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Accompanying the Ill and Dying

The goal of a caregiver for someone with a serious illness should be to help the patient sustain fruitful relationships with God and others, according to a priest who has been involved in this ministry for about 25 years.

Reverend Paul Scaglione began the Gennesaret retreats for the seriously ill after visiting homebound parishioners during an assignment in New Jersey and witnessing the isolation that many of them suffer.

Fr. Scaglione, a member of the spiritual formation staff at Saint Luke Center in Louisville, Kentucky, has led nearly 70 such weekend-long retreats, and also served as the caregiver for his mother in the last decade of her life.

His ministry to those near death has taught him that many people desire “an opportunity to seek God’s presence in their lives in such a way that sustains them and gives them an abiding peace.”

In particular, the chronically and terminally ill need someone to accompany them in a way that brings comfort as they face the unknowns surrounding the dying process.

“The families that are best are the ones who have an ongoing conversation with their loved one,” Fr. Scaglione said. “Too many people, unfortunately, die alone or in fear of dying alone.”

Caregivers and other family and friends also need to work to come to terms with the reality of their loved one’s impending death, as it can be difficult for a seriously ill person who knows or thinks loved ones might be in denial.

“It’s a burden for [the dying] that they can’t reach out to [loved ones be- cause they are in denial],” he said.

Acknowledging death “doesn’t create pain for the one who is dying; it creates a hope for them to move beyond that.”

Caregivers should also be sure to take care of their own physical, spiritual, and emotional needs, as caregiving can deplete those resources.

Many caregivers don’t recognize the toll of what they are doing until they feel the “weight” lifted from them upon a loved one’s death.

Regular conversation with other caregivers or a therapist is a helpful way to ease those burdens, Fr. Scaglione said.

“We’re part of the healing process of God,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean healing of illness, it means reestablishment of healthy, ongoing, life-giving relationships with God and others. We accompany them to a place where God’s work will be done in God’s way and in God’s time.”