How Family Caregivers Can Build Community & Practice Communion

If you have traveled the family caregiver path taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s and dementia you could find yourself isolated from your friends, family and community. It can happen subtly over time. Friends and family stop calling or inviting you to events – perhaps they feel uncomfortable. Or we stop going out to public places or accepting invitations because it’s getting harder to physically handle the work involved with getting our loved one in a safe external environment (restaurants, church, a mall, a store, a friend’s home, etc.).

As caregivers, we should understand the importance of finding or building our community not only for ourselves but for our loved one.  Finding and interacting with your community is truly practicing “communion” and is a healthy and vital part of our need for human connection and health. It’s important that we avoid isolation and keep a connection to our friends and family members. Isolation isn’t healthy for your loved one or you as the caregiver.

A definition of communion is: The sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.

Our social well-being is just as important as our physical and emotional well-being. It’s a balance that can quickly become out-of-balance as we tend to our loved one with a myriad of caregiving activities and rightful worries of safety in social-settings if we try to take our loved one out of our homes and into our community.

When raising a child we often hear the phrase “It takes a village.” And it certainly does. But it also takes a village when you are caregiving to someone that is in a health crisis or has a terminal or chronic illness. You can’t go it alone – nor should you try. There are resources in your community – although they may be hard to find – they are out there (contact your local or regional Alzheimer’s Association to start). And also, one can begin the development of your own “care circle” which are friends and resources that can help you with caregiving and/or respite care for yourself.

Communion involves Alzheimer’s and dementia social integration in our day-to-day reality of caregiving whether it’s getting our loved one out in public places for field trips, at social gatherings or just having visits to their home (or care facility). During these visits encourage friends and family to share food, photos, music, stories, laughter, etc. Reach out to your friends and family members and teach them how to interact with your loved one. Some may take you up on the call and some may not. Be understanding and ready for either response.

There is no need to hide, be embarrassed or be isolated in Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving. Our loved ones are part of our society and should be socialized and sharing communion with our friends, family, and community as we all do – even in their vulnerable state. We are all in this together. As your friends and family cared for your loved one in health so should they in illness.

Community integration can be challenging if your loved one’s dementia has progressed to a point that you cannot take them out of the home – but then consider inviting friends and family into your home (or care facility) for a visit or meal. Ease the way for your friends and family members – prepare them ahead of time of your interest in keeping your loved one interacting with them, talk to them about what to expect and express that just being in the same room is a form of sharing, giving and exchanging friendship and communion with your loved one. If they ask about if your loved one will even know they visited – reply that they will on some level and most importantly you and your visitor will know.

Make the call and try – for your health and the health of your loved one.

Inspirational Quote for Contemplation:

“When we are in communion with another, we become open and vulnerable to them. We reveal our needs and our weaknesses to each other… sharing weaknesses and needs calls us together into ‘oneness’.”
-Jean Vanier, Catholic Philosopher, and Founder of L’Arche an international federation of communities for people with development disabilities

Spiritual Introspective Questions for Caregivers

  1. Read the inspirational quote for contemplation which is listed above. What comes to your mind when you read the quote again after time for quiet reflection?
  2. How do you or could you share “communion” with your loved one?
  3. Are there family members or communities that you could gently bring into your loved one’s life to share meals, activities, field trips and celebrations with?
  4. Have you thanked other caregivers that help with your loved one’s care? How could you reflect your appreciation to them?

Step Seven – Daily Practice Steps for Caregivers:

  1. Practice integrating your loved one in family, friend, and community activities in a safe manner for your loved one and yourself each week.

Wishing you Light on your Caregiver Path,
Meg

Your Caregiver Path is Sacred

When I was caregiving to my husband, Dean, who had dementia, I went through many emotions that all caregivers may feel at one time or another…feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost in all the care that needed to be provided or coordinated. Caregiving can be exhausting, especially if one adds on other duties such as a job or raising children. If you are a Alzheimer’s or dementia family caregiver, you have been put on a path – the caregiver path. And all the steps on your path creates your caregiver experience or journey.

Caregivers undergo a tremendous amount of stress and need to pay attention to what I call their “Spiritual Health” which is physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being. Caregivers are so busy caring that they many times neglect themselves. Caregivers need to become aware that this caregiver path and what their role is on this path. That is the first step.

If one’s gain their own spiritual understanding of the caregiver path, it can give the caregiver fortitude and purpose for this arduous journey and it will open their heart.

Why is it important to understand the caregiver path is sacred? It’s important because if the path is revered, it can be accepted and honored within one’s soul. If you revere something, then you respect it and have great patience for it, and you can even be in awe of it. These understanding can then illuminate the caregiver’s path when it becomes overwhelmingly dark.

One may need also need a definition for “sacred.” Sacred can mean connected to God (or your name for Source, Higher Power, Spirit, etc.) or it can mean devoted exclusively to one service, a repeated ritual, or something deserving great respect. The selfless service that is involved with caregiving for a loved one in such an extreme case of vulnerability can be deemed sacred if one accepts these definitions or if you formulate your own related sacred definition.

The caregiver has been called on a path that has possibilities of developing, changing, or challenging their spiritual beliefs, values, and attitude. This is also what makes it a spiritual path. Through caregiving and opening one’s heart in a deeper manner toward your loved one, you, the caregiver, have an opportunity for spiritual transformation.

Wishing you Light on your Path,
Meg

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