Imagine life humming along in its usual routine—work commitments, church meetings, a packed schedule of evening and weekend meetings, friends, and family. Then one night you receive the call that changes your life. A loved one—spouse, child, parent, grandchild, or friend—has been thrown into a health crisis. A battle lies ahead.
Family and friends converge at a medical facility. Some may even drive hundreds of miles or fly in from across the country. People rearrange life’s priorities as they’re thrown into new settings that often require re-negotiation of boundaries and the re-routing of life in an intricate dance of decision-making.
When medical crisis hits, caregivers face challenges that confront them from every direction: learning to grasp complex medical knowledge, coping with devastating grief, absorbing mind-boggling financial and insurance information, and shuffling family roles and taking on caregiving responsibilities that are frequently unfamiliar to them in what can be a fruit-basket-upset environment.
If your loved ones are facing a caregiving crisis and your desire is to be supportive, I’d offer a few suggestions:
- Be willing to stand at the end of the line. Don’t show up with a superhero mentality or a secret agenda. Come with a servant’s heart. If you’re a relative, drop the rivalries and game playing that often come with sibling and family relationships. Look hard and deeply at your motives when people communicate in a clumsy manner or emotions run at the surface. Remember, caregiving isn’t about you.
- Respect and support the wishes of those making tough decisions. Caregiving in crisis means a thousand tough decisions will have to be made, and many of them will come down to choices between hard and harder. Caregivers receive expert counsel from medical professionals, social workers, pastors, chaplains, and trusted family and friends. Don’t offer opinions unless you’re asked, and support decisions when they’re made—even if it’s as simple as whether or not the kids are supposed to be eating organic food. Don’t fold your arms or roll your eyes, condescend, or talk to other people about why you wouldn’t do what a certain family member may have chosen to do.
- Ask what support looks like to the family. Some people like to be surrounded by loved ones (like me). Other people prefer their privacy. The key is to love people in a manner that feels like love to them. So ask them what will be most meaningful to them, and then follow through with a plan. Meals? Money? Visits? Errands? Practical help organizing the house for the return visit home? Your priorities really don’t count in this equation. Ask questions that help family members articulate the specific kinds of help they need, then find creative ways to link arms with other people to provide that assistance (check out CareCalendar.org or Lotsahelplinghands.org).
- Pray about how God wants to grow you through this experience. Caregiving forces us to confront fears, step into new roles, give up control, live with inconvenience, shoulder suffering, and shed our self-centered agendas. It pushes us into new places of frustration and fear that can lead us to greater faith.
Whether you’re in the midst of the maelstrom or stepping into the role of advocate or supporter for someone you love, ask God how He wants to grow you into the image of Jesus Christ through this experience. Ask Him to show you what He may be asking you to lay down or to pick up as you serve others with the ultimate desire of becoming more like Jesus in all you do.