A caregiver is defined as “a family member or paid helper who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.” (Google)
For some, the role of caregiver is selected as a vocation or profession. For others, like myself, we find ourselves caring for those whom we love because of need.
We would often joke that “medical issues” were our family’s cross as there have been plenty. However, like all crosses that God allows us to carry, we have the opportunity to grow in virtue.
My fourth daughter was born with double hip dysplasia in November 2009. We spent the next two years in and out of the hospital getting her fitted for two different braces and then having two surgeries. The body cast that she wore for nine months changed the dynamic of our home for a little while. In place of high chairs and baby seats, our house was filled with multiple bean bags to cradle and support her legs gently. She could not fit into a regular car seat or stroller, so we used a wagon filled with pillows to transport her anywhere. Changing her diaper was way more work than the previous three children as I worked around a thick cast.
She required so much more care than the other infants whom I had carried for to that point. However, her dependency on me for everything also taught me how vulnerable my little girl really was. She needed me to reassure her that everything that appeared scary was for her greatest good. The best way I could do that for a young child was to cuddle her, heavy cast and all, and make her feel secure. My child’s beautiful smile and joy eased so much of that physical burden.
In October 2011, one month before the birth of our last child, my husband contracted encephalitis while at an orientation for a new job. The physical effects from this virus left him having multiple seizures a day, memory loss, and a delayed brain function from October 2011 until the Spring of 2013. During that time, I remember crying in the shower begging the Lord to prepare my heart if he was not to make a full recovery.
As I had just delivered my fifth child, I longed to be taken care of myself. I longed for the spouse I had known with my other children who would lavish affection on them and prepare meals for me as I took care of the newest addition to our family. However, this recovery was different than any other. Not only was I caring for myself and my newborn, but I was also monitoring my husband’s health and recovery. I was physically exhausted and running on fumes. I remember countless nights crying myself to sleep when the other children weren’t watching me.
Sometimes being a caregiver also means that we must shelve our own hurts and pain to deal with them at a better time. I remember struggling with so many emotions but always trying to make it look “easy” around my husband. I needed him to concentrate on his physical recovery, not be concerned about the physical toll that his recovery was taking on me.
Loving and caring for someone with a chronic health issue can be so emotionally, physically, and mentally taxing. Unless you care for a chronically ill person, you cannot explain how the struggle to love well, and the physical toll of care can be present simultaneously.
For the past few years, my husband has suffered from a chronic lung disease that has gradually deteriorated his lung function. As a result, his lung health has become a daily battle. He suffers from a rare condition where his lungs cannot properly clear themselves, leading to multiple cases of pneumonia and bacterial infections. His regular struggles include a lack of energy, trouble sleeping, and a lack of oxygen for regular physical activity.
Being caregivers require us to love unconditionally and with no knowledge or hope of the other returning our affections. Caring for someone, especially a spouse, leaves the burden of responsibilities on the caregiver as well. We can often feel overworked and underappreciated. However, our love for the person in our care can often trump fatigue, heartache, and emotional pain.
At multiple times in my life, I have also felt completely alone. I have watched my husband sit alone in a hospital bed, fighting to get better. I have watched him struggle to do menial tasks like walking downstairs or taking out the trash. I have left him in the hospital, struggling, only to return to my home life responsibilities and raising our children without him.
There is true beauty in walking alongside someone who suffers as caregivers. We can more clearly see the beauty and grace given to us when we suffer when we ask the Lord to help us carry this cross. It is truly a privilege to be afforded the opportunity to journey with someone who knows this pain.
I wrote the prayer below for all of us who struggle as caregivers. May the Lord bless our efforts and our heart’s desire to serve.
Thank You for the gift of health and the power of suffering.
I thank You for my patient, _________________, whom I love dearly.
Thank You for allowing me to walk through this painful and difficult journey with him/her.
Sometimes the road seems so long and the journey all uphill.
I grow physically exhausted while trying to battle the emotional toll of loving and caring for someone who needs me.
Help me to be Your hands and feet, bringing healing to this loved one.
Help me to remain faithful to this call on my life.
May I always strive to choose joy and gratitude over frustration and fatigue.
When I grow tired, send Your Spirit to renew my strength, that with every breath I may feel the grace given to me.