Kerry Weber’s experience of visiting the sick involved a community of religious sisters, at a home in which their elderly or ill members stayed and were cared for.
Sr. Kathleen says she has both visited the sick and been visited, and she’s found receiving the visits more difficult than doing the visiting. “Our life was a life of doing—and when you’re sick, it impedes your obligation. But it was one of the most effective times in my life because I had to depend solely on the Lord,” she said. “It’s difficult to have someone do for you all the things you used to do for yourself.” Right now she is recuperating from knee replacement and two major back surgeries. The sisters talk about the way they care for one another, and how they try to anticipate each person’s needs, and do for her what she can’t do for herself, and how they are energized by the stories they tell one another.
Sr. Kathleen has spent time volunteering as a hospital chaplain: “We visit everyone,” she says, adding that generally people are grateful to see you. The patients worry about their families, too. “It’s invigorating to see how people cope,” she says. “They light up when you come into the room, but it’s more about their faith in God and trust.” She visits a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who used to be a head nurse at a hospital. Now she can’t speak or move, and she worries about who will care for her husband, who has Alzheimer’s. But her faith is so powerful, Sr. Kathleen says that she wants to remove her shoes when she enters the room. “You see the things that people worry about, but you also become aware of the goodness of other people.” (Mercy in the City, 121–122)
I’m sure that within the DDF community are many of us for whom tending the sick is part of daily life. We are caring for elderly parents or a spouse or sibling or friend who is battling serious illness. The older we are, the greater the chances that this form of mercy—visiting the sick—is up close and personal.
Based on personal observation as well as conversations I’ve had with various caregivers, I’m listing a few recurring issues:
- How much responsibility do I assume, and how much do I seek others’ help in caring for someone? To whom do I go for assistance when I have become a primary caregiver?
- What can I offer someone for whom I am not a primary caregiver, such as a neighbor who has landed in the hospital after a traffic accident?
- When I’m in the hospital or sick at home, what do I want from others?
- When I’m in the hospital or sick at home, what kinds of “assistance” are not so helpful or welcome?
- Besides help with the obvious physical needs, what does a person need during times of great pain, illness, stress, and uncertainty?
Please offer your input but try to be concise and not so detailed that people outside a specific situation won’t relate. What I’m looking for here is insight into what “the sick” truly need—what they would ask for if they weren’t embarrassed or too self-sufficient or a bit shy?