Caregivers = "Holy Watchers"
- Published on Saturday, 01 September 2012 18:15
- Written by Stanton O. Berg
(Photo - Jim Gehrz - June and Stan - Holy Spirit Chapel - October 2007)
“Much of our loved one’s suffering is invisible, at least to the outside world.
Sometimes we’re the only one who knows the pain is there,
where it comes from and how severe it is.
We try to explain it to others, but they aren’t around to witness it,
day in and day out, the way we are.
We stand alone along side our loved ones as the vessel holding in...
all the fear and sorrow and hurt.
We are the “holy watchers,” the keeper of the flame of love.
Some day, just being there as caring witnesses is the most important gift we give.
Be with me dear God, as I say to my dear one, “Here I am.”
This beautiful definition of a caregiver as a “Holy Watcher” comes from the little booklet “Reflections for Caregivers” – “Comfort and be Comforted” by Pat Samples – 2001…This little booklet was given to me as a gift by my friend Dr. Don Fox in 2006. Don and I were both caregivers for our wives at the time. Both our wives were victims of Alzheimer's. Don's wife Gloria was in the Camilla Rose Nursing Home in Coon Rapids and my wife June was in the Benedictine Health Care Center in New Brighton. (Above quote used with permission - ACTA Publications.)
The book focuses on Care-giving as God's Holy work. This one page in particular in this little booklet has inspired me more than anything I have ever read. It is one of the best and yet one of the simplest explanations I have ever seen of what care-giving is really all about. It summed up perfectly my relationship with June in her end times. I have difficulty reading the page without emotions, tears and reflections on June and her last two years. This little book high lights the importance of just being there.
What does it take to be a "Holy Watcher"? I think that it is all summed up in the two below described types of Love:
Mark K. Shriver discusses "Caregiving" and the need for "Unconditional Love".
"Caregiving is an inadequate term...it's really LOVE‐giving. You essentially need to be willing to give unconditional love to the person that's suffering from Alzheimer's." ...
"I grew to hate that word. It was inaccurate, belittling, and fell far short of the job requirements. You can summon the patience to be an Alzheimer’s caregiver only if you care a lot, care with all your heart and soul and guts...You have to be a love giver"
As the caregiver for my mother Ellen for six (6) years and my wife June for twelve (12) years. I find that I am totally in agreement with Mark Shriver's comments about a caregiver...
"Love Without Reward"
The “Wrinkle Think” Blog by Thomas Torrey, 19 September 2011 had an interesting story of a husband John who is a care giver for his wife who suffers from Alzheimer’s. His attitude is a model for all husbands who have wives with this terrible disease.
The husband, who is 78 years of age, has a wife in an Alzheimer’s facility in a South Carolina healthcare community. The husband John lives nearby in an apartment. They have been married for 55 years. Every day at 4 PM, John is said to visit his wife and feed her dinner and tell her of his day.
The blog interviewed the husband who was said to have spoken plainly: “without a hint of self pity”…
“When we were married we understood that that would be a life long relationship. That was important to both of us. She can’t carry her end of it now, but I can carry my end. And that’s enough.
I love her still. In fact, there is nothing bad that happens that doesn’t have some good to it. I truly believe that.
And I never knew how deep love could be until I was forced to love at a deeper level, without reward for it.”
I think that John's concept of "love without reward" is the key to all caregiving where one marriage partner is deep into Alzheimer's or other such dementia disease and lacks the mental capacity to respond and show appreciation or provide a "reward" as John calls it. Of course there is the reward that God provides us in knowing that perhaps we have made this life just a little better, a little more comfortable and provided a bit of peace.
“Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do…”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 – KJV)
“It is an undeniable fact that usually those who have suffered most are best able to comfort others who are passing through suffering. They know what it is to suffer, and they understand more than others what a suffering person is experiencing – physically, emotionally and spiritually. They are able to emphasize as well as sympathize with the afflictions of others because of what they have experienced in their own lives.
Our sufferings may be rough and hard to bear, but they teach us lessons that in turn equip and enable us to help others. Our attitude toward suffering should not be, “Grit your teeth and Bear it”, hoping it will pass as quickly as possible. Rather, our goal should be to learn all we can from what we are called upon to endure, so that we in turn can “comfort each other and edify one another.”
