As we continue this season of right-to-life recognition, let’s consider the important role caregivers play in the pro-life continuum.
Caregivers focus on meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of their loved ones. Their actions animate the Catholic Church’s teaching that families are the “sanctuary of life” in which life is nourished, supported, and taken care of in sickness (Evangelium Vitae, 88). Without their willing sacrifice, many would be left to struggle alone with an uncertain future.
Under the best of circumstances, it can be both rewarding and taxing being responsible for the life of another. Feeding, clothing, and housing another is full-time work. Transportation to doctor’s visits, filling prescriptions, or providing routine incontinence care often requires one to choose between meeting one’s own needs versus those of a loved one.
Listening to complaints and providing encouragement allows family members to feel loved and emotionally accepted. Ensuring Mass attendance and reception of the sacraments honors baptismal promises made for the benefit of our loved one’s spiritual well-being.
Although these important tasks can be tedious and tiring, there is a sense of joy and satisfaction in knowing that your loved one is thriving.
However, what sustains our actions when a child or aging loved one’s condition involves a chronic illness or incurable disease? How does one find purpose and stay focused when the future is uncertain?
We find the answer to these questions in the fact that caregiving is pro-life. Each and every day, caregivers allow the love of Christ radiate love into the lives of their loved ones as they attend to their practical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Their actions mirror the teachings found in the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to the homeless and to visit the sick (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Jesus affirms the actions of caregivers by saying, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Caregivers need to hear from their family members, friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners. It is important to reassure them that the grace and dignity they bring to the life of their loved ones does not go unnoticed. They are spiritual warriors: let them know they inspire you, and thank them for the generous example they offer the world.
How can we cultivate a culture of life for caregivers? Consider offering a caregiver a respite. Maybe you can spare a few hours a month to spend time with a caregiver’s loved one to free up time for a doctor’s appointment, a work assignment or some exercise.
Have you also walked this caregiving journey? Perhaps you can meet up for coffee to share your story and offer hope. Ask if you can bring caregivers’ special intentions to a rosary group or to eucharistic adoration.
It make take you out of your comfort zone, but God will reward you for your kindness towards caregivers: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (1 Jn 4:1).
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.
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