Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to Care for Caregivers

Leslie Basham: Hospice nurse Deborah Howard says that sometimes family members think . . .

Deborah Howard: . . . their love one will die and become an angel.

Leslie: Is that idea biblical? We will explore that with Deborah Howard. This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, July 20.

For the past couple of days Nancy has been talking with Deborah Howard, author of Sunsets: Reflections for Life’s Final Journey. Deborah is a hospice nurse who has walked with hundreds of people through the dying process, including her own brother. Nancy is here to pick back up on that conversation.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You mentioned talking with other family members. I think the hard thing in the presence of life’s final journey, death, and dying, can be what to say to the person who is dying or the person who is the caregiver. So we are a friend, we come by, we see the caregiver at church, and a lot of times there is just a loss for words.

Deborah: Right.

Nancy: Not knowing what to say, it is easier maybe just to say nothing. As you were in the process of watching your brother go to be with the Lord, was there anything that a friend or a family member said to you that you found particularly helpful or encouraging? Or something that was said that was not helpful or encouraging? How can we speak words of grace and encouragement to someone who is in the process of losing a loved one?

Deborah:
This may surprise you, but I think that some of the things that were said that had the least benefit to me were when somebody would say something like, “Well, it is the Lord’s will and the Lord's will be done” or “Well, we know that he is going to a better place.” Yes, I knew that, but sometimes those things can come off very insincere when you are in the midst of this trial.

So what I do is I caution people against saying things like that that might be hurtful to a person who is freshly grieving. Yes, that is true; those things are true. They always want to tell you Romans 8:28 and I always say, "Yes, that is so true. But when you are experiencing this kind of emotion grief . . ."

Nancy: You need a word spoken in due season and timing.

Deborah: Right, right. Absolutely. So yes, you did need to help this person as much as possible, but try not to come off superior or unfeeling about it.

Nancy:
So what can we say that would be meaningful and helpful and encouraging at that point?

Deborah: We are all called to be comforters. So we are not off the hook just because it may not be easy for us, or it doesn’t come naturally to us. One of the purposes of suffering is to teach us to comfort others in the same way that we have been comforted. This is one of the purposes that God give us in the Scriptures, and so anything that we can do to come along side that person who is grieving will be helpful, will be comforting.

And there are times that you ask yourself, “What can I say that is going to make a difference?” Well maybe nothing, but just your presence there will speak volumes. Sometimes just a thoughtful, kind, warm hug will tell them I am hurting for you. And a lot of times if you are just honest with them and say, “You know what, I don’t know how to comfort you, but I want you to know that I am hurting for you. I don’t know any words of wisdom to say to you, but just know that I care for you, and I am there for you if you need me.”

Just to be honest in that way, that is comforting. Isn’t it? Wouldn’t you find that comforting?

Nancy: It is. I find that one of the most comforting things people have done for me in times of loss and that I can do for others in their time of loss is to take them to the throne of grace.

Deborah: Absolutely.

Nancy: By just praying with them, to put my arm around them, to lift them up to the God of all comfort, the God of all peace, the God of all grace and to say in their presence, “Lord, I don’t know what to say or how I can minister to my friend here at this moment. I can’t really know what they are going through, but You do know. I thank You that You care. I pray that You would minister tailor made grace to this person in this situation, at this moment. May they know the sense of your presence. Assure them of that; give Your grace to them." As I lift them up to the throne of grace, I become an instrument, a channel through whom God can flow His grace and His comfort and His peace into their life.

Deborah: In a more practical vein, there are a lot of things that you can do to help that person, that caregiver, who is on call 24/7. This is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It causes such grief and such exhaustion. So anything that you can do to lighten their load is important, but I do have some suggestions on how you can be helpful.

One of them is to . . . It is really such a luxury to be able to relax. So you can say to that person, “Why don’t you let me come over and sit with John,” or whatever, “and I will sit with him and let you just go relax and take a long bath, take a nap.” A nap is something that the caregiver hardly ever gets. They are just about always sleep deprived. So just to be there with that person, and you don’t have to do any nursing care, just be there with them so that your loved one can go and take care of themselves for once.

