Pandemic difficult on already stressed caregivers

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

People who take care of aging, disabled or ill loved ones at home often felt isolated before the COVID-19 pandemic started shutting things down in March, according to people who have ministered to them.

“A lot of them were like, ‘Welcome to my world,’” when everything was closed down, said Deb Kelsey-Davis, one of the founders of Nourish for Caregivers, a Downers Grove-based non-profit that offers church-based caregiver ministry.

But as the months have passed, staying home and staying cautious has been even harder on caregivers than on many others, she said.

“This is such a hard time for caregivers right now,” Kelsey-Davis said.  “The amount of stress, the amount of isolation and depression have really escalated. A lot of us have lost that connection to our parishes.”

Lauretta Froelich, a parishioner at St. Luke in River Forest, remains very connected, but she worries about caregivers who aren’t. Froelich lives with and cares for her 92-year-old mother and her brother, who is suffering from the effects of a severe head injury, who moved into a condo in the same building with his two adult children.

She is also working full-time, although only half the time in her office because of coronavirus restrictions. She said that when she was talking with a priest friend, he asked what the church could do for caregivers.

“He said, ‘Maybe a day of reflection?’ and I said, ‘No way,’” Froelich said.

It’s not that she has anything against prayer and reflection; it’s just that free time is so hard to come by that most caregivers would want to use it to get their hair cut or maybe their nails done.

Mary Amore, executive director of Mayslake Ministries, said that many caregivers have taken advantage of phone and online spiritual direction sessions over the past several months. Mayslake, based in Oakbrook Terrace, has been doing all of its spiritual direction and pastoral counseling sessions remotely since March.

“People are anxious, whether they are caregivers of not,” Amore said. “If they are caregivers, they really feel tied to the house and they have no outlet. They are taking care of their loved ones, but who’s taking care of the caregiver?”

Amore described spiritual direction as a gift caregivers can give themselves.

“It can help them with their anxiousness and help them alleviate their fears,” she said. “A spiritual director listens to you. They help you discover those moments of grace, those glimpses of God’s presence right there in the cross that you’re carrying. He’s here in the midst of all of this.”

Since all of Mayslake Ministries spiritual direction has gone remote, she said, “Our ministry has exploded. People all over the county are hearing about us.”

Nourish for Caregivers was developed as a turn-key curriculum that Catholic parishes and other Christian churches could use, with a cycle of 12 meeting topics, said Kelly Johnson, cofounder of Nourish for Caregivers. The idea was that parishes could hold monthly meetings, and participants could begin at any point in the cycle.

Johnson and Kelsey-Davis revamped their materials so parishes could offer the meetings online. As at Mayslake, they found parishes offering the ministry were reaching people they had never reached before.

The program has been used by parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since the program has gone online, Kelsey-Davis and Johnson have heard from dioceses and other faith communities all over the country.

“Prior to this, that’s not how ministry was done,” Johnson said. “But now caregivers have embraced virtual ministry in spades. They’re doing virtual doctor visits, and they’re getting used to it. … I also see it as a way to reach people who may not ever grace the doors of church, but who would be happy to come into a caregivers’ support group.”

“The sharing and discussion, where you think people won’t really open up because they’re online, it’s the opposite,” Kelsey-Davis said. “It’s coming together and talking about where they are and what the issues are and being really honest about where God is.”

Kelsey-Davis said the program started after she cared for her mother-in-law during her last illness. Despite being a nurse by training, she found it very difficult.

“I thought it was going be easy-peasy for me,” she said. “I became clinically depressed during that time because of the isolation. I distanced myself not only from friends — I distanced myself from God. My faith was the integral piece.”

When she went to her parish to ask about doing something for caregivers, she met Johnson, who was working part-time doing adult faith formation. Johnson had her own experience caring for her son after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

They put together a program, and then decided to share it. They have also created a guided journal, “The Caregivers’ Companion,” that was released in August.

Kelsey-Davis said they have seen a real hunger for spiritual support among caregivers since the pandemic started.

“We’ve actually increased the amount of Scripture that we include in these meetings,” she said. “We found that people are actually really hungering for the word of God and how to apply that to their caregiving.”

Froelich said parishes don’t even need to start a program to support caregivers. What they need most is simply to connect with people, maybe with phone calls or practical help like dropping off home-cooked meals.

“Maybe if they see someone on the sick list for a long time, give them a call, and ask not just about the sick person but the caregivers,” she said. “When the pandemic started, I felt like all I did was laundry and dishes. The best thing is a friend of mine who will occasionally just drop off dinner. I never asked for that — I would never ask — but it’s wonderful.”



  • family life
  • coronavirus
  • covid-19

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