I have long maintained that we have, in this country and in this day and age, created a new life stage; that of care-giver.
Yes, people have been caring for people as long as we have been in existence. However, as many of us know, given the revolution in longevity and the advances in medical technology, care-giving can be a very long term challenge and one that involved multiple generations.
As we boomers ourselves age, the challenges of caring for a loved one gradually increase. Too often we ourselves begin to “slow down” and see that we need to ask for help in keeping faith with our tradition’s mandate to “honor and respect”.
I am continually involved with families who ask advice on how to handle this new life stage, especially if it suddenly presents itself, or, long distance care-giving is involved. The spiritual challenges, along with the emotional, physical, fiscal and psychological issues can combine to impact everything from health to relationships. That is why, I feel, so many resources have evolved in recent years that attempt to provide support. The Internet has become a valuable tool in assisting individuals and families. JewishSacredAging.com hopes to add to these resources, especially in the area of emotional and spiritual support.
What is also trending is the regular publication of tips and ideas to assist acre-givers. Just recently two pieces appeared in the N,.Y.Times Health section. One article described the increasing desire to preserve independence in old age. (“With Help Here and There, Preserving Independence in Old Age”: N.Y. Times 12/25/12. p. D7). This is especially important for our generation who, it seems, wants to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible. Recent articles and studies have begun to see a trend in architecture that accounts for changing needs of baby boomers as we age and as we wish to remain in place for as long as we can.
Caring.com has also listed a check list of a variety of things that care-giver needs to look for that would indicate when it is time to move older relatives from their home, or to bring in a home health aide. This check list is also in that same N.Y.Times edition (“How to Know When Home Alone Is No Longer a Good Idea“: N.Y. Times 12./25/12. p. D7, sidebar below original article).
The “Art” of Care-giving is one of the workshops that we offer and it examines how Jewish texts and tradition can support and guide us as we attempt to navigate this new “life stage”. It requires strength of soul and, to be honest, a sense of humor as well.
In this new secular year of 2013, we wish you and your family much joy and health. If you are in the process of this care-giver role, we also wish you strength and the ability to take moments of meaning from this “mitzvah”.
Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min