Magazine article The Christian Century

Caregiving in the Spotlight

Magazine article The Christian Century

Caregiving in the Spotlight

Article excerpt

On a recent Friday evening, E. Nancy O'Liddy, a member of St. Edward's Catholic Church in Bowie, Maryland, rushed from her job near Capitol Hill back to this suburb to give her 71-year-old mother a bath. "Mom's had eight strokes. Caring for Mom has taken over the life of our family," she said. "Tonight's my night to take care of her. We have to feed her, wash her hair--help her with her finances."

O'Liddy is one of the more than 25 million Americans who care for chronically ill or disabled family members. On January 3 the White House unveiled proposals to be included in the fiscal year 2000 budget that would create a $1,000-a-year tax credit to help families cover the cost of home-based care for elderly parents, disabled spouses or children.

Beyond the economic toll caregiving can exact on families, it also--as religious communities are increasingly realizing--can exact an emotional and spiritual price. And they are seeking ways to respond. In mid-November, during National Family Caregivers Week, an interfaith service at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., honored the work of caregivers with prayers and special music. "I ... encountered the issue when I was 12 years old, when my father became terminally ill with leukemia. My mother worked hard to care for him at home.... Today, the situation of my mother, who is 92 years old, is never far from my mind. I am her eldest daughter ... so she feels particularly reliant on me," Rosalynn Carter told the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging at a hearing on caregiving issues late last year. "One of my colleagues has said there are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers; those who currently are caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregivers. That's how universal this issue is," Carter said.

"Caregiving can be a 24-hour responsibility," said Suzanne Mintz, president of the National Family Caregivers Association based in Kensington, Maryland. Mintz speaks from personal as well as professional experience. During the service at St. John's, she thanked her husband, Steven, who has multiple sclerosis, for supporting her work on behalf of caregivers. Faith communities, large and small, are becoming aware of how much they can do to support caregivers, Mintz said. "Size isn't the issue here. Compassion is."

From South Carolina to Nevada, congregations are beginning to help caregivers throughout the year. Shirley Whitcome is a member of the caregivers support group of 600-member First United Methodist Church in Carson City, Nevada. …

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