by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
Caring for others isn’t easy. When you add illness, special needs or aging to the dynamic, the job takes its toll on caregivers.
Author and columnist Maureen Pratt is well-versed on the strength and fragility of being a caregiver. Pratt, who writes the syndicated Catholic News Service column “Living Well,” has served in the role of caregiver and, at times, has benefited from the care of others. Pratt has lived with serious and sometimes life-threatening illness, including lupus, almost all of her life.
“Although caregiving is not a unique situation, each situation is different. We do share some common ground,” Pratt said. “We forget to take care of ourselves, it affects our physical and mental well-being and eventually our ability to take care of someone else diminishes.”
Pratt will shine a light on caregiver needs in an upcoming virtual workshop hosted by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas’ special-needs ministry this Oct. 3. The workshop, “By Still Waters: A Virtual Day of Spiritual Refreshment for Caregivers,” will be offered from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The healing power of faith
Pratt describes the role of a caregiver as a holy vocation that truly imitates the loving example of Jesus Christ. But it is not an easy undertaking, and it can take a toll on the very people who bring great blessings to others.
Fatigue, depression, frustration — all can wear down the most conscientious caregiver, especially during these unprecedented times in which we are living.
With an unwavering faith, Pratt has used her personal journey to encourage others who live with chronic illness or pain or those who care for and about someone who has health challenges. She has spoken at regional and national faith-based conferences and medical centers, and has led church workshops, retreats and patient advocacy groups.
Pratt’s books represent a blend of church, faith and pain. She has been awarded four Catholic Press (CPA) awards and, in 2019, her book “Salt and Light: Church, Disability and the Blessing of Welcome for All,” was honored with CPA and Association of Catholic Publishers awards.
“My world changed very early in my life. I was very ill from an early age. I missed a lot of school and was isolated from friends for long periods of time. I learned early on to accept illness as part of life,” Pratt said. “My mother was a religious education teacher. She helped me embrace my faith and reminded me that no matter how alone and sick I was, I could always talk to God.”
Time for yourself
Pratt urges caregivers to tend to their own well-being. She said caregivers shouldn’t feel guilty if they experience a range of emotions, including anger or resentment. Some caregivers take on the role for an extraordinarily long period, which makes it even more important to care for their mental and physical health.
“Taking care of a loved one is hard. You may come to the point that you don’t think you have the mental or physical ability to do it any longer,” Pratt said. “Don’t let the fear factor take over. We’re all human.”
Caregivers should take opportunities to step back from care duties when they can. Remember, too, that the caregiver’s journey is shared by the person who is experiencing an illness or disability, Pratt said. That means it’s important to listen to the wishes of the person for whom you are caring.
“As a person who is ill becomes tired and frustrated or gets more bad news, their threshold for holding back their emotions can become eroded,” Pratt said. “That’s very frustrating and why listening is so important.”
Finally, Pratt reminds caregivers to pray for themselves and the individual who is ill. Sometimes, a person’s circle of support changes once he or she has been diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness.
“Caregiving can sometimes be isolating and the caregiver can feel lonely,” Pratt said. “But with prayer, with God, we are never alone.”
For more information and to register for “By Still Waters: A Virtual Day of Spiritual Refreshment for Caregivers,” go online here.