So many caregivers literally become exhausted.

They “sleep with one eye open” to listen for their loved ones who might need them in the middle of the night, said Terry Robinson, who has worked with caregivers and terminal patients for many years at Hospice of South Texas. They often neglect their own needs, and sometimes, they do not even realize they have them.

“My experience at Hospice is that the caregivers sometimes pass away before the people they are caring for, and it happens way too often,” Robinson said.

The Amor Meus Spirituality Center, a ministry of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament, hosts a series of one-day guided retreats and workshops throughout the year. They focus on caregivers and others of all faith traditions seeking spiritual growth and renewal in a peaceful, prayerful setting. The retreats offer opportunities for solitude, guided prayer and reflection. The workshops typically provide more information and engagement.

The last retreat and workshop for caregivers, “The Gift You Give Yourself,” led by Robinson and Deacon Leo Sharron was Sept. 21 at Incarnate Word Convent, which is situated on 40 beautiful acres in South Victoria. Other upcoming outreach programs focus on topics ranging from contemplative prayer to dreams. Another caregivers’ workshop is planned for January.

Through hospice and ministry, Robinson and Sharron have worked for many years with those who are sick and dying and their caregivers. When the spiritual center received requests for a ministry targeting caregivers, the men agreed to lead the workshops together.

Sister Digna Vela shares information about retreats and workshops for all faith traditions coming up at the Amor Meus Spirituality Center at I…

The goal of the caregivers’ workshop is to help those caring for a loved one – whether a sick or disabled parent, husband, wife or child – deal with the enormity of their task, Robinson said. Many caregivers put their lives on hold and neglect their own needs while caring for someone else, but taking care of themselves is vital in continuing to provide their loved ones with the best possible care.

“St. Peter said someday you are going to be led. You led people, and they are going to lead you,” said Sister Digna Vela, one of the spiritual directors for the center. “It’s true, because when we get older, people bathe us and take care of us. It happens to everybody, so you become helpless when you were used to being in command of everything.”

Most human beings have had some experience of someone taking care of someone who is sick, Vela continued.

“Not all people stick them in a rest home – they keep them at home as long as they can,” she said. “And hospice is there when they really need them – when they are dying.”

At the workshop, one gentlemen who is caring for his wife at home expressed a feeling that “he is the only one who knows her so well, and she needs him so much,” Digna said.

Caregivers sometimes feel guilty when they get tired and begin questioning whether they are up for the task, Vela said.

“It’s OK to be human and to feel like that, and they shouldn’t feel guilty,” Vela said. “Caring for someone who is totally dependent day and night, around the clock, is difficult.”

Early during the workshop, the leaders reminded the caregivers about the importance of making time for prayer, staying close to God and taking time to rest and replenish themselves. They spent time helping the caregivers recognize their actions – administering to those who are sick or poor in spirit – as a ministry. They posed questions, and each of the caregivers found a quiet place outside to reflect on them: Do they see a need for respite? Do they see opportunities for respite? Do they consider their service a ministry?

“They could go outside with the beautiful breeze, and reflect on their call at this point in their lives to minister to that person,” Vela said.

The exercise gave the caregivers permission to stop and think about their needs and put their lives into perspective, Robinson said.

“There are so many beautiful, quiet places outside, and when they come back in, they share more and more as the day goes on,” Vela said. “They have a bond with the other people going through the same experiences they are.”

At another point, Sharron moved from caregiver to caregiver, washing their feet because they constantly wash the feet of another person by taking care of them, Vela said.

“They feel they are on the receiving end,” she said. “They are always giving, all day long, and always doing things for other people, and not taking care of themselves.”

Later, Sharron anointed the caregivers’ hands with oil while Robinson and sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in attendance placed their hands on their shoulders and prayed. The blessing recognized the caregivers’ hands are like the hands of Christ for those they serve, Robinson said.

In the afternoon, Robinson reminded them of the importance of getting out of the house routinely to engage in pastimes they enjoy such as dining in a restaurant or seeing a movie. He encouraged them to practice healthy lifestyle habits, such as proper nutrition, rest and exercise, which are beneficial for everyone but even more so for them.

“They often totally lose track of what they need to do for themselves,” he said.

The retreat attendees shared in their evaluations at the end of the workshop that they appreciated spending time in quiet reflection because they spend their time taking care of their loved ones, cleaning the house and performing other chores when they are at home.

“We offer a place where they can get away for a day, and people can manage that, they can find someone to take care of their loved one at home for a day,” Vela said. “They can get away to the silence, leave their chores or whatever they have at home behind, and just come and have time to reflect on what God is calling them to.”

The caregivers also shared that they found comfort in knowing they are not alone in their experiences, and they felt better understanding their feelings of frustration are normal.

“They felt good knowing it’s OK to be angry sometimes because they are human and feelings are OK,” Vela said. “But they need to take care of themselves.”

In the coming months, four one-day guided retreats are scheduled. One of them, “Contemplative Prayer 101: Come Spend the Day Listening to Your Beloved,” will be led by Jeannette Easley from the Ruah Spirituality Center in Houston.

“Contemplative prayer is deeper than meditative prayer,” Vela said. “Most people say words, but this is silent like the mystics, and I think people ought to know about it.”

Easley will direct the retreat goers and give them opportunities to find places of solitude on the convent grounds to practice being quiet and listening to God.

“You don’t have thoughts; you are just in God’s presence,” Vela said. “When distractions or thoughts come, you say your prayer word – mine is joy – and come back, and every time you come back to being still, God is delighted.”

However, silence is difficult for some people, so it takes time.

“They need noise all of the time because they don’t want to hear their thoughts, and they don’t want to think, but the language of God is silence, and you have to be quiet to hear Him,” she said. “First, you ask God for that grace, ask Him for the gift, and then you keep practicing.”

In April, Sister Dorothy Betto will host a workshop, “Dreams and Your Call to Be Fully Alive.” God talked to people through their dreams in the New and Old Testaments. Dreams in the Judeo-Christian tradition are an inner call to holiness and wholeness, Vela said. Betto will provide tips for remembering dreams and help attendees explore their psychological and spiritual mysteries.

When attendees leave the spirituality center, they might designate a special place in their homes for prayer where they can sit and talk to God every day. They might seek spiritual direction from one of the spiritual directors at the center, or they might enroll in other retreats or workshops offered later. They might book overnight stays at the convent for extended spiritual encounters or enroll in Bible classes offered through the diocese. For example, Vela is teaching a series of classes on the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelations on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings in October and November.

“They get serious about their spirituality, about getting closer to God,” Vela said. “Because we all die, and they all know it, so are we going to be ready to face God? We’re going to be with God forever, for all eternity, so we might as well get to be good friends here.”

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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