Another thing is running to the grocery store. This becomes something that is very difficult to do when you are in charge of a person 24/7. You could call that person and say, “I have got to run to the grocery store in a little bit, what can I pick up for you?” And just make it an understood thing that you are going to pick up some things for them, because if you ask them . . .

Nancy: Is there anything I can do for you?

Deborah: If you say, “Anything that I can do for you, just call and let me know.” They are not going to take you up on that in most cases. But if you call with something specific, then yes, you can actually help them. They will say, “Yes, I do need milk and bread and eggs.” They can give you a little list, and you can minister to them in that way.

Another thing is to be there for them in ways that other people may not. If a person just comes home from the hospital for instance, or if a person has just taken a turn for the worse and your house is full of people, you just want two seconds to call you own. What you might do is call your loved one and say, “Why don’t I come over there and entertain your guests and allow you to go upstairs and spend some time by yourself.”

Just little things like that mean the world to a caregiver who is just always on. They always have to be on, entertaining, and there is just so much on their shoulders that anything that you can do helps.

I have got a friend and what he does is he goes and cuts peoples lawns who are busy taking care of a loved one who has just come home from the hospital or whatever. He never even stops in to say hello. He just cuts their yard; he sweeps their porch.

Nancy:
What a ministry.

Deborah: And then he leaves. That just takes off so much pressure. Be creative. Look at what the needs are and then fulfill those needs. It doesn’t even matter if you can’t go and talk to them about them.

Nancy: I think so much of it is just being sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I am thinking as you are talking, Deborah, about a couple, a young couple that I knew years ago. Their little baby, their infant, contracted (I forget what it was) a terminal illness. They were in another state, and at one point I just felt prompted to call and see how they were doing. As I called, their baby in their arms had just passed away.

So here I am at this moment, and they are in the throes of, as I recall this situation, having just moments before said good-bye to their little infant. Well, that is not an easy place to be on that phone call at the moment, but it is a God-ordained opportunity.

Deborah: And they will never forget that you happened to be there right at that moment.

Nancy: And to say, “Look, the one thing that I can do for you right now is to just pray for you.” And quickly, they couldn’t be on that phone call a long time, but just for them to know that the body of Christ was there representing Christ to them in that moment.

And I think as we are sensitive to the Lord and available . . . You have to get past yourself and your own fears. Do I like picking up the phone and calling somebody whose baby is terminally ill? No.

Deborah: Yes, what do you say when a person is doing that?

Nancy: That is not easy.

Deborah: But you were there.

Nancy: To be available and to let the Lord use you whether it is that way or cutting a lawn or picking up groceries, sending a note. We have a CD called Psalms from the Heart where I read several psalms, thirty psalms from the Scripture, with beautiful instrumental music underscoring it. I have sent those CDs, others have, to loved ones who were in the process of losing someone, and they just need the encouragement of the Word. Maybe they don’t even have time to be picking up their own Bible and reading it, but to be able to have something like that might minister to someone at a moment like that.

Deborah: It also ministers to the patient who is a believer. These hymns and psalms may be the things, the very things, that God has used in the past to bring them comfort. What heavenly comfort it is to, even if you lack the energy to open your eyes or to converse with people, just to be able to hear. Because we do know that the hearing is the last sense that they lose. So they can hear things that are comforting to them.

A word of caution in that vein is remember that even if your loved one is in a coma, we still think that they hear. So don’t say anything that is going to be alarming. I have had family members talk about them as if they weren’t there standing right over the bed and saying, “Oh my gosh, look how purple her hands are getting.” I have to quickly say, “Excuse me, could I see you out here just for a second?” I just kind of acquaint them with the concept that their loved one may not be able to respond to them, but they are still able to hear. So not to say things like that but to say things that are more encouraging and loving.

I also encourage family members to talk to their loved ones when they are nearing the end of life because when they are gone, it is going to be too latedon’t live with regret. Even if it is hard for you to do, go in there and tell your loved one what you want them to know. How much you love them. What they have meant to you. How they have impacted your life. Just don’t wait until it is too late to do that.

Nancy: I noticed that in your book, Deborah, you have a chapter called “The Truth About Angels and Things that Go Bump in the Night.” That seems like maybe a little bit of an odd chapter to have in a book on facing life’s final journey. Why did you include that chapter?

