I grew up in a family where three generations—my grandparents, parents, two younger brothers, and one aunt—all lived together under the same roof. My grandmother took care of my aunt, who had both intellectual and emotional challenges. After my grandmother passed away, my mother took full responsibility for my aunt and cared for her in our home night and day.
My aunt eventually moved into a community center. Even though it was a long distance away, my mother visited her regularly. After my mother’s death, I became my aunt’s main source of family support. I came to understand how devoted my mother had been. I also became extremely grateful for the attentive people who watched over my aunt.
My own family experience has helped me to understand that caregivers face a variety of challenges. Cultural expectations, family relationships, availability of facilities—all may affect caregivers. But there’s one challenge just about every caregiver faces at some point: fatigue. This can be particularly true when one older person is taking care of another, usually one spouse taking care of the other. In fact, research indicates that caregivers ages 66–96 who are experiencing stress have a 63 percent higher risk of mortality than noncaregivers.1
First and Second Commandments
We can, in fact, learn a lot about Christlike caregiving by studying the first and second great commandments.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37–39).
In these verses, I believe the Lord is providing a guide that is particularly helpful to caregivers. First of all, love the Lord. Don’t neglect the simple things that recharge you spiritually. Pray. Read the scriptures. Find peace in your heart. Feel the power and strength of Heavenly Father’s love for you.
You are probably already filled with love for your neighbor—in this case, the person you care for. But do you also love yourself, in a righteous way?
It’s a Two-Way Street
In my experience, both as a counselor and in my own family, I have found that caregivers often feel they must do everything on their own. This is simply not true. Caregivers who won’t accept help almost always “burn out” at some point. They need to allow others to assist them. They need to counsel with family, friends, and ward or branch leaders and ministering brothers and sisters. Those who are eager to help a caregiver need to respect the caregiver’s desires to bless and watch over their loved one.
Here are some items that might be helpful to discuss together:
- What support is available from family members?
- What would provide opportunities for the caregiver to rest for a few minutes, or even an hour or two?
- How often are visits helpful? What kinds of visits?
- How can the caregiver find time to renew covenants by attending the temple, going to church, and receiving the sacrament?
- How might the caregiver benefit from just talking to someone?
- Is there a need for help with food, transportation, or government programs?
If you are a caregiver, keep in mind this advice from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“For those of you who earnestly seek to bear another’s burdens, it is important that you refortify yourself and build yourself back up when others expect so much of you and indeed take so much out of you. No one is so strong that they do not ever feel fatigued or frustrated or recognize the need to care for themselves. …
“The caregivers have to have care too. You have to have fuel in the tank before you can give it to others.”2
1. Richard Schulz and Scott R. Beach, “Caregiving as a Risk Factor for Mortality: The Caregiver Health Effects Study,” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 282, no. 23 (Dec. 15, 1999), 2215–19.
2. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Bearing One Another’s Burdens,” Liahona, June 2018, 29–30.
Image credit: Illustration by Julia Yellow; graphic shapes from Getty Images