By John and Anne Duddington
We all know the story of the paralytic man brought to Jesus as told in Mark 2:1-4. However, if we read it carefully we become aware of a group who played a vital but often overlooked part:
He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay.
We focus on the paralytic man and on Jesus, but what of the four men who went to extreme lengths to ensure that the man they cared for was able to get near to Jesus? They were his carers. In the New Testament in particular there are constant references to carers who enabled those who sought Jesus to meet him. Yet they fade into the background.
National Carers Week runs this year from June 12 to June 18 with the theme of ‘‘Building Carer-Friendly Communities’’. Many of us will become carers sometime in our lives and it is estimated that the UK’s 6.5 million unpaid carers save the state £132 billion per year. Without their contribution, health and social care services would collapse.
A carer can be defined as someone of any age who provides unpaid support to family or friends who could not manage without this help. This could be caring for a relative, partner, a child or a friend who is ill, frail, disabled, or has mental health or substance misuse problems.
Anyone can be a carer, from young people looking after parents to an 80-year-old woman looking after her husband who has Alzheimer’s. The support they provide takes many forms, from day-to-day personal care to handling financial arrangements, employing support workers and dealing with safeguarding issues, which we did when our son was abused at a private day centre.
Our adult son, who has a severe learning disability and complex needs, lives at home but some carers provide intensive emotional and practical ‘‘long distance’’ support for a friend or relative who may live hundreds of miles away.
Many people are carers without realising it, but what is common to all is that they did not choose to be carers. They did not apply for the job, as it were, but it came to it through family or other circumstances. Moreover, caring can have a detrimental impact on carers’ lives. The charity Contact a Family has shown that 13 per cent of families say the stress of caring for a child with a disability has caused their marriage or relationship to break down, and the financial cost of caring has resulted in 51 per cent of these families to be threatened with court action over unpaid bills. In addition, families are facing extra pressures with the replacement of Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments.
Christians are called on to love and care for those in need. In caring relationships our individuality is not lost but our identity, wellbeing and feeling of being valued is so mixed up with others that our vision of ourselves becomes fluid and we cannot easily break down the ‘‘me’’ and ‘‘you’’ in a relationship. To harm the cared-for is to harm the carer; to harm the carer is to harm the cared-for. What there is no place for, however, are pious platitudes about how wonderful caring is.
The reality is that caring is a draining experience which can leave one by turns exhausted, isolated, angry and utterly frustrated. We have been through all these emotions many times, from the early hours when our son has been confused and distressed and help seemed far away, to when he suffers an epileptic fit in the street and people look the other way or make downright nasty remarks linking his disability to ‘‘bad behaviour’’. We have had mixed experiences too, with Catholic parishes and priests. In one parish church we were so cold-shouldered at Mass that we felt that we could not approach Our Lord in Holy Communion as we were made to feel outcasts. One parish priest bluntly stated that at a Mass arranged for the sick ‘‘there will be none of your handicapped’’.
However, with persistence it is possible to find a parish where everyone is valued. Our son has made his first Holy Communion and been confirmed (again this was not straightforward). His happiness in participating at Mass is a refreshing respite from earthly worries.
There is a brighter picture. When our son was first diagnosed at six months, the doctor, a Catholic, came to see us and, as he left, said: ‘‘Take each day as it comes and enjoy him.’’ And so, nearly 30 years later and after countless experiences, good and bad, wonderfully uplifting and infinitely depressing, we still do.
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