Aimee Gustitis of the ministry Nourish for Caregivers at St. Anastasia Parish, Newtown Square.

Caregivers are all too often a forgotten or ignored segment of the population. One of the newest ministries in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Nourish for Caregivers, is seeking to change this.

The organization addresses the multi-faceted needs of caregivers, who may be any man or woman who provides assistance for a sick, elderly or disabled person. They often deal with questions of when to move their loved one to a continuous care retirement community, how to choose a home care agency, when should hospice be considered and how to care for oneself when caring for another.

Nourish for Caregivers helps to address these issues, while also providing fellowship and spiritual support during what can be very difficult circumstances.

Aimee Gustitis, a nurse and parishioner of St. Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square, saw a real need to bring Nourish for Caregivers to this area.

“Caregivers are a relatively invisible but quite large segment of people who so very much need practical, emotional and spiritual support,” Gustitis said.

She saw a gap in the support groups that she helped to facilitate in the past, and wanted to provide a ministry that, as she said, “brought meaning to people’s grieving” and added a crucial Christian component.

“As Catholics we believe in eternal life,” she said. “As humans we are not programmed to think about death, but a ministry such as Nourish assists caregivers to transform their anticipatory grieving into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the Holy Trinity.

“Additionally, Nourish looks to our Blessed Mother Mary as the ultimate caregiver role model.  Mary knows what it’s like to feel powerless in the face of losing her beloved Jesus and to care for someone who will soon be leaving this earth. She knows the depths of our grief and wants to gently reassure us that we are not alone in our sorrow. Through the intercession of Our Lady, Nourish for Caregivers brings meaning to redemptive suffering.”

Nourish for Caregivers began last year in the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois. Meghan Cokeley, director of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for the New Evangelization, introduced the Nourish ministry to Gustitis and last month the first meeting took place at St. Anastasia’s.

The initial response to the ministry has been extremely positive, according to Gustitis.  Individuals from throughout the archdiocese attended the first meeting and represented 14 different parishes and four different counties.

Seeing how far people traveled to attend the meeting confirmed for Gustitis just how much of a need there is for this ministry.

Nourish for Caregivers wants to assist men and women during times that can be laden with uncertainty and stress. No one wants to think about the death of a loved one. Caregivers are often given the great responsibility of helping to prepare their loved one for the next life. Dealing with the end-of-life process in the midst of their own grief can be complicated and unsettling.  Creating fellowship and community is important for many caregivers who feel alone or isolated. Too often caregivers lose their own identity in the midst of caring for another. They can struggle to take time for themselves and often feel guilty when they are away from their loved one.

Support can help them remain physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy. It is also important for caregivers to know that many others are dealing with the same issues they face.

The Nourish for Caregivers mission, according to its website, “is to equip churches to create a spiritual home that ministers to the practical, emotional and spiritual needs of caregivers, giving them the tools and resources to help caregivers connect with their faith and encounter Christ, so that they can see the grace and blessings in their caregiver journey.”

Currently more than 40 chapters of Nourish for Caregivers exist throughout the country.  Nourish provides the content for the monthly meetings as well as webinars, online support groups and a Facebook forum.

Eventually Gustitis would love to see other chapters of Nourish created throughout the archdiocese. She believes the caregiver ministry is a perfect complement to other ministries and bereavement support groups that already exist in many parishes.

Caregivers play an integral role in the lives of many people. To all in the body of Christ, they are models of selfless love and devotion, and a beautiful gift to those they serve.

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St. Anastasia Parish’s chapter of Nourish for Caregivers meets on the second Thursday of each month from 10-11:30 a.m. There is no cost for the program and walk-ins are welcome. The next meeting will be held Thursday, Aug. 8. Learn more about Nourish for Caregivers here; for more on the ministry in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, including information on an archdiocesan workshop coming this fall, visit PhillyEvang.org/nourish.

To discuss Nourish for Caregivers or to start your own chapter contact Aimee J. Gustitis, BSN, RN, JD, at 610-724-8960 or aimeegustitis@outlook.com.