God made us to be social creatures who need a sense of family or belonging to feel safe and whole. It’s a part of our very nature to seek community with others, whether they are our blood relatives or a close, supportive circle of friends. When circumstances force us into extended isolation, as the COVID-19 pandemic has done, our very personhood suffers on many levels. Being a family caregiver frequently places limitations on one’s sense of connectedness outside of the care setting, and families need to stay connected to remain healthy. After all, the saying is true that the family that plays (and prays) together, stays together.
Members of a strong, connected family with healthy social connections tend to be much better at being or supporting family caregivers. These connections may take many forms, and over the last year we have certainly seen those supports expand to include much more technology! When we cannot be present physically, either because of the distance between us or a pandemic or other infectious illness, we can still gain support through frequent phone calls, uplifting text messages, and scheduled video calls. Cards, letters, and emails can also help us feel supported. Audio text messages let a family member hear your voice as well as your message of support and encouragement. A quick minute of video can easily bridge the distance gap and bring you together as well. Technologies like Zoom and FaceTime have even fostered family game nights, trivia nights, and meaningful remote visits as we have found ourselves desperate for ways to “be there” over the past 15 months even when we cannot. As we begin now to emerge from the restricted lifestyles we have been forced to endure, we must continue to make use of the skills we have acquired to strengthen our sense of connectedness even more.
Chris’s family is my best example of how family connections make us stronger and healthier. The man I married more than thirty years ago came from a very close-knit family, while I did not. It was an adjustment for me for sure, but as I have grown into this wonderful group of people over the years, I have learned how much strength, support, and encouragement is found there. Even when my own mother needed care, my in-laws were there for me when I felt stressed, lonely or exhausted. They all lived far away and couldn’t physically step in to help, but they reached out by phone, text, cards, and through prayer to give me support, encouragement, and love. Whenever I needed to talk to someone, I knew that Chris’s (and now my) amazingly supportive family was only a phone call or text message away. Over the past year they have found ways to stay connected, to support one another even as we all have aged into a place where some now need care. Many miles continue to separate us, and family gatherings simply could not happen during the year of the virus, but this family found ways to stay connected and continued to encourage one another to stay strong and persevere. If your family doesn’t regularly communicate and come together periodically, then maybe it’s time to begin some new traditions!
Having this kind of family foundation is incredibly helpful to prevent social isolation for a family caregiver, but not everyone has a family support system. Richard Bach, who authored Jonathan Livingston Seagull, one of my favorite books, also wrote a book called Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. In it I found a quote I resonated with while in college, and I believe it illustrates well what I have found to be true in my life. Here it is:
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”
While in your season of caregiving your best support could be found in your circle of friends and neighbors, your church family, support group members or even an agency that employs professional caregivers who supplement the care you provide. If you don’t have any of these underpinnings that lift and fortify you, begin today to develop this kind of support system. You will be healthier for it, I promise.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about where you find your supportive ‘family’ in caregiving.