Caring for a loved one is often a long, difficult journey, fraught with uncertainty, loss, frustration and fear. In my own experience, I couldn’t bear to see how dementia had stolen my Mother’s mind and memory. Feeling totally out of control, I was depleted of energy, yet filled with grief and fury and a million questions.
Why is this happening to my mother…and to my family? Isn’t there something we can do? What did we do to deserve this? What is the purpose of this semi-human existence and this long goodbye? How much more of this can we take?
I wanted to grab God by the lapels and scream, “Why the #%*! are you doing this to us?!” After years of watching my Mother’s deterioration, God help me, I prayed for her to die. I was exhausted and depressed. I just wanted it all to be over.
Millions of family caregivers struggle with feelings like these every single day, searching for answers and relief where there often are none. Intangible yet intensely real, this distress can throw caregivers into such chaos that we search for some meaning or explanation that will bring some peace. It takes resilience to carry-on in the face of such adversity.
How about you? Have you ever felt so mad that you couldn’t even see straight, and maybe guilty for having felt that way? Have you struggled with deep emotions and profound questions? Has anything helped you to restore some balance? My own family caregiving experience has shown me the importance of cultivating spiritual resources to sustain me through painful situations.
Spiritual Beliefs and Practices Build Resilience
Spirituality is an aspect of every human being, the deeply held beliefs that guide and give meaning to our lives. These beliefs act as lenses through which we see the world, and as ethical guides for how we act in the world. Spirituality can also be experienced through both religious and secular practices. Religious practices include prayer, worship, reading scripture or religious meditation. Secular practices include appreciating nature and the arts; participating in yoga or volunteer work.
We build resilience with spiritual beliefs and practices. In Resilience, Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney (2012) report that drawing on faith to handle adversity, even for those with little or no religious affiliation, improves physical and emotional health.
Researchers from the RAND Corporation concur. They found that personal spiritual practices improve health and functioning. Using spiritual beliefs to cope with stress promotes growth and well-being. Support from a spiritual community is beneficial to health and wellness. For more information, please check out the link to their full report on Spiritual Fitness and Resilience.
Spiritual Resources for Family Caregivers
When your caregiving journey is difficult, consider using spiritual resources like these to tap into your inner strength and stamina.
- Reflection: Consider the purpose and value of all you do as a family caregiver. Spend quiet time alone. Capture your thoughts and feelings by journaling. Talk with a counselor or clergy person, a friend or family member who you trust.
Go online to view James Miller’s Video Meditations that are a combination of inspiring words, soothing music, and beautiful nature photography. Watch A Caregiver’s Prayer, or read A Spirituality of Caregiving, reflections on the joys and anguish of caregiving, by the great 20th Century spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen.
- Connection: Commune with nature to be reminded of a Higher Power that created and sustains the universe, throughout all time and circumstances. Spend time at a park, near the ocean or a lake, in the forest, on a hillside or mountain. Look and listen; absorb the power and beauty. Find rest and renewal in nature.
Connect with God through prayer, worship, scriptures or meditation. Through this connection, you can feel the presence of a Higher Power upholding you during times of trial. If you’ve never actively prayed, or if it’s been a long time, give it a try and see how it feels. An interesting blog on this topic can be found here.
- Gratitude: Giving thanks is the root of peace and joy. Regularly savor good and enjoyable aspects of your life; they’re not owed to you, but are gifts. If you’re in need of some caregiver inspiration, watch this.
Deepen your gratitude by taking time at the start or end of each day to give thanks for people and things that bless your life. Or set the alarm on your smart phone to ring each day; when you hear it, recall three things for which you give thanks.
In a Daily Gratitude Journal write a list of things you’re grateful for each day. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has especially touched your life and tell them what their care has meant to you. Sign-up to receive daily quotes about gratitude from www.gratefulness.org
Spiritual Practices for Resilient Caregivers
Reflection, connection and gratitude aren’t difficult to do, but task-driven busy-ness can get in the way. Don’t let the world’s agenda steal your time for spiritual sustenance.
Because this is a personal journey, no one spiritual resource works for everyone. Select practices that work well for you. Add them to other physical, mental and social strategies you use to build resilience.
Whatever you do to tap the power of your spiritual resources will be good for both you and your loved ones. As you do so much for others, remember to take good care of yourself, too…Jane