Thibault and Morgan are critical at how the church has handled ministry to persons with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Seminaries do not train for this ministry and few pastors spend time visiting persons with this disability. The authors reflect on the ageism in society and in the church.
Both clergy and their congregations tend to reflect the prevalent ageism of our society. We have not moved far from the ageism of Shakespeare when he wrote, “Youth is hot and bold, Age is weak and cold; . . .Age, I do abhor thee; Youth, I do adore thee.”
Ageism demeans and devalues older adults, and nowhere is this attitude more obvious than toward people with dementia. The church continues its relentless focus on youth ministry. Church leaders insist that we ensure the future of the church by reaching young people. It may be popular to say, “Our hope is in the next generation,” but we must not forget that our hope is also in the past generation. In many mainline churches, older adults pay the bills, thus providing funding for the youth ministries!I am fortunate that in our small congregation people are very supportive. They read this blog and some comment. I feel they are learning along with me. I know that elsewhere others are along for my journey as well, bearing burdens.
I am not going to summarize this book, but point out what they say about Spiritual Needs of Caregivers. I found their list of “most pressing and frequently occurring spiritual needs” most helpful. Their list is in bold with my comments to follow. I also cite the Twelve Steps for Caregivers , which I am not necessarily in complete agreement with.
1. Caregivers need to know that no act of love is ever a waste of time for them or the one they are caring for. They need reassurance that caring is important spiritual work, even if it is demeaned by society. In contrast the aforementioned Twelve Steps say “I can control many aspects of how it affects my loved one and me.” However, the Christian experiences joy by losing one’s life for what we are called to do, giving that cup of cold water, washing feet, not controlling the situation.
2. Caregivers need to be reassured that their loved one’s soul and spirit has not disappeared to become diseased. Absolutely, one day those who are His elect will be resurrected with a new body united with our souls.
3. Caregivers need to know that their caregiving does not have to be (and could never be) perfect. The authors point out that just as we can never be perfect parents, we can never be perfect caregivers. The Twelve Steps say “I need to remind myself frequently that I am doing the best I can at this moment.” Doing our best is a humanitarian way of excusing our faults, whereas being a caregiver is part of our genuine sanctification. We will keep learning.
4. Caregivers need to know that they are forgiven when they cannot love. The authors point out that love is not just a feeling, but an act of the will. This is consistent with the Christian marriage commitment to death us do part. The Twelve Steps say, “Increasingly, I need to depend upon other relationships for love and support.” I have known several people with a disabled spouse but, to their discredit, have had a “significant other” on the side. Doing acts of love, however, does rekindle feelings of love. We love regardless of the reciprocation.
5. Caregivers need to know that even if their loved one does not remember them, their soul/spirit is delighted by a visit or by the time the caregiver spends with them. From the Twelve Steps: “I need to structure my day because a consistent schedule makes life easier for me and my loved one.” The Steps make visiting or being with the person with dementia as a chore—be efficient. The Christian book gives an example of a daughter who forgave her father and came to love and care for him in his last days “as if I was caring for Jesus.”
6. Caregivers need to know that they can be the presence of God to their loved one, and that their presence is as important as any task they actually do for the person. Whether we say a prayer audibly or not, we can pray and show we care.
7. Caregivers need to know that they may experience what is called “anticipatory grief”—grieving in advance of the person’s death. This is normal. The authors suggest sharing these uncomfortable feelings with a pastor or friend.
8. Caregivers need to know that they too are God’s beloved and that God wants them to rest and have joy, and care for themselves. The Twelve Steps put this idea in selfish terms: “I need to take care of myself so that I can continue doing the things that are most important.” Dr. Thibault relates how even as a teenager who lost both of her parents, she learned to draw apart. For her it was sitting in a car.
Recently my husband has seen me glummy. He realized that I was under pressure with a class I was taking and with our finances, but he doesn't realize that I am so concerned about him. DH tells me to calm down, relax, and take things in stride. That's what I will have to do. Then I also read where Paul wrote to the Philippians:
God who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns . . . . you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. . . .Don't look out only for your own interest, but take an interest in others, too. . . . Do everything without complaining and arguing. . . .I have learned to be content with what I have. . . .I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everying through Christ, who gives me strength. . . . And this same God who takes care of me with supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. The Living Bible Translation