by Michelle Herberger
Caring for a loved one who has a debilitating illness or who is dying is not something we often prepare ourselves to do. Yet, life has a way of bringing us the challenges we least expected. Even if we have accepted that challenge and are giving care to a loved one, that doesn’t make it any easier. The need for self-care remains.
The basics of self-care are essential and include diet, exercise, and rest. However, many caregivers would speak to the struggle to get those needs met. Because of this, I want to focus on comfort and encouragement to those who walk with and care for loved ones who are sick and/or dying.
When one is debilitated by illness or dying, that person is most often truly authentic. Those things that that were seen as important before the illness fall away. Joyce Hutchison in her book May I Walk You Home?, writes “I believe when we are dying is the only time in our lives when we are bare bones real people. It is the only time in our lives when there is no need for masks, no one to fool or compete with, no need for greed or jealousy.” What can feel burdensome is also a privilege.
Hutchison likens the one who journeys with the dying as that of midwife. She says it’s much like being in the delivery room and participating in the birthing process, a process filled with wonder and awe. The difference is that the caregiver is actually helping to birth the dying into eternal life. It’s in that place as caregivers, that again the wonder and awe of “birthing” can be experienced.
Pain is a part of all birthing, be it into this life or eternal life. However, the pain is not for naught. Through that pain, people often struggle to make peace with their illness or dying process. As a care-giver who accompanies the sick and dying, there is an opportunity to experience God’s constant presence in the journey.
In order to receive the gift of the journey, it’s important to spend time in prayer and reflection. Joyce Rupp wrote short meditations and prayers to go with the stories of care shared by Joyce Hutchison in her book. Since the stories, meditations and prayers are brief, this book can be especially helpful for the “way-too-busy” caregiver.