Care and Prayer: Reflections on the Sacred Task of Caregiving

By Gunilla Norris. Twenty-Third Publications, 2022. 96 pages. $12.95/paperback; $11.99/eBook.

In Care and Prayer: Reflections on the Sacred Task of Caregiving, psychotherapist Gunilla Norris shares short reflections and prayers inspired by more than a decade of caring for Stanley, her cherished life partner, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Each chapter is a few pages long, and Norris intends readers to read the book during breaks in the sometimes overwhelming task of caring for a sick loved one.

The preface outlines Norris’s view that one prays to open oneself to God’s love rather than to convince the Divine to change one’s circumstances. Each chapter reflects on an aspect of caretaking and ends with a prayer written in free verse.

The book conveys empathy with caregivers and seeks to help them find spiritual meaning in the “sacred task” they have taken on.

If we are called to caregiving, we accept the ups and downs, the losses, the fatigue, and the confinement. We will also discover a tenderness that wells up as we do what we do. We will be opened. Not only will we experience that we are capable of love, but that mysteriously we have become a dwelling place for Love itself. This turns everything upside down. It is then Love that loves, and we are its hands and feet.

In addition to discussing the spiritual fulfillment of caretaking, Norris acknowledges that stress can sometimes lead caregivers to speak unkindly to their charges. When counseling readers on restoring respectful relations, she differentiates between guilt and remorse. Guilt she describes as useless. Remorse leads caregivers to be honest with themselves and those they care for.  Rather than rationalizing unacceptable behavior, remorse leads caregivers to accept their shortcomings. After speaking irritably to someone in our care, she recommends returning to a state of mutual compassion by understanding that the crabbiness is not all one’s own fault nor all the fault of the person receiving care.

The book advises readers to ask for help with their caregiving obligations before they experience burnout. Norris describes warning signs of burnout as relentless frustration and acting discourteously toward the person for whom one is caring. She recommends requesting help with specific tasks that have a time limit, such as shopping for groceries or providing a few hours of respite care.

Norris differentiates between genuine and coerced caregiving and offers readers permission to decline the responsibility if they discern they are not undertaking it for the right reasons.

Caregiving that arises through obligation, arm-twisting, or people pleasing is not true caregiving. It’s a way to assuage doubt and to keep other people’s expectations and criticisms from overwhelming us. There are many ego-based reasons to do what we are not called to do.

The volume offers much-needed companionship and understanding for those tending a severely ill loved one. Personal anecdotes from Norris’s caretaking experience enhance the support the reader feels. Despite the lack of real-life references, the book offers solace and an invitation to self-transcendence for those shouldering the responsibility of nurturing a suffering loved one.

Sharlee DiMenichi is a member of Lehigh Valley Meeting in Bethlehem, Pa. She is the author of The Complete Guide to Joining the Peace Corps (Atlantic Publishing) and Holocaust Rescue Heroes (Royal Fireworks Press, forthcoming).

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