Deborah: There are two reasons, actually. The one about the angels is that there seems to be a move in this society of what John MacArthur calls angel mania. People are crazy about angels. You go to a Christian bookstore, and you see shelves full of books about angels. “Sixty-three ways to call your angel,” you know, things like that. If I could use the word obsession, I don’t think that that is too strong of a word in some cases.

Nancy: And a lot of weirdness.

Deborah: And a lot of weirdness and a lot of different views about angels. Some of the kind of spooky views that I hear in the real world of very sick people is that they think that their loved one will die and become an angel.

Nancy: I have heard that.

Deborah: And that this person is going to be like their guardian angel from then on. And this is not truth. This is not what the Scriptures teach about angels. So I wanted to rectify that particular myth.

Another is that they see angels, or they say that they communicate with angels.

Nancy: This is the person who is dying?

Deborah: Or the family member. I have been surprised sometimes by some of the things that I have heard. They tell me of this encounter that is very, very different from anything that the Scriptures have spoken of regarding angels. So because of some of these kind of weird and quirky ideas that I hear about angels and the lofty position that people place them in . . . A lot of them are much more concerned about angels than they are about Jesus Christ. They collect angels, and everything has to do with angels.

Nancy: And the angels they collect all have wings, and they are all females.

Deborah: They are all female, and they have red, flowing curls. But actually in the Scriptures, the angels that are mentioned in the Scriptures are male, and there are the cherubim who have wings, but we are not told that angels have wings.

Nancy: So there are a lot of falsehoods believed about angels. But according to Scripture, angels do have a vital role. They are real, and the Scripture says that there are ministering angels sent to minister to those who will inherit salvation. So there is a proper role that we can believe God sends them to have in our lives.

Deborah: Right, and in this chapter I have dealt with this, what Scripture teaches about angels, the truth about angels instead of falsehood, because angels serve a very important part in our lives. But in the Scriptures, every time somebody is compelled to worship an angel, what is their response?

Nancy: “Don’t worship me, worship God.”

Deborah: That’s right. Every time there is a tendency to do that, they are always pointing back to God. They are saying, “Hey, I am not God; I am an angel. I worship the Lord just like you do.” So I just thought that it would be important to put angels in their proper perspective.

Nancy: And to thank the Lord for their ministry but to put it in its proper place.

Deborah: Right. Another area that I wrote about was "things that go bump in the night." And that is because there is a real thrust in society also to look to people who claim to be able to speak to the dead. I am sure you have heard of some of those, right?

Nancy: Actually, I had a caller on a live radio program that I was doing one day, a talk show, who called in and talked about talking to her grandmother who had been deceased for ten years. It was a little difficult on live radio at that moment to know exactly how to handle that in a way that would be compassionate but biblical at the same time.

Deborah: But there are people in the media these days who even have shows about speaking to those who have crossed over. That is what a show was called a while backCrossing Over. There are people who are hurting, who have lost a loved one, and they turn to anything they can to receive comfort.

This is one area that I wanted to caution them about, not turning to this area for comfort, because actually this is considered the occult. The Scriptures are very clear about seeking out people who claim to be mediums or claim to speak to the dead. It is a rather short part of the chapter, but I just wanted to make that clear that we are not to seek comfort in this way.

Nancy: And the wonderful thing is that God’s Word tells us where we are to seek comfort and where we can find it through Christ who is our living head who sits at the right hand of the throne of God in heaven. Through the God of all comfort, the God of all grace, the God of all peace who has promised to be with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. So not only do we need to fear no evil because He is with us, and we don’t need to go searching out for lesser beings when we have the God and King and Ruler of the universe who says, “I am your shepherd. I will be with you always” (see Ps. 23).

Deborah: He is the only true source of comfort. Billy Graham wrote about his mother one time that she had a way of saying, “God doesn’t comfort us so that we can become comforted. He comforts us so that we can become comforters.” So He teaches us to comfort others, and it is through His comfort that we can as His vessels comfort others.

In my book I call it the continuity of comfort, the gift that keeps on giving. Because that is what comfort does. We are comforted, and that teaches us to how to comfort others, which in turn they are taught how to comfort others. This is something that is a continuous cycle of comfort that we can provide from God and from the Scriptures.

Nancy: What about talking with children? It is their parent or someone close to them who is dying. What are some appropriate ways to minister to children who are being impacted by the loss of a loved one?

