Finding courage and joy as a caregiver
More than 66 million people nationally will care for loved ones this year.
It was the summer of 2005, when Sister Bernadette Mary Carroll’s twin nephews took her to lunch and asked if she would be the sole, live-in caregiver for their aging mother, her sister, Catherine. Catherine was 88, six years Sister Bernadette Mary’s senior. Catherine loved and cared for her whole family deeply and she was also fiercely independent. She refused to live in a nursing home and insisted on being in her own home. A home she had lived in for over seventy years!
Sister Bernadette Mary had just retired from her ministry working in the Los Angeles parish office. In order to care for her sister, she would have to forego her planned move to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and move to Pasadena, California.
As Catherine’s caregiver, Sister Bernadette Mary cooked, cleaned, shopped for groceries, administered medications, and drove her sister to and from appointments; anything she could do to make her life as comfortable as possible. Sister Bernadette Mary’s every waking hour was spent doting on her ailing sister. Even at night she had to keep close watch, as her sister was prone to quietly slipping out of bed and wandering around the house. Sister Bernadette Mary would often find her, fallen and hurt in the early hours of the morning. There were times when she prayed, “Dear God, don’t let her die when I am by myself.”
The stress was beginning to take a toll. Sister Bernadette Mary visited a doctor with concerns of her own weight loss and lack of sleep. She was 20 pounds lighter. Even though she was eating, the doctor told her the weight loss was attributed to tension and stress. “I didn’t resent it [caring for her sister] at all, but I began to think that this can’t go on forever.”
Some of the only time Sister Bernadette Mary had for herself was when she would attend daily morning mass at the local parish. An hour to herself for reflection and prayer, those prayers usually reserved for her sister’s health and well-being.
It became clear that Sister Bernadette Mary could no longer do this alone. After 9 days in hospice care, Catherine passed away peacefully in the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 20, 2012. Sister Bernadette Mary was there, holding her sister’s hand as she took her last breath.
On Jan. 23, 2013, after seven years of caring for her sister, Sister Bernadette Mary moved back to the Woods. “I don’t resent one day I spent with her.” In the past, she had never felt comfortable in hospitals or infirmaries. Today, she ministers in the infirmary, where you will find her wheeling sisters back to their rooms after breakfast or to activities. She also enjoys visiting with as many sisters as she can, while she is there. She credits this newfound passion to the time she spent caring for her sister.
As a caregiver, it is just as important to take care of yourself when caring for others.