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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published October 15 2011

Bursack: Stephen Ministers can help with grief

Dear Carol: My mom has multiple sclerosis and Dad took care of her for years. Eventually, she had to go into a nursing home, but it was near their apartment, and Dad remained a dedicated caregiver.

Things went well until Dad died of a sudden heart attack. Since there was no one left for Mom, and the three of us kids live in different towns, we decided to move Mom to a very nice nursing home near me, the oldest daughter. Mom is so devastated by Dad’s death that she doesn’t care about anything, including the move. Her doctor here has her on an antidepressant, which doesn’t seem to do much. She’s a very devoted Christian and just wants to “join” Dad. How can I help her live a better quality of life? – Freddie

Dear Freddie: After a life partner dies, it’s not unusual for the surviving spouse to feel as if there is no longer a reason to live.

That’s likely the reason why so many people die soon after their longtime spouse.

They truly die of a broken heart.

However, many people do manage to retain some appreciation for life. Since your mom’s doctor is working on her depression, and she’s a strong Christian, I’d suggest that you see if there’s a Stephen Ministry in your area.

Stephen Ministries is a program of lay pastoral counseling and caregiving. In 1975, the Rev. Kenneth C. Haugk, Ph.D., a pastor and clinical psychologist, recognized his inability to provide for all the care needs of his congregation and community. He developed materials to train nine of his congregation members to provide quality, one-to-one Christian care to individuals experiencing life crises.

That effort proved so successful that Haugk founded the Stephen Ministries organization and developed the Stephen Series. This training now has been implemented in more than 11,000 congregations representing more than 150 Christian denominations. More than 500,000 laypersons have been trained as Stephen Ministers, who in turn have ministered to more than a million care receivers.

People needn’t belong to a specific church to receive care, though, obviously, the Stephen Minister who visits is of the Christian faith. The website, www.stephenministries.org, offers grief resources for people. It’s likely that the chaplain at your mom’s nursing home can help you find a church that offers trained Stephen Ministers.

There are other faith-based groups with people who can help your mom by sitting with her and visiting; however, some reassurance by people who share her faith may be of great value.

Take care of yourself, as you, too, have suffered.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.