Deborah: Well, first let me say that the biggest inappropriate way to deal with that is to lie to them. Honesty is important even to little children. So be honest in your approach with them. Tell them what is happening, and then put it in a spiritual context if you are able to do that. But don’t tell the children, “They are just sleeping.” There have been recorded incidents where children will be afraid to go to sleep at night because they are afraid that they will die while they are sleeping. Don’t tell them that this loved one is “going to go away for a while.” Don’t tell them that “grandma is just going away.” Because then what happens the next time that daddy has to go away on a business trip?

Nancy: They think they will never see him again.

Deborah: They will think that is a dire thing. So children can understand truth if presented properly. They deal with it better than you think they are going to. My advice would be to be honest with children. Let them know what is happening because that gives them respect, and it also prevents them having misconceptions in the future that may impact them negatively.

Nancy: I would expect that with families as fractured as they are today that you have probably seen some really stressed or strained family relationships around the bed of someone who is dying.

Deborah: Very interesting sometimes.

Nancy: Have you seen God bring about healing or reconciliation as they realize this is it, and we need to deal with this?

Deborah: As a hospice nurse, I have had to intercede before and tell them whatever their differences are that we need to remember that there is a higher goal right now. In a way I feel like the parent talking to her two children or something, but it is important that they realize that there is a time for discussing this, but this is not it. They need to come together for the common goal of presenting a unified front to this patient who is dying.

There are times that people are very inappropriate during those times. There have been times that I have asked a family member to leave for the sake of peace in that home. As part of my role as a hospice nurse, I am trying to do everything that I can to insure a peaceful passing. If there is someone there who is making everybody upset instead of the calm that I am trying to relay to them, then sometimes I have asked them to leave.

I don’t do it on my own. I ask a family member, "May I have permission to say this?" It is easier coming from me than it is for them to have to do it. So I have had to do that in times past.

I can recall several examples of when people have gone and made peace with the dying person. When they come and they tell them that “All is forgiven.” "You know that I love you.” “I know we haven’t talked, but . . .” I have seen that on several occasions.

Nancy: And the point there is, don’t wait until they are dying to do that, to have that conversation, if at all possible.

Deborah: That’s right.

Nancy: Go today and make that right if you can.

Deborah: Many times you are left with regrets, and they are unnecessary regrets. You could have remedied this and you didn’t. So just don’t wait until it is too late. Talk to that loved one now.

My grandmother used to tell me all the time, “Don’t send me flowers after I am gone,” or “Don’t send flowers to my funeral, send them to me now.” And I did.

Nancy: While you can still smell them.

Deborah: That’s right. From time to time, even for no special occasion, I would send my grandmother flowers after she told me that. It was just a little way to add a little bit of joy to her life, and that is a good thing to do.

Nancy: So is there someone you need to write a note to today? Someone you need to seek forgiveness from? Someone that you need to forgive? Someone that you need to send flowers to? A parent you need to visit while you have a chance? God has given us this day an opportunity to have those relationships be what they should. Don’t wait until it may be past a point where you can do anything about it.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss talking with Deborah Howard about a subject we are all going to face. Deborah and Nancy have been helping us prepare for death, both our own and some of those that we love. That conversation gives you a taste of what you will find in Deborah’s book, Sunsets: Reflections for Life’s Final Journey.

One of the Revive Our Hearts staff has called this “the most incredible book I have ever read about suffering, grief, and death.” It is full of practical advice on walking through a difficult season. It is grounded in Scripture, giving important long-term perspective to these practical questions.

We will send you a copy when you contribute any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Your support makes the program possible, allowing us to bring you this kind of conversation on the radio and on the web. When you call with your gift of any amount ask for the book Sunsets. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

When you were listening to Deborah today, what questions came to mind? You can ask her those questions today at ReviveOurHearts.com. She will be joining us on the Revive Our Hearts listener blog. At ReviveOurHearts.com, just scroll to the end of today’s transcript. You can enter a comment or question, read what other listeners have written, and read Deborah’s comments as well. Again, you can join the discussion at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Are you ready to die? Tomorrow Nancy and Deborah will be back to help you live purposefully today so that you are prepared for the end of life. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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