Write In Between

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Ideas on the Care of the Sick and Infirmed -- Part 2

Part 2 – Physical Nurture

To read Part 1, go here.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40)

The Christian goal of caring for the sick or infirm is to do it in such a way as to enhance the dignity and well being of the person in need. Putting yourself unselfishly at someone else’s service is, after all, love in action.

Pope John Paul II wrote:

The parable of the Good Samaritan [see Luke 10: 25-37] belongs to the Gospel of suffering. For it indicates what the relationship of each of us must be towards our suffering neighbor. We are not allowed to "pass by on the other side" indifferently; we must "stop" beside him. Everyone who stops beside the suffering of another person, whatever form it may take, is a Good Samaritan. This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability. (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris - On the Christian Meaning of Suffering, 1994, paragraph 28.)

“Availability” can take a variety of forms. And most of them fall into that old, but familiar category of the corporal works of mercy. (Do you remember them all? Here’s quick review: Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick or those in prison, and burying the dead.)

The corporal works of mercy personify how to physically nurture the sick and infirm. Let’s look at a few examples.

~Feeding the hungry. When I was in the hospital, and later in recovery, I had numerous meals prepared and delivered to my home but loving members of our parish. In fact, during my long cancer recuperation, I had a veritable “chuck wagon” team, headed up by a volunteer “quarterback” who coordinated the people who were willing to make meals for my family. That person also suggested a healthy meal plan rotation ensuring that we didn’t receive three trays of lasagna in the same week! My husband didn’t have to worry about the dinner meal for a month. We even received gift certificates for local take-out restaurants so when I was feeling better I could give myself a night off now and then.

~Giving drink to the thirsty. Or, making sure that the Gatorade is packed for baseball practice. There’s nothing like the help of another mom or volunteer to help you chauffeur your children to their commitments when Mom is off her feet for a while…especially another mother who “knows the drill” with regards to our children’s sports, dance, or music lessons. On more than one occasion, I had a thoughtful mother who came by to drive my child to practice and make sure my child was properly outfitted for their activities.

~Clothing the naked. My recent surgery left my hip size swollen two sizes beyond my normal size. Fortunately, a Good Samaritan did some last minute shopping to get a few needed clothing items to ease me through my first few weeks home.

Here’s another example: In the weeks after my breast cancer surgery, I’ll never forget the dear friend who braved my tears and walked into the lingerie section of a department store to help me shop for a bra for my new post-op body. This was a moment-of-truth event in my physical and psychological recovery. Imagine the relief I had later as I was later laughing about it over an ice cream cone with the same friend who got me through it.

~Visiting the sick. This is most obvious. But do so with permission. Some days may be better than others. For example, when I was on heavy pain medications, I could have very little visitation. I was just too tired and needed to sleep. But, once I was past those foggy days of early recovery, I really rejoiced in those friendly visits. Pain and illness have a way of robbing one’s good humor. A fresh smile and normal conversation go a long way to helping restore “normalcy.” Also, when someone volunteered to stay with me, my family members could take a needed break from my care.

Don’t forget that phone calls and “get well” cards count as visiting the sick. If you can’t be there in person, say so. Taking the time and trouble to remember someone in need means so much.

I have been the recipient of many thoughtful and deliberate acts of kindness. This might sound a little silly and vain, but my recent hip replacement meant that for six weeks I could not bend or stretch to reach my own feet. Two resourceful women who know me took it upon themselves to give me pedicures. One came over to my home and personally cleansed and pampered my feet, complete with painting on a new nail color. The other women simply gave me a gift certificate from her salon to get the same treatment. Both recognitions of my femininity were deeply appreciated by the woman in me.

When I was a recovering breast cancer patient I had many apprehensive medical appointments. A few close friends made sure I never had to go to those appointments alone. My husband often had to work, so these wonderful women cleared their calendars to bring companionship to my medical journey. Each appointment became an event—not just an exam or lab test, but also a lunch date or a trip to a museum!

