalm 34:18).
It’s Normal to Grieve
It’s normal to grieve as the relationship
with your loved one changes. You might grieve for your mom as you watch her
struggle with basic everyday tasks that she was once capable of doing easily.
You might grieve for the life of your loved one as they struggle to accept their
You may even grieve for yourself. Your own
life was turned upside down. Suddenly, you have extra responsibilities and
stress that you never asked for.
The Struggle Is Part of the Journey
Know that it’s normal to have weeks or even
months when you struggle with your new reality. It’s normal to wish that your
life were easier. But also know that you’re not alone. God has promised to bear
the burdens of your life with you.
In Psalms, David proclaimed,
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19)
Asking for Help as a Caregiver
One of the hardest things you can do as a caregiver is ask for help. If you’re like most people, you’ve taken on extra responsibilities and are doing your best to handle them alone.
You juggle and rework things on your to-do list in an effort to keep all the balls in the air. But it can be easy for things to start falling apart when you’re a caregiver.
You might be giving round-the-clock care to an elderly parent. You may be taking care of your mom’s household chores as well as her yard work. You may be paying her bills and doing the grocery shopping.
In the middle of all these things, you might be tempted to believe you have to shoulder it all. When you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, you might think that you just have to dig a little deeper and hang on.
But the truth is, God longs for us to be part of communities where we not only give care but also receive it. Don’t be shy about asking for help when you need it!
Make A List
Start by making a list. Look at the
responsibilities that you are faced with and ask yourself which ones truly need
to be done by you.
Maybe your loved one needs a special diet, and you’re the only one who can prepare it. But do you have to be the one driving
them to their physical therapy? Maybe a friend or someone in your community
could do that.
Understand that Family Members Do Want to Help
You might ask for support from a spouse or another family member to
help you care for your sick child. You might assume
that this person will step up and be glad to help. Unfortunately, families can
struggle to pull together in a crisis.
Even then, family members can have
different definitions of pulling together. Linda was a caregiver to her
medically fragile son. She was exhausted and needed a break.
Meanwhile, her husband Dean started working
longer hours at his job. Linda felt alone in caring for her son and viewed
Dean’s long hours as a form of abandonment.
But because of the medical bills, Dean was
worried about money. His way of coping was to work harder to provide, and he
didn’t understand why Linda couldn’t see that. They both felt resentful and
unappreciated even though they were both doing their best to be a caregiver in
a way that felt natural to them.
The point isn’t that one way of caring is
right or wrong. Each person tries to care for others in the way God gifted
them. That means your sister may care for your aging mother by doing fun
activities to lift her spirit and encourage her.
Meanwhile, if you’re gifted in organization
and planning, you might be responsible for scheduling doctor’s appointments and
dealing with day-to-day care. It might seem as if your sister is irresponsible when she’s trying to provide care in a way that feels right to
When you understand that those around you
are trying to help in a way that feels natural to them, it can open your eyes
to the good they are doing. It can also lift your spirit to remember that they
are working with you.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t
make a request. Be direct with what you need. You might be tempted to say, “I
need help caring for mom.” Instead, make a direct request, “I need to have some
time away. Could you sit with Mom for a couple of hours one afternoon this
Your loved ones may or may not be able to
help you when you make a direct request. But if you never ask or you’re only
vague, you definitely won’t get what you need.
Don’t Be Alone
Seeking out company can often make a
difficult task more bearable. If you have something painful to do, such as
cleaning out an aging parent’s home in preparation for moving them into a
nursing home, invite someone to be with you.
Becoming a caregiver to some family members
can bring up difficult emotions. Having a friend that’s always been supportive
can help make the task easier on you.
Practicing Self-Care for Busy Caregivers
As a caregiver, you can quickly feel drained.
Most caregivers push themselves past their endurance weekly and sometimes
daily. Even when they suffer, they keep on going because those they love are
counting on them.
But remember that when you push yourself
too hard, you can become ill, struggle with your mental health, and even
experience burnout. That’s why it’s essential to take care of yourself when
you’re a caregiver.
Why Taking Care of You Matters
Caregivers are more likely than the general
population to suffer from depression. That’s because when you’re busy caring
for someone else, it’s easy to let your own needs go unmet.
Additionally, caregivers are more likely to
battle anger and anxiety related to their complex roles. You may deal with
feelings of guilt and negative thoughts and absorb these same feelings from the
person you care for.
For example, your father suffering from dementia may have a rare lucid moment when he realizes that he’s not the same person he was. The resulting anger and frustration may be directed at you in the form of a verbal outburst. Not only are you dealing with his pain, but now it’s complicated by your own grief.
Put Fun Things on the Calendar
You must take care of your own needs. When
you take care of yourself first, it’s easier to meet someone else’s needs. Plan
out some fun or relaxing things to do, even if it’s just an hour at the library
or sitting on the porch in the sun for a few minutes.
