Embrace Your Future With Confidence And Compassion.
Embrace Your Future With Confidence And Compassion.
My Father, Our Father - Caregiving Through Covid
This is a story about a faith-filled family who care for their father, Jack Louden. Jack and his wife Dolores enjoyed many years of marriage and created a family of eight children, who now have children and grandchildren of their own. They lived across the street from one another growing up in Southwest Philadelphia. Before they were married, while Jack was in the 82nd Airborne division of the U.S. Army, it was Dolores who planted the seeds of faith in her soon to be husband and encouraged his conversion. He provided for the family as a butcher, while she focused on caring for their home and children. Every Sunday the Louden family attended Mass, while on Monday nights Jack and Dolores set off for their weekly Adoration Hour. Through their actions, the Loudens taught their children that God was the foundation for their family.
Together, they created a lasting legacy rich in relationships, rooted in faith and filled with happy memories. Towards the end of her life, Dolores looked out for Jack as he was showing some signs of dementia, a condition formally diagnosed shortly after her passing. After 64 years of marriage, she departed on her heavenly journey. As the family grieved over the loss of their beloved matriarch, Jack’s dementia began to advance, requiring his placement in a Chester County Memory Care Community. It is here that our caregiving story begins.
Today, the eight Louden siblings remain close. Following their parent’s example, they continue to celebrate the gift of family. The three sisters, Dee Burke, Terri Benedetti and Jennifer Jung, joyfully share the physical, emotional and spiritual support for their father. Because their father resides in a community setting, their ability to visit and care for him has been significantly limited due to the Covid restrictions. In an effort to find strength and support, the sisters turned to House Calls for Caregivers, a virtual arm of the Nourish For Caregivers ministry which is active in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. House Calls is an online support group designed to minister to those caring for aging or disabled loved ones.
Finding Community in Quarantine
House Calls for Caregivers began in mid-March in response to the ministry being unable to meet in person following the Covid shutdown. The program continues to meet every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:00 a.m. It’s an opportunity for caregivers around the country to connect virtually via Zoom. Over the past few months, the Louden sisters participated in these Zoom sessions to share their experiences, as well as to listen to and encourage others in similar circumstances. House Calls animates Jesus’ teaching, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Mt 18:20
It was Terri who first participated in the program after learning about it through her church. Terri went on to explain, “In the Fall of 2019 under the direction of our pastor, Father Edward Bell, the Nourish For Caregivers ministry started at my parish, Nativity BVM in Media, PA. It was fortuitous in that it gave me a support system as a caregiver. Some of my parish friends attended who were also caring for their loved ones. Once Covid began, the virtual option was perfect in terms of timing for me for what I was going through with my aging father.”
When asked how House Calls helped Jennifer she explained, “My husband often travels for work, so at times I feel isolated being home alone with my kids and worrying about my dad. I am grateful for House Calls because it gives me a way to connect with both my sisters and other caregivers. Although I cannot attend every session, I look at the clock at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and pause and say a prayer. House Calls brings me peace and has made me more faith-filled.”
Dee shared, “Before Nourish I was at times lonely and felt helpless. I doubted a lot of decisions I was making with regards to my father’s care. I don’t know what people do without faith. With Nourish I have asserted myself. I have become much more patient and humble knowing that I can’t fix everything. This humility is a grace.”
A Time for Support
Many people report a sense of increased guilt for not being able to be physically present for their loved one due to the ongoing Covid restrictions especially as the holidays approach. Caregiving under normal circumstances requires heroic levels of physical and emotional fitness. However, the fears and precautions surrounding the pandemic introduced a new level of complexity for all caregivers. House Calls For Caregivers was created for just such a time as this. Esth 4:14
Terri explained, “Nourish for Caregivers helped me cope with my guilt for not being able to be physically present with our father. I wanted to run to see my dad, but then someone would say something on a call and I would realize that I need to defer to God’s will. I remember a priest during a House Calls session state ‘just because you cannot see your loved one does not mean you are not an effective caregiver’. I took great comfort in his statement.”
Terri’s words echo the sentiment of the hearts of those disconnected from their loved ones due to Covid-19. Many find themselves wondering whether they made a good decision to allow their loved one to remain in the care of a community. However, it is often not feasible for a loved one to live with their family as many caregivers juggle the responsibilities of marriage, parenting and career. There are no right or wrong answers, but rather there is an answer that best meets the needs of each individual family.
