By Mary Stadnyk
Those who provide care to the sick are strengthened when their own spiritual and pastoral needs are met.
That was the focus of the tenth annual Pastoral Care Retreat held in San Alfonso Retreat House, West End, May 6. Nearly 100 women and men who have had experiences in serving as caregivers were given simple-to-use tools designed to uplift, guide and strengthen their spirit and help them to improve their ministry of giving care.
The gathering was comprised of parish visitors of the sick, chaplains, religious, employees and volunteers in nursing homes, those who minister to hospices and hospitals, spiritual directors, family caregivers, faith-community nurses and other healthcare professionals, who hailed form more than 40 parishes and other institutions from around the Diocese.
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Deanna Sass, director of the diocesan Department of Pastoral Care, said that more than half of Americans are either family caregivers or receivers of care. “The research tells us that family caregivers often end up ill, or even dead, as a result of self-neglect,” she said.
The retreat, she said, was designed “to give the caregivers a ‘day away’ but also to empower them with some tools for managing their own stress, keeping connected to God and taking care of themselves in concrete ways.”
Keynote speaker John Patrick Gatton, author of “God’s Strengthening Love for Caregivers: Enabling Me to Care For You,” reflected on how family caregivers “have needs that include giving them a common language that enables them to discuss their situation with those who are qualified and want to help.”
“I have learned that family caregivers live with extremely complex situations,” he said. “They need a common language so they can share their needs, speak of their conflicts, express their emotions and know what to do to get help as needed. This common language about how to gain God’s strengthening love will help community members share their talents, their helping hands and God’s love.”
Gatton, a member of St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood, has worked as a consultant in establishing motivational work environments and developing corporate consulting skills for major corporations and institutions.
He noted how caregivers rely on four tools to help themselves in the process of uplifting their spirits: contemplative prayer that helps one become aware of God’s strengthening gifts; changing a negative thought to a positive, uplifting thought; positive stories that uplift the spirit, and amplifying positive thoughts to increase their uplifting contributions to one’s health.
Gatton said that a faith community can serve as a logical faith-based organization to help caregivers because its members include experienced leaders, caregiving professionals and qualified volunteers who minister in a motivational environment that encourages participation in such a ministry.
“Those who benefit are the family caregivers, the care receivers and their families and the volunteers who are fulfilling their desire to have a charitable purpose in life,” he said. “Those who want to become involved in a parish pastoral care ministry will experience the joyful results of achieving one of their own life purposes and they may well hear a family caregiver say to them ‘Thank God that you are here!’”
Along with Gatton’s presentation, participants also heard from four parishioners who shared about their varied roles as caregivers. Jim Cassidy, of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, Annie Kirms of Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune, Dawn Marzarella, the mother of three children, and Terry Moser of St. Luke Parish, Toms River, all shared their experiences of caring for loved ones in the face of debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The day rounded out with Mass celebrated by Vincentian Father Martin McGeough, diocesan coordinator of Jail and Prison Ministry in the Department of Pastoral Care, lunch and fellowship.
Attendees remarked on feeling rejuvenated after hearing the keynote address and sharing of stories.
Indicating that he attended the retreat as a way to enhance his spiritual growth as well as to network with other caregivers, Joe Bullwinkle of Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Parish, Atlantic Highlands, reflected on how “caregivers often overlook or even consciously neglect their own care.”
“They need to recognize that one is unable to be a caregiver if they are not healthy, mentally and physically. That is part of what happening at this retreat – we are reminded of our need to care for ourselves,” said Bullwinkle, who currently minds his 95-year-old father and was previously involved with caring for his mother with dementia. He has also been a foster parent to eight teenaged boys, and currently cares for one with a dual diagnosed of mental illness and a history of addiction.
“At age 67, with my background in education, religious life and social work, I have heard much of what is said here in the past. Yet, I need to hear it again, and hearing it in my present circumstances gives it all a new perspective,” he said.
First-time retreat participant Gordon Reinold of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, has worked with his wife, Hilare, in facilitating the Gennesaret retreats that are held twice-yearly for chronically- and terminally-ill persons. He noted how he and Hilare, took his father into their home about 15 years ago when his father’s eyesight began to fail. Later, a bad fall led to his father’s immobility and “beyond our capabilities to handle,” Reinold said, leaving the couple no other choice then to place his father in a local health care center.
“The sequence of events, coupled with my participation in the Gennesaret retreats over the almost 25 years has opened my eyes to the tremendous need for reaching out to both the sick and their caregivers,” Reinold said.
Jane Strada, a co-coordinator of the pastoral care program in Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, told of how the ministry’s pastoral care volunteers visit the homebound parishioners as well as those in nursing homes and hospitals.
“Although our ministry is not directly with caregivers, we recognize them as an integral member of several situations that we encounter. This retreat provided us with the ability to view circumstances from the caregiver’s perspective,” she said.[[In-content Ad]]