February is a month to celebrate caregivers

Written by Deacon Jerry Jablonowski

February is a month dedicated to caregivers. Family and friend caregivers are the backbone of the healthcare system and often go unrecognized in a society that focuses so much on the provision of medical care by medical professionals.

Family and friend care “givers” and professional healthcare “providers” are both vital to the needs of so many Americans, yet their roles are certainly distinct in the completeness of the health and wellbeing of the people they serve. Professional healthcare providers dedicate their careers to the healing arts and are celebrated for their knowledge, dedication and compassion they demonstrate for those whom they are called upon to serve. Caregivers, on the other hand, complement the great work of such individuals, and joyfully give of their lives to provide the essential assistance, comfort and care that is needed to relieve the discomfort, anxiety and physical distress of the sick, so as to allow them to maintain their personal dignity and remain connected to the dimensions of their lives that they cherish so much.

Deacon Jerry Jablonowski is executive director of VITALity Catholic Healthcare Services, Diocese of Camden. Deacon Jerry Jablonowski

There are millions of family and friend caregivers in this country. The economic contribution of the more than 65 million people (29 percent of the population — 66 percent of them women) who generously give of their time is valued at nearly $375 billion annually. This is more than twice of what is actually spent ($158 billion) on homecare and nursing homes combined. Our government and private systems of healthcare payment could never afford this additional burden to their present economic constraints. Caregivers make an invaluable contribution, not only to the people they care for, but to the entire healthcare infrastructure of our country.

But caregivers need care as well. They need time to re-balance their own physical, emotional and spiritual cores to assure themselves of continued well being. The act of constant caregiving can certainly have its toll on the overall health of the caregiver. The reality of so-called “burn-out” is so common. And without intervention, this burn-out phenomenon can lead to the ultimate inability to be an effective caregiver, forcing one to abdicate that role for their loved one.

At VITALity we recognize this need to care for our caregivers. Through programs of ongoing education and support, we encourage caregivers to realize their own physical limitations and maximize their care giving energy to the one in need of their presence. Caregivers need emotional and spiritual support as well. They must continue to display a positive mental attitude in their caring and continue to find enrichment and fulfillment within their spirituality that brings them closer in their relationship with God and with their care receiver. The unconditional nature of the love they offer is reflective of the love that God has for them, and this spirit of love must remain in focus and never be diminished through the effects of burn-out.

This is why we at VITALity hold this month so special. On Saturday, Feb. 10, we will have a day of reflection, respite and refreshment for caregivers. We will celebrate this day at the Catholic Student Center at Stockton University in Galloway Township. All caregivers are invited to join us for some spiritual and emotional renewal and physical rest and refreshment. The day will conclude with celebration of the Mass for that weekend. (You can call us at 856-583-6123 to reserve your spot for this day or see our calendar on our website for details and registration information.)

On Sunday Feb. 11, World Day of the Sick, we will celebrate a day of prayer and blessings within all the hospitals here South Jersey led by our priest and deacon chaplains. Patients and the staff of doctors, nurses and technicians will be celebrated though prayer to bring the healing grace of God upon them and upon the hands of those who care for them in their time of illness.

And finally, on Saturday, Feb. 24, we will recognize all the Stephen Ministers within the diocese, and celebrate Mass at the Church of Saint Agnes, Our Lady of Hope Parish, Blackwood, followed by a reception to both recognize and renew the wonderful spirit of caregiving that Stephen Ministers bring to so many in need of healing through loss and tragedy in their lives. (All Stephen Ministers are encouraged to attend. Call 856-583-6123 for details and to register.)

May all who care for the sick and disabled, the lonely and the dying, and those distressed by profound loss in their lives, be forever blessed by the God who shares his love with all of us. And may their spirits, minds, and bodies be forever renewed and refreshed by his grace as they recognize that love in their lives.