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Spirituality in America's caregiving community

by Isabel Fawcett

It is not uncommon for some caregivers to weave spirituality and personal faith, individual beliefs and/or religious themes with ease when communicating within caregiver support groups. As many caregivers freely share our stories of caring, spiritual inspiration consistently transcends individual religious preferences and divisive religious and denominational politics of society at large.

Amazing Caregivers Grace

Years ago, I browsed the Internet searching for caregiver support groups. As I read fast-moving group posts and replies, I was struck by individual caregiver circumstances which far outweighed my own part-time caregiving reality at the time.

Whenever I chose to reply to some posts, I never was ashamed to disclose a considerable source of spiritual strength in my life. My intent was never to preach to fellow caregivers. Neither did I seek to persuade anyone to embrace my personal belief in God. Faith, or lack of, is personal and remains an individual choice. Nevertheless, I fully expected some push-back whenever I shared anything in context of my personal faith as related to my caregiver experiences.

Each time I disclosed any expression of my faith in a caregiver support group, I silently waited for the other shoe to drop. Just as the other shoe inevitably drops in our society at large, why wouldn't it drop in caregivers support groups? Not only did the other shoe never drop in any of the support groups I followed, but I was amazed at the number of caregivers who also shared their own religious beliefs in a higher power. Spiritual disclosures were always made in context of daily caregiving challenges rather than browbeating other group members. Caregivers somehow seamlessly and non-offensively intersperse messages of individual spirituality into the fiber of daily life, including caregiving challenges. For a person of faith, such an environment is exceptionally supportive.

I was relieved to discover many non-faith-thumping, supportive, and tolerant caregiver communities online. The faith tolerance and inclusive nature of caregivers in support groups makes me wonder why caregivers are so adept at transcending social hair-splitting over religious differences. I personally dubbed the caregiver cultural phenomenon "Amazing Caregivers Grace."

Historical Roots of Spirituality in Support Groups

The prevalence of faith-based sharing in caregiver support groups is reminiscent of the original premise of Alcoholics Anonymous, (AA) a global support network of men and women whose primary goal is to refrain from drinking alcohol.

The original Twelve-Step AA Program required membership acknowledgement of powerlessness over alcohol and belief that a power greater than the individual member(s) could be helpful to alcoholics seeking to re-direct their lives. As the world and AA have become more politically correct, individual AA-related groups have, in some instances, modified the guiding principles to be more, rather than less inclusive in language. For example, use of specific religious language has been made politically correct, including deleting references to God in some instances.

In stark contrast to the original AA model, however, many caregiver support groups online are relatively informal. Specifically, caregiver support groups don't offer specific, or, uniform guidance to caregivers that might in any way suggest, encourage, and/or require belief in a higher power as a pre-condition of membership.

Yet, in the U.S. many caregivers:

  • Openly post online messages asking fellow caregivers for special intercessory prayers for loved one(s);
  • Share stories that clearly denote the poster's belief in an afterlife based on traditional Judeo-Christian presumptions of heaven and/or being reunited with deceased loved one(s) in the presumed afterlife; or,
  • Post images of praying hands and make specific reference to God.

When a caregiver's loved one dies, prayers, and other spiritually encouraging messages are posted by fellow caregivers to the grieving member of the carers' community, including occasional wishes that God grant comfort to the surviving caregiver relative.

Model of Social Tolerance Among Caregivers

Although not all caregivers who actively participate in American-based Internet caregiving groups speak to their caregiving circumstances in the context of faith or spirituality, those who do not respond or share similar spiritual beliefs are overwhelmingly and remarkably consistent in not challenging caregivers who choose to confidently express personal faith. In an age of political correctness and shouting down of others who may express opposing views, the caring and overarching ability to transcend religious differences speaks volumes about the heart and soul of caregivers.

Whether due to religious tolerance or just carers to the end of life, the caregiving community holds valuable lessons of peaceful co-existence and greater tolerance toward our fellow human beings. I wonder whether anyone is taking note of this socially invisible, powerful, and socially progressive community of carers?

I sure hope so.