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caretaking spouse

photo: Holly B. Welch

I settle into my seat in church, often a few minutes late. I try to pat my fly away hair into place and straighten my clothes. The morning has been rushed. Of course, you barely know me, if at all. We exchange smiles.

I try to calm my rapidly beating heart. My husband is seated next to me. He looks fine. His clothes are in place. The last I looked, that wild spot on the back of his head wasn’t sticking out…yes, it is finally lying down!

Sunday mornings can be wild! We get up extra early on Sundays. 7:30 AM! That’s very early for us. I take my shower and wash my hair the night before, but he doesn’t. His pace was always slow and deliberate. Now it is even slower! Combine that with forgetful and it can take a very long time to get ready to go anywhere. If I am out of the room when he is getting ready, he takes the opportunity to lie down again. He is always tired and often forgets he is getting ready for church…or whatever event we happen to be preparing for.

I need to stay on my toes. The time flies and if I don’t keep checking on him, he will be back on the bed, asleep. As the year has gone by since his stroke, this is one problem that has not improved…maybe has even worsened.

“How are you?” And be prepared to take time for the answer.

So when you see your fellow church member whose spouse is failing, coming to church late, or not being able to make it to Sunday School when they were always a part of it before, ask how they are doing when you have time to listen to the answer.

The caretaking spouse may need help…maybe only encouraging words. But they may need help in areas other than that. They may be having to manage finances in ways they never did before, or the car or housework or…? See if you can find out where they need help and help them find resources before they are drowning in problems.  You may not be the person who can give the specific help, but you may be able to help them find the needed resources.

I am thankful for caring elders who do just that! Of course, there are others who do so as well. One Sunday, a young elder I barely know asked how we were doing. He commented that he had been praying for us that day. I almost dissolved that morning. What a comfort!

When you see caretakers of spouses or loved ones, realize they are already going through their own levels of grief. Click To Tweet

There are all kinds of help you can give…direct and indirect.

Of course, you can also help by praying for them. That is no small thing! Knowing others are praying for them is extremely helpful. Praying for needs they may not even know they have on the horizon is helpful too!

Sometimes, they may need some time to get out of the house to visit with friends or have friends stop in to visit them. Hugs are always great too. Each case is very individual. Just ask them what they need.

I don’t know why I have to go through experiences to fully understand ways to help, but it seems I do. Many of my friends seem to know intuitively how to help others well. I have never been one of those people. So I am learning. Meanwhile, I can still get out of the house…and so can he if it is to familiar places. I can be involved in activities with him and separate ones too…for now.

I’m not a true caregiver yet. I’m only getting a tiny taste of it as I watch out for him from a distance. I am supposed to allow him as much independence as he can have. But his awareness of safety is flawed in many areas. It’s a bit of a tightrope. I don’t like having to tell him “No, I’m sorry. You think you are up to that, but you aren’t.” I don’t do it often, but I need to on occasion.

This is a position I’m uncomfortable with after nearly 48 years of marriage. I was never a milquetoast, but I wasn’t the one telling him what to do. Now I sometimes have to go into nurse mode. That is the only way I can do it without a huge level of discomfort.

He listens when I tell him his awareness of time is poor…skeptically. It is from the stroke. Sometimes he thinks 5 minutes has gone by and it has been an hour. Others, he thinks an hour has passed and it has only been a very short time. Does he believe me? Not really. He has heard it often enough that when people ask him how he is, he says, “I’m fine, but Martha will tell you a different story.” I’ll take it for now.

I’m glad his sense of humor is still present. When that goes, I’ll know he has a new level of brain damage. It will be a sad day.

Caretakers of spouses, parents or children, no matter how well they function, are going through their own levels of grief

All that to say…when you see men or women who are caretakers of spouses or loved ones in your church, realize they are already going through their own levels of grief. It may not be as obvious as those of the widows and widowers, but it is there and present. Pray for them, encourage them, find ways to lift their loads if you can. I wish I had done a better job over the years for others.

Often I reacted to the symptoms of their grief rather than paying attention to their hearts of grief and sadness that sometimes lashed out in anger and complaint…that I didn’t want to listen to anymore.

Those are merely symptoms of grief and loss (and yes, sin patterns as well) but our responses of walking away from them or staying away don’t offer comfort when they need it most.

We need to offer the comfort, love, mercy, truth and the many other attributes of GOD to them as they suffer. Click To Tweet We won't always do it perfectly, neatly or right. His command was to do it as if we were doing it to Him. Click To Tweet

We need to offer the comfort, love, mercy, truth and the many other attributes of GOD to them as they suffer. We won’t always do it perfectly, neatly or right. Jesus didn’t tell us to. He just told us to do it as if we were doing it to Him. So once again we come back to the place where we realize we need Jesus to live out the Christian life as He wants us to. Without Him, we can’t do it…at all!

 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 
Then the King will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, 
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will answer them,
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,
you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:33-40