Mark Miller, C.Ss.R., Ph.D.
One of the clarion calls of the movement for reform in health care over the past six years has been a desire to attend to people more in their homes rather than in institutions. Despite the slow pace of innovation, home care services have been an increasingly large part of our Canadian health care system.
Some people argue, however, that home care has also become a synonym for making families take over responsibility both in terms of finances and personal time. The burden of care often falls on women in the home and these women often do not get the support they need in caring selflessly for others.
There is here, perhaps, a call to our Christian communities to also return to the home and home care. However, I see the call as part of the challenge to be communities as part of the healing ministry of Christ. With a bit of organization, much of the care that is needed in our homes could be supported and furthered by the attention of other Christians.
This would not aim at displacing families, but assisting them. Nor would it seek to replicate the services of doctors, nurses or social workers. Rather, it would recognize that healing is multi-dimensional and the presence of loving, caring, serving brothers and sisters could make an enormous difference in the lives of the weak and vulnerable.
Of course, for a parish community to take on some of this responsibility, a plan and some training would be necessary. The Catholic ‘ Health Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS) has developed just such a program. It is called Parish Home Ministry of Care. Specifically, this program recognizes that, within our parishes, many are sick, elderly and frail, homebound and bereaved., (One could include the chronically ill and the handicapped, as well as their caregivers at home.)
Any parish could ask itself “What are we doing for these, the most vulnerable, of our community?” Informal care structures
certainly exist; but many of them depend upon the family or a few caring neighbours.
The Parish Home Ministry of Care program seeks to organize a parish community around one of its traditional tasks or missions, the care of the sick ‘and ‘the bereaved. The community can and must respond in ways that are appropriate. Hence, the program does not outline exactly who needs to be attended to or how this is done. Rather, the parish community is challenged to examine honestly its needs in terms of the weak and vulnerable. And then it is called to organize its resources to meet what needs it can.
Think for a moment of the frail elderly. They might need help with things around the home; but, more importantly, they might seek the presence of visitors who can spend time with them, perhaps pray with them (bring the Sunday Eucharist, the community gathering, to them), keep an eye on their health, and help to connect them with any needed services.
Consider the bereaved in our communities. How many people are left alone after a funeral be cause nobody quite knows what to say? And, yet, there are bereavement support groups and other parish-based supports popping up all over the country. Many people, especially the bereaved themselves, are learning anew the need for support when a gaping hole, is left in one’s life by death or tragedy. (Smaller rural communities which were more attentive to the loss of individual members have retained this community function for the most part; but our larger urban centres can be, as Mother Teresa reminded us, so lonely.)
Many pastors are nervous about starting a “new” program. (Being a “healing community” is really an ancient, traditional part of our parishes; however, the new” world we live in is forcing us to recreate this ministry.) Pastors ought to be supportive, but should allow the program to flow from the parishioners. A co-ordinator is essential, as the manual for the Parish Home Ministry of Care suggests. However, it is amazing what a void this simple, effective program can fill in the lives of our communities. Let me give two examples.
First, the bereaved, who are often (but not always) the elderly. At St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, a new venture (imported from Victoria, B.C.) has seen the establishment of “walking groups for the bereaved.” People whose spouses, children, parents or close friends have died have taken to walking – and talking – together. The healing, the camaraderie, the support that is felt is often overwhelming.
Second, think for a moment what it might be like if we could get many of our teenagers into the homes of the elderly, the lonely, the handicapped. Not only could these young and vivacious people offer a great deal to those who are weak and frail, but the young people themselves could learn so much from the stories, the history and the character embodied in the lives of these now fragile people.
Living as a “healing community” is a way of establishing healthy communities. Professionals cannot do everything. Our communities must be alive, ready to offer care and support just as Jesus taught us. A bit of organization, a willingness to be attentive to one another, a readiness to give some time and love can make all the difference in the world for people whom our society marginalizes.
As the Parish Home Ministry of care manual says, “It is more than a program; it is an approach-to caring for one another in the parish community.”