Commentary: Caring is contagious—and empowering

By Ted Bowman

One measure of a community’s vitality is the way it responds to its grieving members. St. Anthony Park has a rich mix of what are called formal supports (consider HealthPartners, the Emily Program, an assortment of psychotherapists in various locations, St. Anthony Park Area Seniors) and informal support (family, friends, companion animals and neighbors).

A blend of formal and informal support can be found in support groups, especially those that are linked with community organizations. In 2008, a Caregiver Group was launched at St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ. Started by its then new minister, Victoria Wilgocki, for member caregivers, the Caregiver Group soon had other people from the neighborhood and beyond asking if they could attend. Over time, the group gathered additional sponsors: St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church and St. Anthony Park Area Seniors. Recently, Peace Lutheran Church in Lauderdale and the Church of St. Cecilia added their support.

Caregivers can be defined as family members or close friends who care for someone who has lost abilities to the degree that they are compromised in their daily living. They need care. That care may occur in the care-receivers home, a family member’s home (often daughter, son or sibling), or in a group-living facility, such as St. Anthony Park Home. In most cases, the caregiver and care-receiver reside in proximity, but there are those who care from long distance. The caregiver may live here, while the care-receiver may be with a brother in New Jersey or Iowa. Whatever the case, the caregiver lives day-by-day with stress and concern for another person. Mild to major impairment can be occurring with the care-receiver. Common adult conditions are Parkinson’s, dementia (especially Alzheimer’s), certain cancers or congestive heart conditions.

Consider this definition of loss: loss refers to being deprived of or ceasing to have something that one formerly possessed or to which one was attached. Caregivers, by this definition, can lose conversation, touch, normalcy, a role, friends, future plans and energy given the demands of caregiving. Hence, a support group, skillfully led and linked to community resources, can be a place for support, awareness of resources, off-loading and moving from isolation to community.

Such care is available monthly St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ, 2129 Commonwealth Ave. (See times and dates below).

Newly launched in January, the Bereavement Group is being offered to anyone grieving a death or deaths. The group is sponsored by the same organizations named above and is open to anyone grieving a death. You do not need to have been part of the Caregiver Group to join.

It’s important to emphasize that the bereavement process may occur soon after a death or occur and continue long after a death. Current losses or deaths can evoke previous deaths. Hence, bereavement care may be for a death long past.

While there is overlap in caregiver and bereavement groups, the differences are major. Caregivers are caring for a living person and all that entails. Those who are bereft are grieving a death and all that entails.

Support for caregivers and those dealing with a death should also be part of what neighbors can provide. Here are some ideas that individuals or households can initiate and provide:

  • Cook a hot meal and deliver it.
  • Offer to run errands (pick up a prescription, get groceries).
  • Find a caregiving colleague at work and offer some of your vacation days.
  • Offer to sit with, play games with or go for a walk with the care-receiver.
  • Help your neighbor get their technology working well.
  • Shovel snow or be a handyman/woman.
  • Affirm your congregation’s sponsorship of the Caregiver and Bereavement groups.

The Caregiver AND the Bereavement Groups both meet the first Thursday of each month from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at St. Anthony Park UCC. located at the corner of Informational and supportive sessions will also be offered in spring and autumn on Saturday mornings for any caregiver or those grieving deaths. Watch the Bugle for announcements of dates and topics. Questions or comments can be directed to Ted Bowman, one of the coordinators for these groups, at tedbowman71@gmail.com or at 651-645-1836.

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