Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Condolence to Caregivers

Author photo
Over the past thirty years, I have been a respite visitor for hospice patients; for a time, I represented a church as a sacramental minister to the homebound. There were many similarities between those roles. I listened, discovering that others, too, often find it’s easier to confide in someone other than family. Thoughts on mortality, the fear or welcome of death, or private regrets can create unnecessary tension or be hard for loved ones to bear. So confidences were sacred moments shared. I wasn’t there to judge and, at this stage of life, they were not looking for advice.  Physically weak, frequently unable to carry on conversation, the men and women I visited listened to a poem, greetings in cards on their window sill, excerpts from scripture or an inspirational book.

And it was okay to simply sit quietly together. If they desired it, I concluded my visit with their favorite prayer, adding a personal word or two, and always, a touch. My role did not have me tending to things like bedding, hygiene or feeding, but caregivers who have such vital roles blended their skills with mine for the dignity of the whole person.

Caregivers: A Remarkable Companion for a Difficult Journey

A difficult journey, author photo
Chances are, you have needed-- or know someone employing--a caregiver. The Companion Care agency notes that "very few families can sustain a demanding caregiving effort." They cite "an innate sense of selflessness and empathy" as the top characteristic of a good caregiver. Roxanne is one of these special people, and, though tired at the end of a 14 hour shift, she stopped to tell me about her vocation. As a private duty caregiver, Roxanne accepts assignments in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and senior residences. Unlike shift workers who have many patients and many duties, Roxanne sits in her client's room and cares for their needs. Her work is truly a "calling." I asked her about end of life vigiling with her patients. "I've sat with people in their final days, hours and minutes; I call it 'delivery,'" she shared.

Grief is not reserved for family

If you have known a professional caregiver who made a difference in a loved one's quality of life, consider writing them a thanks-filled condolence note when their job has been completed. A dedicated caregiver is not immune to a sense of loss. Consider including thoughts on any of the following:

  • Observations about their dedication and skill
  • Positive comments expressed by the loved one
  • Ways in which they eased your day
  • Favorite memory of their interaction 
I also encourage you to keep the caregiver informed of funeral or memorial service arrangements. Participating in this form of farewell and acknowledgement of the whole person whom they served, is a very comforting and healing ritual. Give the caregiver the option to attend. 

Thank you for caring! 

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