Updated: Dec 20, 2020
As the founder of Accepting the Gift, I'm always on the lookout for resources that speak directly to Catholic special needs parents and the unique struggles they face. When I learned about The Caregiver's Companion: A Christ Centered Journal to Nourish Your Soul, I was eager to talk to its creators and learn more about the story behind the book, and the ministry that inspired it- Nourish for Caregivers.
Debra Kelsey-Davis and Kelly Johnson met after Kelsey-Davis learned first hand that her training as a nurse did not make caregiving any easier when she cared for her mother-in-law until she passed away from neck cancer.
"Clinically I was able to care for her very well," Kelsey-Davis said. "What I didn't expect was the emotional and spiritual depletion. After that journey ended, I went through a spiritual dry spell, and that led me to believe that if I was out there struggling, as a nurse, there had to be so many feeling the same and worse"
Kelsey-Davis was connected with Johnson, an adult faith formation leader at her parish, and together the two offered a workshop for caregivers that quickly grew into a curriculum and a ministry the helps other parishes set up their own caregiver ministry. Johnson initially joined as a coordinator but wound up learning about caregiving firsthand when her five year old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Their experiences with both types of caregiving have helped them create and grow Nourish for Caregivers, and now their book The Caregiver's Companion.
"Deb and I felt that a journal really made sense," Johnson said. "The journal is similar to [Nourish's] curriculum. You begin to see where Christ is in the caregiving. The moments become more than 'What do I have to do?' and more of seeing the blessings of caregiving, its privileges amid the responsiblities."
Their publisher Ave Maria is responsible for the beautiful layout, artwork, and design, but both women "have their thumb prints all over the book," said Johnson.
There are twelve chapters, plus a preface, conclusion, and an appedix of additonal resources and reading. Each chapter contains advice and encouragement full of scriptural inspiration, as well as reflections, prayers and pages for journaling. Topics include:
Take One Day At A Time
Make Decisions With Faith
Find Peace Amid Stormy Family Dynamics
Balance Wishes and Realities
Ask And You Shall Receive
Self-Care As An Antidote to Compassion Fatigue
Speak Up! Find Your Voice As An Advocate
Stay Engaged; Keep Them Engaged
See The Gains In The Losses
Build a Memory Bank
Moving Toward A Holy Death
Stories from relevant saints are shared as well, making this a valuable, and beautiful resource for special needs parents who have just started their journey, as well as those further down the path. And with many caregivers feeling the additional stress and strain of a prolonged pandemic, both authors emphasized that while their book was written pre-Covid, it's advice is just as useful, if not more so now.
While there are other resources, Christian and secular, for caregivers, Catholic parents will appreciate how Kelsey-Davis and Johnson share what makes Catholic caregiving different and how those differences can make the journey as a Catholic caregiver uniquely nurturing.
"The sacraments are things we touch upon in the book," said Kelsey-Davis. "Mercy and the sacrament of reconciliation, nourishment and the sacrament of Holy Eucharist; these are the ways we receive the Lord. They are all truly connected. Plus, all the suffering that caregivers go through- what's uniquely Catholic is the notion of redemptive suffering."
Johnson added, "Through redemptive suffering we unite our day and suffering with Christ, and so it becomes more than just sludging through something. Our day has meaning and purpose... it becomes holy and sacred and blessed."
If you are a special needs parent, especially one burnt-out from Covid and the lack of services, respite, and in-person support that has accompanied it, consider investing in this journal, which you can take at your own pace. If you've been unable to make time for your spiritual life as we quickly travel through Advent to Christmas, look at this journal as a way to make for yourself that also will draw you closer to God and his peace and mercy.
"This guided prayer journal was created to help you find the sacred moments and blessings in your caregiving journey. In the pages that follow, you can reconect with God and find the empathy and gratitude to continue in ministering to your loved one. The prayers and act of journaling will broaden your perspective, giving clarity and insights to strengthen your resolve." - pg viii