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How to Keep Your Sanity While Caring for Aging Loved Ones

Posted by Gina Ciliberto on 5/12/16 7:10 PM


For years, Dominican Sister of Hope Anne Marie Bucher, OP has found inspiration in the Visitation scene in the Bible. There aren’t many details to it: Elizabeth was pregnant, Mary showed up, John the Baptist leapt in the womb. But, for Sister Anne Marie, envisioning the scene invigorates her.

“I prayed on that for years and years,” Sister Anne Marie shares. “Mary’s presence was a present to Elizabeth. Mary saw a need, and she responded to that need. And Elizabeth was willing to let Mary give to her.”



Mary’s display of care inspired Sister Anne Marie when she first volunteered with the Dominican Sisters in the late 1950s. Then a high-school student, she spent weekends giving baths to and doing chores for elderly and homebound people in Ohio. Since 1962, when she became a Dominican Sister and, later, a registered nurse, Sister Anne Marie has worked with AIDS patients, homebound elderly in the Bronx, and refugee populations.


Screen_Shot_2016-05-06_at_12.00.28_AM.png Sister Anne Marie (rightmost) with other Dominican Sisters


Now, she ministers to elderly Dominican Sisters of Hope as a healthcare consultant for the congregation.2015-09-24_15.54.14_2.jpg


Sister helps to get care for the sisters, accompanies them through medical procedures and doctors’ appointments, transitions them into nursing homes or assisted living, and is often at their bedside as they pass on.


Although Sister Anne Marie is passionate about her position, she’s honest about the fact that it isn’t easy. As she puts it, “our golden years aren’t always so golden.”


“It’s difficult to be stripped of all that we’ve loved about being independent,” Sister Anne Marie says. “That’s a very important part of nursing, especially now. I’m with them as they’re getting frail, older, and having to face declining years.”


    Sister Anne Marie Bucher   

In truth, nothing can eliminate the pain of watching a loved one become frail. But, below, Sister Anne Marie shares her tips for staying fulfilled and at peace as she continues in this ministry.


1. Get Support


First thing’s first: Sister Anne Marie is brutally honest about the fact that she can’t be a caretaker alone. Endless support from sisters, friends, and family keep Sister motivated and loved, so that she can then take care of others. 


When it comes to being a good caretaker, Sister Anne Marie lists finding your own support group as a must. 


“Find someone in the same situation who can help you through on a day-to-day basis,” Sister advises. “Sometimes it's a family member; sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it has to be someone outside of your family.” Look for support groups, companions, and friends in similar situations.


As Sister says, taking care of a loved one can be a “very lonely journey.” There’s no need to go through it alone.


2. Thank God for Your Ability


“Sometimes, taking care of others can be overwhelming, but just knowing that in some way you’re trying to help someone is a blessing in itself,” Sister Anne Marie says.


If you’re a caretaker, chances are you’re mobile, able-bodied, and independent. Those are all blessings, Sister Anne Marie reminds us. The fact that you’re able to take care of others is a blessing to you and the person for whom you care.

“When I’m overwhelmed, I thank God that I’m able to be able to do this,” Sister Anne Marie says.


3. Remember It’s a Journey


Oftentimes, we want our loved ones to be healed or pain-free. Even while we do everything in our power to help them, it behooves us to remember that aging is a process. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is meet them where they’re at, rather than wishing that they were at a different stage.


As Sister Anne Marie advises, it’s all part of the journey.


“Just to be there for people, that’s a very important part of nursing, especially my nursing now,” Sister says. “There’s a lot of joy in that, and there’s a lot of sadness, too. It’s about presence, and journeying with them.”


4. Lean on God


“Faith and belief is very important in all of this,” Sister Anne Marie says. As a caretaker, keeping your faith life vibrant is crucial. Don’t forget about your personal relationship with God, which is at the center of your ministry.


"My faith has carried me through many things," Sister says.


5. Recognize the Little Miracles


When there isn’t joy to be found in big successes, it’s ever more important to focus on the little things. For Sister Anne Marie, taking the time to appreciate nature enriches her life everyday.


“We’re going through spring!” Sister says. “To see the new blossoms come and all the leaves and all the flowering trees: they’re all part of God’s plan. The sunrise and the sunset are free. And they’re signs of hope and God’s tender love and care for us.”


We already know that hope and joy comes in the small things in life. Take time to see and appreciate the little “God-moments” that happen everyday.


6. Do Something for You


As you grow older you have less energy, but you might have even more passion. According to Sister Anne Marie, this is a time to consider what nourishes you. What feeds you?


In Sister’s case, she’s invigorated by social justice. She spends her evenings reading up on issues and signing petitions for healthcare, immigration rights, and climate change, just to name a few. 


Whether it’s art, music, indulging in a good film, or reading a book with a cup of tea in hand, make sure to devote private time to the things that nourish you. Taking care of yourself will make you a better caretaker of others. And, really, you deserve it.


Featured Image Photo Credit: Flickr: Jeffrey Smith 


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Topics: nurses, hope, nursing, dominican sisters of hope, ophope.org, ophope, national nursing home week, aging loved ones, elderly parents, caring, national nurse's day

Posted by Gina Ciliberto on 5/12/16 7:10 PM
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The stories and thoughts we share here are to help bring wholeness, life, and joy to all areas of your life. Here, you’ll find everything from Gospel reflections to advice on how to better serve others, pray more deeply, make time for yourself, and care for our beautiful Earth. These are ideas for service, mindfulness, and spirituality that we love, and that we hope will help nourish you every day.

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