Dee believed that the Nourish ministry entered the life of her family at a critical juncture. “My father was enrolled in hospice one month prior to the Covid shut down. We are so fortunate to have learned about this benefit through Nourish. God worked it out for us! Dad got such wonderful care while he was being treated for Covid 19. It gave me so much peace knowing that the hospice team, along with the dedicated staff at Dad’s facility, were looking after him in a special way. His nurse case manager was in touch with me every single day with an update I could then relay to my siblings. I really believe God had a hand in it.”
Thy Will Be Done
The Nourish For Caregivers ministry is unique in that in addition to offering practical resources and emotional support, the program rests firmly upon the riches of our Catholic faith. Each session includes prayer and reflection to allow room for the Holy Spirit to inspire attendees. This faith component is what empowers Nourish participants to flourish in their respective circumstances.
When the sisters were asked how Nourish and the Covid crisis specifically impacted their Catholic faith, Jennifer recounted how their family was gripped with fear after they learned their father was being treated for the virus. By God’s grace and through the work of his devoted healthcare team he survived. Jennifer explained, “God is always reminding us that he is divine and we are human and to keep your faith strong. Why did my father survive? We may never know the answer, but my faith has definitely gotten stronger through Covid and Nourish. Through Nourish For Caregivers, I learned about the Surrender Novena. I recite it each morning as a way to prayerfully relinquish the fears I have surrounding Covid and my father.” Jennifer’s words strike at the heart of our faith in that God asks for us to trust him and his divine providence.
Dee added, “I have gained a lot of contentment from Nourish. I know our dad is in a good place. He is getting excellent care, he is safe and he is fed. God is looking out for him. Nourish has been a wonderful outlet for me.”
When asked about the effect of House Calls for Caregivers on her faith and managing Covid for Terri, she responded, “Nourish House Calls have been extremely helpful to me through Covid. They have been a wealth of knowledge and provide a spiritual infusion of grace. I have become close with the people on the calls and follow their stories. House Calls strengthened my faith for sure. The program almost feels like it’s a vessel into my father’s heart.”
Terri continued, “Each time that I feel like I am not sure I want to do the call, if there is really not much going on, or I feel I don’t have much to contribute I still dial in and experience something that touches me in a way that moves me to do something or not
to do something and just learn from others. It is clearly the hand of the Holy Spirit. There are so many different people in the world and situations. The wealth of knowledge and faith shared during the discussions is very humbling. I am very grateful. I look forward to it now.”
Sisters in Christ
When asked how Nourish impacted your relationship all three Louden sisters agreed that the Nourish ministry has drawn them closer. Terri explained, “We have had some really great interactions as sisters during House Calls which sparked conversations afterwards we otherwise may not have had. We have come to understand that each one of us carries a unique responsibility in caring for our father.”
With Outstretched Hands
A few weeks ago, Jennifer received word that her request to visit with their father in person was approved. She brought up this topic during House Calls to get insight from other caregivers as to whether she should take advantage of this opportunity. Admittedly she was a little nervous due to the Covid concerns, but ultimately through the encouragement and promptings from other caregivers and the Holy Spirit, she chose to visit with her father.
Following her time with their father, Jennifer was pleased to report that the visit was a blessing. She recounted, “We sat and prayed together. As I held his hand, I got a lot of squeezes as we prayed. I went through all the sibling names aloud saying, ‘Dee says goodbye’, ‘Terri says goodbye’ and so on. Our father had different reactions and hand squeezes for each name.” It was through this healing touch that Jennifer found great consolation. Terri and Dee also visited with Dad at different times, although their visits were made outside and were socially distanced.
The Louden sisters agree that caregiving can bring one to their knees. However, they take great comfort in their mother’s loving example as a faith-filled caregiver. Terri encourages those caring for aging or disabled loved ones to embrace the wisdom, knowledge and understanding that Nourish offers as a way to manage what often feels like an out of control time of life. She states, “It is a blessing to minister to others and to be ministered to through House Calls. Ultimately our goal is to be in Heaven. Take a breath and be prayerful. Allow the hands of Christ to surround you and direct your body language.”
An abridged version of this article was published in CatholicPhilly.com https://catholicphilly.com/2020/11/commentaries/ministry-for-caregivers-makes-house-calls-amid-covid/
To learn more about Nourish For Caregivers visit http://www.nourishforcaregivers.com.
The Nourish For Caregivers ministry meets virtually and in-person throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. For more information visit http://www.phillyevang.org/nourish.