For seven years Jim and Ann Cavera of Bellevue, Ohio, went it alone as they took care of Ann’s elderly parents as the illnesses and infirmities overlapped. Not until after they died did Ann run across YourAgingingParent.com, a new website set up specifically to give moral support (and guidance) to Catholic caregivers.
“That was the answer we had been looking for all those years we were taking care of my parents,” says Ann. “A site such as this would have been a great companion on the journey.”
Companionship and solidarity are exactly what Bill and Monica Dodds had in mind when they launched the site in 2004. By 2006 they had expanded their outreach to include Friends of St. John the Caregiver (fsjc.org) and CatholicCaregivers.com.
The Dodds’ background ideally suited them to fill the need. Among their many credits, they co-author national columns on family matters for the Knights of Columbus magazine Columbia and for Catholic News Service. Monica previously worked with seniors and their families in venues such as Catholic Community Services in Seattle.
She’s also author of A Catholic Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parent (Loyola Press, 2006).
Monica said that caregivers can face frustration and challenges — but also experience blessings and peacefulness — throughout the care-giving cycle. Because of this duality, the websites focus primarily on the spirituality of caregiving while also including practical tips, information and resources.
“A lot of caregivers by the very nature of caregiving feel pretty isolated,” explains Monica. “Being able to go online and have that community feeling is important.”
And, thanks to the wonders of the Internet age, access isn’t limited by geography. To the Dodds’ surprise, the first member to sign up for Friends of St. John the Caregiver lives in Australia.
“I was really excited when Monica e-mailed me to say that I was their first ever member, and that a young woman all the way across the other side of the world is united in spirit with other Catholic caregivers,” says Maureen Togher of Perth, who has been a full-time caregiver for her parents since 2000 and now, since her father died, continues for her mother.
As for the sites’ specific roles, Bill calls Friends of St. John the Caregiver “the overall umbrella.” An international Catholic membership organization, it offers spiritual support for caregivers, those receiving care and those who in some way assist others giving care.
YourAgingParent.com brings a wealth of spirituality, information and resources specifically to individual caregivers.
CatholicCaregivers.com principally provides parishes and dioceses with material and prayers of the faithful related to Sunday readings and remembering caregivers. One recommendation is that parish Sunday bulletins asking prayers for sick parishioners add “… and those who take care of them.”
St. Pius X Church in Mountlake Terrace, Wash., follows this counsel and the importance of supporting caregivers.
“In general, it’s something every parish should be concerned about,” says Father Sean Fox, the pastor, “because there are many caregivers in every parish and they are usually people who fall between the cracks.”
In fact, Monica says, the websites aren’t for adult children and aging parents alone. “Although we use the terms ‘adult children’ and ‘aging parent’ and focus on that particular relationship,” she says, “the same material can be adapted and applied to taking care of a spouse, grandparent, aunt or uncle, sibling or friend.”
All materials are free for downloading, printing and copying. Monica says everything runs on the grace of God and donations. They also make available some pre-printed pamphlets, a little book of caregiver prayers, and holy cards of St. John Patron of Caregivers and Our Lady in Need.
Care at the Cross
Caregivers, care receivers and ones giving support to the elderly and their caregivers can also join the Friends of St. John. There are no dues, no meetings. The only requirement: pray for caregivers and care receivers. Even care receivers can offer their prayers and hardships.
The Caveras joined. Explains Ann, “It’s a wonderful way now to be part of the solution we wish we had had.”
Every morning, while praying the Liturgy of the Hours, they include intentions for support and strength for caregivers and for this apostolate. Jim brings family experience and the websites’ insights to his fulltime work at Immaculate Conception Church in Bellevue, Ohio, where he’s in charge of care for shut-ins.
“I like the Dodds' way because it’s a spiritual approach,” says Jim. “Caregiving is a vocation.”
The Dodds recall how they found the perfect role model while searching for a patron for family caregivers.
“It seemed natural it would be St. John,” says Bill. “The Scriptural model applied so much to caregiving, more than we expected.”
Here is Jesus asking John to “behold” Mary as “your mother,” just as God asks people to take care of their elderly parent, spouse or child — Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Here is Mary, Our Lady in Need, receiving and accepting John’s care. Here are non-primary caregivers with roles to play like Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea.
“That just opened up whole view of caregiving in a parish,” says Bill. This view gets a major endorsement from the U.S. bishops, whose Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities had the Dodds write an article and pamphlet about the apostolate; it’s now included in the office’s 2007-2008 Respect Life Program.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
Editor’s note: Readers who lack Internet access can obtain a free copy of The Little Book of Caregiver Prayers, along with prayer cards, by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to Friends of St. John the Caregiver, P.O. Box 320, Mountlake Terrace, WA 98043.