Paragraph 2186 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this statement:

Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week.

Maybe a good practice for us might be for us to reclaim Sundays as a day when we ask ourselves: “How can I be a good Samaritan in the life of someone who needs me?” Again, that word “availability” comes to mind. This Sunday, as you approach the table of the Lord, you might ask him to inspire the answer to such a question. My childhood was filled with memories of Sundays after church traveling to my grandmother’s home. She was severely disabled and we cared for her needs and cleaned her home. Her health care workers took the weekends off, so my family pitched in regularly.

In closing, I’d like to address a final note to mothers… especially those who may one day find themselves in similar situations of illness or infirmity.

I’ll call these closing thoughts “How not to be a Super Mom.” As modern women, many of us are used to being very resourceful—carrying on as if we need nobody to help us with our daily routines. That being said, I’d like to make two observations. First, if you are a mother needing to go into the hospital, or if you are ill for a lengthy time, you need a plan in place to care for your family. Find solid support people to help you accomplish this. It will give you great peace of mind amidst trial. Second, (and this might be harder than the first suggestion…) learn to graciously ask for, and graciously receive h-e-l-p.

With regard to having a plan: with all my surgeries and subsequent recoveries, I was fortunate to have some flexibility as to the timing of my surgeries. In this way I could plan ahead for the needs of my family. I realize that sometimes one does not always have the luxury of time to do so, but nonetheless, here are a few of things that I did to be prepared.

~Make a few meals in advance and freeze them.

~Find out if online grocery shopping with home delivery is available in your area. This service was worth every extra penny during my months of recuperation. (If I shopped the sales, I was more than able to make up the “delivery charge” in my savings.) Since all of my surgeries had movement and weight-bearing limitations, having that nice delivery person carry all those groceries to my kitchen was just what I needed!

~If at all possible, pay a month’s bills in advance, or at least, write out the checks in advance and mail them later. Similarly, for me, I found it very tedious to talk to the insurance company about my conditions and tests, etc. My husband was happy to make all the needed contacts before and after my illness. If you are alone, a trusted friend who is a good communicator might be up to these tasks.

~If possible, arrange in advance for some help, professional or otherwise, to help keep the house clean. You will heal better if you are not stressing over the need to do chores. At the very least, find someone who will help you keep the kitchen and bathrooms respectable.

~I tailored a few things to my family’s needs. Specifically, I knew one of my long hospitalizations would disrupt my children’s lives, but especially their bedtime routines. So I made a few recordings of my voice reading some bedtime stories while I was away. I also left a few little love notes and gifts to be “discovered” (with Dad as my accomplice) in my absence.

Finally, with regard to receiving help graciously, try to remember two things. First, trust that the Lord knows what you are facing. He understands this time of suffering. Try not to control it. Try to surrender to it. He knows your needs and wants to supply what you need. Therefore, if He places others in a position to serve you and your family, take it as a gift from Him. Second, you don’t know what a blessing it may be for another to serve you in whatever capacity they can. Your illness or infirmity might be the catalyst for another to grow in grace and love of the Suffering Christ. Don’t stand in the way. Accept such loving gestures and actions with grateful appreciation.

©2008 Patricia W. Gohn

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  • Patricia, thank you so much for your wonderful article. It was the perfect "fit" for my passions, as I have a book called, "Beyond Cassroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend" and you listed a bunch of these in your own words. I am a mom with rheumatoid arthritis. I have a 5-year-old son... and am having hand surgery late October. I will try to take your advice!

    Hope you will be involved with Invisible Illness Week - www.invisibleillness.com - we are scheduling it now. And I am also writing a book for moms with illness. Let me know if you'd be interested in receiving a questionnaire soon and helping give your input.

    Many blessings,
    Lisa Copen

    By Anonymous Lisa Copen, at 1:38 PM  

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