Every once in a while the evening news will carry a story about the fact that baby boomers are becoming caregivers for their aging parents. As the costs of medical care of any kind continue to soar, many find themselves without the means of paying for professional care for elderly parents who need some assistance or full nursing care.
Of course there are other kinds of caregivers as well. Parents of children with special needs as well as children who suffer from various chronic illnesses come to mind. I am a patient at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Every three months I visit my doctor there. In the waiting room, I always marvel at the number of very young children who are there waiting to be seen by a physician. I have seen every kind of “conveyance” one can imagine as parents wheel their children through the maze of these office visits.
Sometimes a spouse finds him or herself in the role of caregiver when a husband or wife is diagnosed with a chronic disease such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig disease) or any of a variety of cancers. Later in life, one partner may find it necessary to care for a spouse who has Alzheimer’s Disease. The list is long of debilitating diseases that can claim a person’s ability to care for themselves. . The physical task of caring for a sick spouse itself is difficult, but the emotional toll is far worse. The feelings of helplessness and grief are surely as hard or harder to bear as one watches a loved one suffer.
Caregivers have a special patron in the Blessed Mother whom we celebrate as the Mother of Sorrows today, September 15.
When Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the Temple for the customary rituals for a first-born male, Simeon, whom God had promised would not die before he had seen the Messiah, looks at Mary and utters these fateful words, “And you yourself a sword will pierce.” (Luke 2:35). The Gospels record that Mary stood and watched as her son was crucified thus fulfilling the prophecy of the old man. Ever since that moment, she has become a powerful patron of caregivers.
Whether we are speaking of children who find themselves caring for a failing parent, a parent who must watch as a child succumbs to a terminal illness, or a spouse who is forced to watch a beloved life partner slip away, the emotional toll is significant. Caregivers suffer a special kind of pain and suffering. It is no easier than the pain and suffering of the one afflicted. Truly they know the pain of being pierced by this sword of suffering.
For over sixty years, CUSA has given people with chronic illnesses and disabilities the support of others who suffer the same fate. Through prayer and support CUSAN’S have reached out to one another in times of need and loneliness. For the first forty years or so, this was done through the post office. Ever since the advent of e-mail, a new mode of communication has replaced that kind of mail. No matter whether they receive the support through the mail or through their computers, CUSANS have found solace in the words of people who know their pain.
We are also mindful of those who care for others and who suffer along with them. CUSA is open to all caregivers. Sometimes there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day as it is. However, it is important to care for the caregiver as well as the patient. One way to accomplish that is through our apostolate of prayer and support.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator