Caitlin looked up at me and softly said, “Thank you.”
I had just finished getting her water, preparing her food, getting her medicine, flipping the TV to a show I knew she would enjoy and making several trips between the couch where she spends most of her time and the kitchen.
She hesitated, and I could tell there was more.
“Can…can you bring me a napkin?”
I trudged back to the kitchen. “Anything else?” I asked.
I heard a soft voice. “Maybe some Cheetos.”
Caitlin and I have been married for almost four years. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure one month into our marriage. I’ve been providing care for four years and will likely be doing that for the rest of our lives together. Some days Caitlin does well, and you wouldn’t realize anything is amiss. At other times she struggles to get out of bed and barely makes it to the couch.
As her primary caregiver, I am with her for most of it. I grab takeout when my limited cooking skills are not up to the challenge. I pick up medicine, attend medical appointments, am with her at home on her worst days and still try to work as a full-time pastor. There are days where I feel like I can conquer any challenge and others where “can you bring me a napkin” almost breaks me.
Most of all, I spend a lot of time worrying. If I’m not there, what if something happens. I enjoy disc golf, cycling and a few other activities where I must leave Caitlin at home, but I worry when I am not with her. Even having church meetings makes me nervous when I don’t get our usual “Hey dear, I’m doing fine” text.
If you are a caregiver, I’m guessing some of this resonates with you. It is a difficult journey, but one that following Jesus equips us for. After all, we were never designed to live life alone. As caregivers who are using our gifts to care for someone, we sometimes forget that others can also use their gifts to help care for us.
Peter says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Caitlin and I use an app called IANA Care (I Am Not Alone Care) to help send out requests for people to pick up medicine or even
just spend time with Caitlin so I can go outside and take some time for myself. People want to help; they just often don’t know how. Give them the opportunity.
For those of you who are not caregivers right now, there are two things that can really help the caregivers in your life. First, let them know what you are willing to do. “How can I help” is helpful, but a friend saying, “If you need me to sit with Caitlin while you are at meetings, I’m available” is much more meaningful.
Second, don’t try to solve the caregiver’s problem with a story about your uncle’s neighbor’s third cousin. We have heard that story already, probably twice. Instead of giving advice, the best gift you can give is listening. And maybe some Cheetos.
Ben Friesen is lead pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Topeka, Kansas. He is married to Caitlin Friesen, a former pastor at North Fresno Church, a USMB congregation in Fresno, Calif. Friesen enjoys reading, disc golf and the occasional trip to the zoo. He is a graduate of Tabor College and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary.