Aimee Gustitis, R.N.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us to love your neighbor as yourself, meaning that to thrive in our role in serving others we must also take care of our own needs (Mt 22:39).

Caregivers of the aging and persons with disabilities provide an example of this commandment as they minister to their loved ones. However, as a faith community, we must also find ways to care for the caregiver, whose life is filled with seemingly endless physical tasks and an ever-present awareness for the safety and well-being of a loved one.

If you’re a caregiver, perhaps you are listening throughout the night for the hum of a ventilator that allows your child to breathe. Or maybe you are worried at work about your parent who lives alone with early stage dementia.

Caregivers are often on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week without meaningful time to rest and recharge. Loneliness and isolation are all too often the only companions on this journey.

How can we as Catholics create opportunities for caregivers to love and nurture themselves?

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has found one such opportunity in a new program called “Nourish for Caregivers.” This ministry offers practical, emotional and spiritual support to those caring for aging and disabled loved ones, both young and old.

Each monthly meeting features a different topic that inspires meaningful conversation and spiritual consolation to attendees. There are no materials for attendees to purchase, and walk-ins are welcome.

Nourish is currently being held at the following parishes: St. John Chrysostom in Swarthmore (first Saturdays of the month), St. Anastasia in Newtown Square (second Thursdays of the month), Nativity B.V.M. in Media (third Saturdays of the month) and Epiphany of Our Lord in Plymouth Meeting (fourth Saturdays of the month).

All gatherings are held from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m, and are open to the surrounding parishes or to anyone interested in learning more about this much-needed ministry.

Practically, Nourish For Caregivers support groups offer a chance to learn more about local resources. Those who attend often bring great comfort to others by sharing what services have worked for them and their families. Speakers are also invited to provide brief presentations, and are available for follow-up questions after the session should a caregiver wish to learn more about a particular topic.

Emotionally, Nourish provides a safe forum in which to share concerns and sorrows about a loved one. This supportive environment allows for the expression of anticipatory grief, which often manifests itself as guilt or sadness. Attendees have reported feeling less stressed and more hopeful after a Nourish meeting. Many say they experience a sense of relief, knowing that they are not alone in their anguish.

Spiritually, this ministry allows parishes to live out the spiritual works of mercy by comforting the sorrowful as well as praying for the living and the dead. Nourish offers faith and hope that the sufferings experienced by caregivers and their loved ones are not in vain.

One has only to look at the cross to know that Jesus walks with caregivers. This ministry reinforces the fact that we are all beloved sons and daughters of a loving Father, and that God does not forget or abandon the grief-stricken.

As the Nourish for Caregivers ministry grows, perhaps you may feel called to participate as a program facilitator for your parish, or to host a caregiver day or information evening. Perhaps at the moment you simply need to learn more about the ministry so that you can apply its resources to your personal circumstances.

Wherever you are at as a caregiver, I invite you to attend “Caring for the Caregiver,” a Nourish workshop that will take place on Saturday, Nov. 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center (222 North 17th Street, Philadelphia).

Hosted by the Archdiocesan Officer for Persons with Disabilities, this session will welcome those who want to learn more about Nourish for Caregivers, as well as those who are looking to start their own caregiver ministry in their parish.

To register, contact Cassandra Doughty at 215-587-3530 or cdoughty@archphila.org, or visit the online registration link.

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Aimee Gustitis is a registered nurse and caregiver consultant who for the past 10 years has worked in long-term care, home, hospice and hospital settings to help caregivers navigate both senior healthcare and school-based nursing care systems. She is also coordinator of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Nourish for Caregivers ministry, which is offered through the Archdiocese’s Office for the New Evangelization.