The Christian Bible and Love
The Christian Bible elevates Love to a position of primary importance in our lives...in our relationships with others, with our neighbors, our friends, our family and with God…1 Corinthians, 13: 1-8. This book of the Bible makes it very clear why the love of a caregiver is so important and will spell our success or failure in this most important calling of our life…the Bible says that without love we are nothing…as Mark Shriver says above so clearly, a caregiver’s love can be nothing short of unconditional love…and in the words of the Bible as found in 1 Corinthians:
“13-1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will fail, where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church Pastor's Sermon on Love
During our Redeemer Lutheran Sunday morning service on 18 September 2012, our Senior pastor David Glesne continued with a series of lectures on Love and the Bible commandments relating to love.
As a part of that sermon he discussed the four Greek words that define various kinds of love…we have one word in English but the Greeks have four words and each has a different kind of love in mind…what was the point of the Greek lesson?…much of the original old Bible came to us in the Greek language and it in turn was then translated and interpreted…
The four Greek words from the Bible and their meanings are:
Eros – meaning sexual or romantic love.
Storge – meaning parent and child love.
Phileo – meaning brotherly love.
Agape – (Agapao) - meaning sacrificial love.
As I listened to Pastor Glesne's sermon, I could not help but think of how “Agape” describes the love of many of our Alzheimer’s caregivers on a daily basis…so to all of you caregivers, take a bow, you are what defines the zone of love and comfort around the Alzheimer’s and other dementia victims that helps to ease their late stage tremendous burdens of daily fear!...and yes it is truly sacrificial love…all the studies show that the Alzheimer’s caregivers suffer a hit to their health because of the length of the time journeying through this always terminal disease…it is not unusual for this drain on their health to bring their own life to an end before the primary victim’s final bell tolls…
I am far from an expert on the Bible but much is said in the Bible about love between husband and wife...while the Bible instructs wives to love their husbands, it sets a very high standard for the husbands love of his wife...in the Book of Ephesians chapter 5:25. the husband is clearly instructed to love his wife with a sacrificial love...I quote a passage from the King James Version.
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."
This passage has been interpreted in various ways but it clearly says that the husband should stand by his wife even if it means his death would result from his thus protecting her. The Bible takes a very serious view of husband and wife love. I have always hoped that I could respond without hesitation in a like manner if called upon to do so. That is not the kind of love that is here today and gone tomorrow. The Bible would never excuse a husband caregiver from exercising anything but a sacrificial or Agape love for his wife. Pastor Glesne has verified that my above quotation from the book of Ephesians, did in fact use the Greek word Agape in the original Greek Bible from which the translation was made into the King James Version in 1611..
"Husbands agapao your wives..."
Virtuous wives are treated with great respect in the Bible...the Old Testament Book of Proverbs talks of virtuous wives having value far greater then rubies and that such a wife will do the husband good all the days of her life. It is little wonder that the New Testament Book of Ephesians later admonishes husbands to love their wives with "Agape" love...
June kept a quotation from the bible on the living room coffee table. The quotation defines "Love". The quotation is from the Bible and is one of the versus (7) quoted above in another but similar translation:
“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
1 Corinthians 13:7
This quotation also clearly describes June's love, the love that she gave me and it describes the necessary love of a caregiver!.
For a companion essay, click on the below link: "God Records the Tears of the Caregivers":
Stan's Comments: (22 August 2013) Today, I received a communication from a lady that tells me very clearly that she is and was a "Holy Watcher"....she was and is clearly a love giver...the lady is Bonnie Seip and she is from Ottsville, Pennsylvania…
“Mr. Berg…I read your posts every day and I get chills up and down my body and many tears in my eyes. For the Love you have for June. I worked in many nursing homes with many residents and half the time, families just do not visit their loved ones... It saddens me to think they could be this way. I loved every resident I have ever taken care of in my 30 years of Nursing. Each and every one has left a mark on my heart…I'm tearing now as I type this. I can no longer work as a Nurse because of health reasons…I cried the day I graduated from nursing school with happiness and I cried the day I had to pack away all my scrubs . It broke my heart to not be able to give the care I once gave as a nurse. I still to this day visit the residents I cared for.”
(See her daughter Tara's comments about her mother in the Reader's Comments below - 23 August 2013 and her daughter Jamie Pensyl on 27 August 2013.).
Anthea Young - East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa - (9 January 2013): "This is 100% correct, Mr. Berg... I have been a caregiver all my life and know what it takes to be the best caregiver to my family, extended family & friends...Thank you, kindly for sharing...Regards..."
