It Is All About Relationships: Lifting Up Family Caregivers
Do you ever wonder how you might make a difference in the life of a caregiver?
We all know to show our support to a grieving family by sending them a thoughtful card or bringing a covered dish over. But really by then your chance for a real difference-making opportunity might have already passed.
Most people probably do not have to look very far to find a caregiver who could benefit from a little support. Our guess is that within moments of reading this you will be able to name at least one (and maybe several people) you know who are caring for someone with advanced illness.
“Be there. Presence is key. There is no template, no script. Often, a person's presence, a ‘What do you need?’, a ‘How can I help?’ is more important than anything. In the end, it is all about RELATIONSHIPS.”
-Rabbi Richard Address, Jewish Sacred Angels
Caregiving is part of the human experience and it does not discriminate. Sometimes it is so much a part of the human experience that we forget that caregivers need to feel connected too. The stress and strain of caregiving can simply be overwhelming at times.
When the intensity of care ratchets up, oftentimes the caregiver might begin to abandon their regular activities and friendships. The process can be slow and subtle.
One missed social engagement can turn into the norm over time, and the caregiver is replaced or at least not expected in their social circle, congregation, or even at work. This can leave them feeling virtually “invisible” and isolated when they feel like their friends have moved on.
Rabbi Richard Address, founder of Jewish Sacred Aging®, has collaborated with C-TAC to create a “toolkit” that is designed to help Jewish faith leaders support caregivers in their congregations. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Rabbi Address about his program and review the toolkit. This resource has information that anyone of any community can employ, such as:
Give permission for the caregiver and loved one to experience negative emotions like grief, anger and frustration.
Ask how the ill person is doing by name, not by “How is your husband/wife?” etcetera.
If you cannot visit, call and ask to speak to the person who is ill. The caregiver will be touched that you reached out. You may be the only one to do so.
The first time a caregiver speaks with you about their situation, ask how you can support them and follow through. They may not know what they need yet by reaching out to you, but know that they are asking for your support. Help them figure out what could really make a difference.
End every conversation with courage, hope and touch. Most caregivers and their loved ones need to know that they are alive. Touch creates connection. This is important since touch usually declines as a disease progresses.
Rabbi Address shared some of his insights with us as he continues to collaborate with the C-TAC Faith Communities Workgroup focused on caregiving and caregivers.
T & R: Why do you think we need a guide to support those giving care?
Rabbi Address: Caregivers usually do this work by themselves. Yes, they may have a community of support, but as many of us know, much of the day-to-day "work" is done by that individual. Gradually society is coming to understand the need for support not only for the caregiver and the person needing care, but also often for the impacted family, as caregiving is a family system and often a multi-generational concern (as recent studies have shown).
And, it is always personal. Any system or program that can provide support for the caregiver and his/her family of care is welcome, needed, and essential.
T & R: The toolkit you created is quite comprehensive. What seems to be resonating with the congregations/groups you work with?
Rabbi Address: The main issue . . . is how to create a congregation of caring that provides support to the caregiver and the person needing care. The responses often are specific to a congregation's culture and that is why we spend some time working within that culture.
Some congregations have existing caring programs and wish to expand direct service, while others wish to create a program from scratch.
But, without a doubt the number one request is seeing the need to provide a system of support . . . that helps individuals and families in need.
By the way, given the demographics of our community, the growth of the aging population and the lack of enough professional caregivers, the stress on congregations and families is going to increase, especially as “Boomers” age out.
T & R: If you had a nugget or two of advice to give someone who wanted to make a difference in a caregivers life, but did not know where to start, what would that be?
Rabbi Address: The MOST important response: Be there. Presence is key. There is no template, no script. Often, a person's presence, a "What do you need?", a "How can I help?” is more important than anything. In the end, it is all about RELATIONSHIPS.
T&R: What is your greatest hope for the work you are doing to support caregivers?
Rabbi Address: My greatest hope is to be able to be, in some small way, able to change the culture of our community and to plant the seeds of awareness within congregations that this issue is paramount and has widespread impact on individuals and families; from the spiritual, the psychological, the financial and the human aspect of existence.
Are you a caregiver? What makes a difference in your wellbeing?
Are you a friend of a caregiver? Then pick up that phone!