Comfort the Caregiver
8 Ways to Care for Caregivers
If you’re reading this column, chances are you know a caregiver or act as a caregiver for a loved one. According to a 2020 AARP study, over 53 million people now act as unpaid caregivers in the United States.This study also revealed that caregiving can be hazardous to the health. We can help coming alongside caregivers by offering much needed comfort. Today we’ll consider eight ways we can care for caregivers. If you are the caregiver, I hope you will consider telling others (including me) how we can help you.
Have you been or are you currently in a season of caregiving? What are some of the most helpful things anyone has ever done for you in such a season? (I’d really love to know, so please drop a comment or hit ‘reply.’)
1. Consider the caregiver’s story.
A person’s entry into caregiving can affect how they feel about it. Ask these questions of your friend or yourself to understand that story better:
Did you expect to become a caregiver?
Did you volunteer to become a caregiver?
What changed when you became a caregiver?
Did you feel equipped to be a caregiver?
What losses have you experienced as a caregiver?
What joys have you experienced as a caregiver?
Listening to the caregiver’s story can bring them peace and hope and understanding of their struggles. If you are the caregiver, journaling through these questions might help you in your own struggles. (For paid subscribers, see below for a caregiver’s journal.)
2. Be aware of the emotional and mental losses that affect caregivers.
Common emotional and mental struggles include grief, anger, anxiety, depression, and guilt. As friends, we want to avoid giving quick-fix answers to the caregiver’s mental and emotional struggles. We can meet the caregiver with the love of Christ, who looked and listened and wept with Lazarus’ friends and family (John 11). We can offer the caregiver the presence of God, who had compassion for Job’s struggles, even as he firmly reminded Job who commands the cosmos (Job 38-39).
We can also encourage the caregiver to seek “common grace” ways of finding stress relief: seeking counsel, leaning into community, journaling, exercising, resting, and breathing.
3. Recognize spiritual doubts and struggles caregivers experience.
Caregivers may be struggling with questions like, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” or “Am I being punished,” or “Does God care?” While again, we don’t want to offer quick-fix answers to these hard questions, we can offer biblical reassurance. As Rankin Wilbourne explains, “If you know that you are ‘in Christ’…you can be sure and certain that God loves you even though you may not know why he is allowing this suffering…It can’t mean God is punishing you or condemning you since Christ already bore all the punishment and condemnation that our sins deserved… (Hebrews 10:10; Rom. 8:1).”
4. Be aware of the physical losses affecting caregivers.
An American Journal of Nursing study showed that caregiving can result in an earlier and higher mortality rate: “Caregiving has all the features of a chronic stress experience…” including “physical and psychological strain,” “high levels of unpredictability and uncontrollability,” and “secondary stress in work and family relationships.”
A dangerous cycle often develops in which the caregiver forgoes her own needs to tend to the needs of the loved one. As Christians who have a theology of the body that calls us to care well for all God-given bodies, we can urge the caregiver to attend to her physical health.
We might offer respite care so our friend can go to the doctor or go for a walk or take a nap. We can also supply healthy meals to nourish the caregiver.
5. Recognize the financial struggles caregivers face.
Paying bills, filing for insurance, and making plans for long-term care are among the myriad tasks that add to the caregiver’s heavy burden. We may be able to help the caregiver with financial tasks in at least two ways. First, if we have gifts in this arena, we can offer help or guidance with paying bills or balancing the budget or making insurance claims. Second, we may be able to help the caregiver procure financial assistance or help them financially for a season.
6. Pray for caregivers when you pray for the sick.
Pray for the caregiver, and whenever possible, pray with them. When we call or visit the caregiver, in addition to telling them we are praying for them, we can ask if it’s okay if we pray for them in that moment. A praying voice can often soothe the frenzied spirits of the caregiver. In the same way, if we are texting or emailing a caregiver, we might write out a prayer to send. When our son had to have four brain surgeries in a seven-month period, I sometimes found it difficult to form the words to pray. Prayers sent to me by friends gave me the vocabulary and the voice to petition and praise God.
7. Know that the caregiver often experiences isolation.
Caregiving may prevent the caregiver from going to church, leave her too weary to go for a walk with a friend, or make her feel alienated from those who don’t understand her burden. In addition to noting whether the caregiver is experiencing isolation, we can offer a warm, listening, helpful presence. We can also pray specifically that our caregiving friend knows the constant presence of Jesus, who experienced isolation on our behalf.
8. Offer wise counsel concerning end-of-life decision-making.
As a caregiver, I was grateful that I managed to convince my father to make an advance directive soon after his diagnosis with late-stage prostate cancer. Even with a directive in place, my family was faced with making decisions about care near the end of his life that provoked conflict and turmoil. Better communication about end-of-life wishes can help in such hard moments.
We can also educate ourselves and help others understand the medical issues regarding end-of-life decisions, bringing a biblical perspective to them. Additionally, we can help the caregiver gather information they will need in case of crisis (advance directive, power of attorney, passwords, etc.)
These are just a few of the many ways we can offer compassionate care to caregivers. I’d love to hear from you: what has helped you as a caregiver, or what have you seen to be helpful to a caregiver? Please share below.
If you are a paid subscriber, continue scrolling for your free caregiver’s printable journal.
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Use this journal to process some of your thoughts about caregiving. (Or, you can share this with one friend.)
Rankin Wilbourne, Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God , 255.
See Richard Schulz and Paula R. Sherwood, “Physical and Mental Health Effects of Family Caregiving,” The American Journal of Nursing 108, no. 9 Suppl (September 2008): 23–27, https://doi.org/10.1097/01.NAJ.0000336406.45248.4c.