Simon Li La-vigars - Kingston upon Hull, United Kingdom - (9 January 2013): "I cared for my mother for a lot of years and I gave all my love unconditionally I would happily have sacrificed myself for my mum I was my mums guardian and watcher. The poem is so true Stanton."
Dianne Cogar - Springfield, Ohio - (9 January 2013): "Thank you Stan, I needed to see this today!...I have been really consumed in the past few years with taking care of much of my dads personal needs, i.e. doctor appointments, grocery shopping, and housecleaning and such. It sometimes drains me to the point of exhaustion as I'm also missing an evening meal and quality time with my husband more often it seems because I'm finding it difficult to get home until well after 7pm most days. I sometimes feel alone in this journey though I never let dad see my aggravation and despair. It's not because of anything he is doing wrong, but because out of 6 other siblings I am the only one who takes on most of what needs done and so my anger is toward them. Meditation helps me to focus and calm my nerve, and the only chance for this while driving home from his house. Though I cannot maintain a regular schedule for myself, I have no regrets, I actually love doing everything I do for my dad, and for others who need my help sometimes as well. I just go on in spite of my own personal neglect and focus on my love of writing whenever I have a little spare time for myself. I believe in Karma...so I feel good knowing that I am doing what I must do to help my 84 year old father get by. It's what I should be doing anyway since my siblings choose not to make any contributions out of mere selfishness... who knows, one day I may need this sort of help myself. As I the years go by I 'm discovering more and more that my older siblings think more of themselves than others. This is so unfortunate and it breaks my heart because there is nothing I can do to change the way they are."
Ellen Oqurek - Aberdeen, Maryland - (10 January 2013): "This story was such an amazing story it made me really "teary"."
Alzheimer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, Inc. - St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador - (10 January 2013): "Thank you so much for sharing! I hope you have a wonderful 2013 - Amelia White, Events Coordinator."
Jane Champagne Granger-Spencer - London, United Kingdom - (10 January 2013): "Thank you for sharing Stanton... thats exactly how it is... brought a lump to my throat."
Maxine J. Bailey - Rotherham, United Kingdom - (10 January 2013): "Beautiful words Stan."
Vicki Cadogan - Limerick, Ireland - (11 January 2013): "How very true Stan, thanks for sharing. Going to share it with my dad, I know he will appreciate it."
Bridie Breen - Manchester, United Kingdom - (11 January 2013): "When I was much younger, I recall hearing a priest explain Agape. I thought then I would never know that depth of capacity in loving but as life has moved along, there are no limits to good loving."
Beth Ann Doucette - Lino Lakes, Minnesota - (23 February 2013): "Very nice. Thank you for sharing."
Alva Perritt - San Diego, California - (25 February 2013): "I love this - Thanks to my "Holy Watcher"
Ellen Kammerer Ogurek - Forest Hill, West Virginia - (29 April 2013): "It take someone very special to care for special patients of Alzheimer's and dedication to their needs. My dad finally got placed in a home and so far so good thank God.. It is a very hard thing to go through no one knows unless they go through it."
Amy Stiel Almas - Waterford, Michigan - (29 April 2013): "This brings tears to my eyes, My Mom is a Saint...she took care of my Dad by herself. We had to put alarms on the doors but he always managed to get out. He would be barefoot outside in the winter..just wandering down the street looking for someone that didn't exist except in his mind. My Dad was a major league baseball scout and he was always driving and was never happier than when he was on the road In the end he would drive and get lost...he would call my Mom when he was only down the street wanting to get directions home. He always wanted to go yo Meijer...always needed a new wallet. Mom found a dozen new wallets after he passed away. The hardest thing was having to take his drivers license away...seems like he went downhill soon thereafter...He wandered around all day looking for his car keys. My Mom was blessed in that she had 10 children and great neighbors to help her. God Bless the caregivers."
Esther Blake Milius - Syracuse, Utah - (23 August 2013): "This made me cry. I'm so blessed to have my heavenly father, the gospel and my children."
Tara Seip Bahnck - (23 August 2013): "Mr. Berg God Bless you, and your June is a beautiful angel. I can say that Bonnie Seip IS a true Holy Watcher, and a Most Amazing person, caring, and the compassion, love, and care she gave to her patients was what every caregiver should be like, and I wish I could see this in every long term, and short term facility. I also work in the health care field, and have dealt with Bonnie's past patients, and they never forget to ask me how she's doing, and how they miss her! That's the kind of care our loved ones need!! She's a truly lovely person inside, and out, and ALWAYS puts everyone before her! I Love her, and so proud to be able to call her Mom."
