Caregiver economic hardships require spiritual and financial support

It seems that every day brings new economic challenges.  Our nation’s recession has created a volatile environment in which many people–from the very young to the senior saint–are vulnerable.  Somewhere in between is the sandwich generation, the nearly 28% of Americans who provide care for a loved one.

As economic tectonic plates shift, caregivers are among the hardest hit as they care for their families and their loved ones.  Statistics show that caregivers spend over $5,000.00 on average to care for a loved one.

Aging adults, who make up 70% of care receivers, barely make ends meet with social security, and their caregivers supplement prescription costs and other resources.  A fifth of all loved ones move into the home with a caregiver.

This means that a third of all caregivers dip into savings and other assets, like retirement plans, to hold the fort.  In some instances, caregivers cut back on work hours to care for their loved ones, and they lose benefits and higher wages as a result.  A job lost is devastating to the entire household.

Few resources for financial assistance, such as the National Family Caregiver Support Program, are available.  My main concern, however, relates to what this does to our spiritual life and our relationships with one another.

As economic restraints tighten, resentment and frustration increase.  This usually sends caregivers into a downward spiral as they war with their negative emotions and struggle with guilt from being angry or impatient.

Usually a caregiver will not see a difference overnight, but resentment and guilt can become debilitating “bad habits” over time. The caregiver burns out and withdraws; she fails to care for herself.  Hobbies, church attendance, and the simple act of reading a book or watching a movie for one’s own pleasure becomes a long-lost past time.

We have heard many a sermon on the two greatest commands: to love God and to love your neighbor “as yourself” (Mark 12:31).  Yet, we assume that it takes money to “love yourself.”

Even in a shaky economy, self-care does not have to be pricey.  In fact, all we need is a little bit of time, maybe a few minutes a day.  We know this to be true, but that guilt makes us feel that we should be doing something–anything–but sit around and pray or read.

Cindy Elrod, a counselor at the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia located at First Conyers UMC, recommends walking or exercising for at least 15 minutes a day.  She also encourages caregivers to get into a support group in order to alleviate isolation.

“Building a sense of community with others in similar situations not only reinforces the sense of connectedness, it may generate avenues for relief from stress, creative problem solving, and a renewed opportunity to experience themselves in positive roles other than as a caregiver,” Elrod said in an email interview.

She also promotes positive reinforcement: “Many who provide caregiving find that they get a sense of satisfaction from caregiving, and it creates a bond with the person being cared for that offset the stress.  Many report an increased confidence that they can successfully and skillfully manage the healthcare system to get their needs met.”

A commitment to spiritual disciplines also help juggle the sandwich lifestyle.  Caregivers that pray on a regular basis and keep in touch with friends from church overcome challenges more effectively than their unchurched peers.

Spiritual disciplines also include practicing confession or reconciliation within the tapestry of one’s relationship with God.  This means receiving forgiving for one’s perceived failures, as well as forgiving a care receiver if resentment exists in the relationship.

In one study, 94% of caregivers stated that forgiveness was effective in building a positive attitude as it related to caregiving.*  It combats guilt and allows the caregiver to have the grace required to make time to pursue other activities outside of the caregiving role.

In an economic recession, it is important for all our caregivers to find solace in God and friends.  The emotional and financial burdens are real, but so is the Creator who continues to envelop us in his everlasting love.  Caregivers, our prayers are with you.

*Source: Judy Kaye and Karen M. Robinson, “Spirituality Among Caregivers,” Image: Journal of Nursing Scholarship 1994: 26 (p. 219).

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