Protect these times with yourself. It’s
easy when you’re caregiving to let your calendar get taken over with
appointments like doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and surgeries. You can start living for that next appointment instead of slowing down and enjoying the moment or getting the break you need.
Once you become a caregiver, the number of
things you can get done will change drastically. That’s because you have less
time and energy now.
You might have days where it feels like
you’re just going through the motions, and you won’t be able to get everything
done. Don’t schedule every second of your day. Instead, plan for margin as this
can help prevent overwhelm.
Practice Healthy Eating
Caregiving can sometimes bring on emergency
situations. During an acute crisis, you might find yourself eating from vending
machines or grabbing fast food frequently. This is completely normal, and you
don’t need to feel bad about it. Just make the best choices you can with what’s
available. Choose foods that will give you long-term energy and not just a
Sleep When You Can
Many caregivers have to be available around
the clock. This means if the person you’re caring for has an emergency at three
in the morning, your sleep is interrupted.
If your sleep is frequently disturbed
because of caregiving, go easy on yourself. It’s hard to live on a sleep
deficit. Try to get naps in where and when you can. This can be a excellent area to
ask for help with. Ask a community member to come over and watch your loved one
while you nap for an hour.
Remember to Retreat
After an overwhelming day spent caring for
the needs of others, Jesus went away to spend time alone with the Father
(Matthew 14:22-23). It’s natural to need recharging. God didn’t create us to
run 24/7. He values our rest and longs to give it to us.
Of course, depending on the level of care
your loved one needs, you may not be able to retreat all night. But even if
you’re sitting watch over a medically fragile loved one, you can still grab
your Bible and crawl into your Heavenly Father’s lap. He longs to hold you
through this crisis and renew your strength.
How the Church Can Love & Support Caregivers
God intended for the church to be a body of people who loved as He loved. The church wants to love caregivers and be supportive. But if you’ve never been in that situation, you may feel uncertain about what to do. Here are some tips to help…
Skip the Trite Advice
Instead of offering advice or vague platitudes, take the opposite approach. Be willing to listen to the caregiver. He or she may need space to vent to someone else about what they’re going through.
This is a powerful way of helping, and you don’t have to have all the answers. The caregiver simply needs to know that someone is aware of their situation and that they’re cared for, too.
Don’t share stories that are negative about what the caregiver is going through. For example, if she’s going to have to place an aging parent in a nursing home, don’t suddenly tell her all the bad things you know or have heard about nursing homes. Remain positive and uplift the weary caregiver.
Offer to Run Errands
You can take tasks off a caregiver’s plate
by offering to run errands. For example, you might say, “I’m headed to the
grocery store. What can I pick up for you?”
If you know the caregiver has children in
the same school that yours attend, offer to pick up their children when you get
yours. If you know that the caregiver is stretched thin on time, stop by with a few extra freezer meals or stop by to mow the aging parent's grass if the weary caregiver is usually the one who does that.
You can also offer to take the caregiver’s
vehicle to the gas station and fill it up with gas. This can be a big help if
the caregiver has many errands or appointments to handle as it’s one less
thing they’ll have to worry about.
Spend Time Together
Caregiving can be a lonely situation. Many
caregivers feel isolated and left behind because they can no longer keep up
with the same social calendar that they once had. Well-meaning friends and
family often stop inviting overwhelmed caregivers to events out of respect for
their time or worry about adding more to their plate.
But you can help an isolated caregiver by
being their social network. For example, you might say, “I have some time on
Friday evening, and I’d like to do a fun activity with you. Can I take you out
If the caregiver has no one to watch the
person they care for, then arrange to do something that doesn’t require finding
someone to watch the other person. For example, you could say, “I’d like to
come over and play games Friday night. There’s no need to worry about being the
host. I’ll bring a meal, too.”
Offering to come over frees them from the
stress of being away from the one they care about and, at the same time, lets
them know they haven’t been forgotten.
Don’t Ask What You Can Do
Instead, look for a task and simply do it.
Show up to bring something that’s needed or bring some meals by. Ask God to
guide you and give you the wisdom to show you how best to serve a caregiver.
You can also show up to stay with the
person in need of care and give the caregiver the option to go out on her own
to run errands or to just have some free time.
God Sees Caregivers
Caregiving is one of the most challenging jobs on
the planet, and for most people caring for a family member or friend, the work
is unpaid. There are no thanks or rarely any acknowledgment.
But God sees you, precious caregiver, and
you are close to His heart. You are never more like Christ than when you are
giving care to others.
David shares this beautiful truth about God’s nurturing and caring nature in Psalms.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
In the middle of this busy season, God is
your caregiver. He is providing you with the strength and grace you need to
care for the one you love.
Grace and peace,
Whew! You made it to the bottom of this blog post. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy day to read what was on my heart. I'd like to thank you by offering two free PDF downloads when you fill out the form below.
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The first is a 7-day devotional journal that goes deeper into the difficult work of caregiving and includes Bible verses, reflections, prayers, and guided questions.
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