Lora Rushing Robinson - Benton, Louisiana - (23 August 2013): "She sounds like a most wonderful person.....thank you for sharing.....it made my heart sing."
Marion Reinartz - Cologne, Germany - (23 August 2013): "Never ending love ..."
Connie Lowers O'Brien - Birchwood, Tennessee - (23 August 2013): "She was very beautiful!"
Julie Stuart - Fochabers, United Kingdom - (23 August 2013): "Your love shines through..."
Jamie Pensyl - Easton, Pennsylvania - (27 August 2013): "I agree with my big sister! My mother has a heart of gold and so much love for others. She constantly puts aside her own needs to be there for everyone. I'm extremely proud to call her my mother. She was my first "nurse"
Jen Wilson - Lake Ozark, Missouri - (13 January 2013): "True love in motion!!!!! Blessed by God!!!"
Sandy Frere - Oppenheim, New York - (13 January 2013): "Awwww what a precious and priceless picture..."
Susan Owen - Princeton, West Virginia - (24 April 2014): "Yes indeed....to left one another up in prayer and always with a kind word and a smile. I live my life daily doing this. Through all the struggles and the tears I know there is going to always be a sweet blessing. At the end of the day I know I've done my best!"
Susan Milo Maroulis - Charlotte, North Carolina - (21 February 2015): "Beautiful."
Kathleen Dean - Fredericktown, Ohio - (21 February 2015): "A LOVE precious indeed."
Jennifer Dabney - LaVerne, California (21 February 2015): "The light is so beautiful with the stained glass being reflected...a little piece of heaven..."
Michael Shaw - Olney, Illinois - (6 December 2015): "How moving and honest ...caregivers who have innate and sincere empathy for their patients are the best kind God can use to give comfort and companionship to the suffering."
Jackie Irving - Liverpool, United Kingdom- (6 December 2015): "This is lovely Stan...I love the term holy watchers...from your long experience in caring for your mum ...your June ....and your cousins you speak with vast knowledge on care giving ...or that other lovely term love giving ...thank you for sharing this Stan ....take care and God bless."
Marsha McKeely Ault - Nacogdoches, Texas - (5 January 2017): "This perhaps is your most outstanding post. Today is the very first time I have read this page. I loved the poem, "Holy Watchers" and I am so grateful to know you and June and your Agape love."
Bertha Dusenberry - West Lafayette, Ohio - (6 January 2016): " I read your page Stan. I loved it. I cared for my Mother for many years. I have love, compassion and love unconditionally. My Mother was a wonderful Mother. Her children came first in her life along with Daddy. When he passed her children was her everything. The time came as she got older and had problems ,a few of my siblings stepped up to the plate to help. My dear brother promise Daddy before he passed he would take care of Mother and two children who was still at home. I was 19 years old and married living in Texas. At the age of 21 I had my first born in Ohio. My husband was out of the service, we moved back home. When my daughter was 4 years old ,I started taking Mother to the store, Dr's appts. and where she wanted or needed to go. I continued doing that . I did mostly all. Then because of health problems Mother was in the hospital at age 94 and had to go to a Nursing Facility. My siblings did not have the time that needed to be spent with Mother. As always it was me. My life didn't matter...theirs did. I continued my journey with my Mother along with 3 brothers and 1 sister. I came from a family of 15 Stan. I know what it is to love unconditionally. I stood by my Mother until the age of 98. to where she passed in my arms. I loved many at the nursing facility. I bought many things for many of them whose family never came. I don't regret a minute of my life loving, and taking care of my mom. There were times I stayed 24 hours at a time....and I would do it all again in a heart beat. People need to have more compassion for their loved ones. Mom took care of me and I just returned the favor....happily to do so. But I was and still am very disappointed in some of my siblings...very unhappy..."
After an almost 12 year journey into the shadows of Alzheimer's, early one morning in late October 2008, an exhausted June felt God's gentle touch on her shoulder and heard the words: "Come Home June!" As June lay like a wounded soldier on a battlefield, it was God's Angels that ushered June into a Heavenly Kingdom and into Jesus presence to the sound of a chorus of Angels...and June's new home, a "Mansion on the Hilltop", where there is no pain, nor illness nor tears...
June's funeral notice as published in the Minneapolis Star in October 2008 can be seen on this website under the "In Memoriam" label - Click on: