Walking the Way of the Cross for Caregivers
How to Cope Practically, Emotionally and Spiritually When a Loved One Has a Serious Illness
By Michelle Laque Johnson
Maria Teresa Publishers, 2022
237 pages, $15.95
To order: EWTNRC.com or (800) 854-6316 (Item: 91400)
Life is easy when the news is good — but oh, when storms arise, our faith in God needs to hold us up. Aside from the usual human ups and downs, there is our health and that of our loved ones. When all is well, we tend to deflect this topic — don’t bring me down, at least not yet, while it’s not something to worry about.
I get it. But I also get the beauty of Walking the Way of the Cross for Caregivers by Michelle Laque Johnson. I only wish I could add a neon sign above the title to shout, “This is for you now, not later!”
Why now? Because it’s a good read — and a spiritual one, with practical advice, resources and prayers for an intimate walk with Jesus. Certainly, this can be a lifesaver and a comfort for caregivers.
But the personal story of Johnson’s care of her husband, Stu, who fought cancer for eight years, is an engaging and dramatic love story, with glimpses inside EWTN, where Johnson began working in the middle of the journey.
Johnson, director of communications for EWTN, has already navigated the course of a caretaker, so her advice is strong and calming. In every chapter she opens with a Scripture verse, shares part of her journey and offers a “Lesson Learned,” such as,
“Make the decision to walk with God throughout this illness. When you lose your peace, renew that commitment. You will never be sorry.”
Each chapter ends with a prayer and some reflection questions to make things personal. In between chapters is one of the Stations of the Cross, with deep meaning for someone carrying the cross of a loved one.
Throughout the book, Johnson is a sister in Christ, holding readers’ hands. “Let me state this unequivocally: DO NOT LET ANYONE TAKE AWAY YOUR HOPE,” she directs firmly — and often doubles down on it.
She cites the example of doctors who treated Stu’s death as imminent when the couple still had eight more years of life together. “Doctors are not God,” says Johnson. She gives reasons for hope, regardless of the situation, and points out all the good that comes through having hope, such as exploring different courses of treatment, making better choices, enjoying a better quality of life, finding a greater purpose in life and being more fun to be around.
Understanding what it’s like to shoulder so much, Johnson warns of trying to go it alone without reaching out for help — especially by seeking support from others and turning to faith and prayer.
Johnson also reveals how to go about getting second and third opinions and how to distinguish a good hospital from a bad one, as well as how to handle well-meaning family and friends who inadvertently can add to your burden or take on too much of it. Sharing her own experience, she encourages caregivers to carefully evaluate each situation and speak up when necessary, while also being gracious so as not to hurt feelings or lose the support that can still help.
One unique aspect of being a caregiver is nurturing yourself spiritually, Johnson explains. It’s easy to tell someone to deepen their faith, but she shows readers what that can look like. In the chapter on “How to Put on the Armor of God,” Johnson suggests befriending one’s guardian angel, praying a Morning Offering, praying novenas and spiritual warfare prayers to keep up spiritual strength, journaling, frequenting the sacraments, using sacramentals and making time for good spiritual reading.
In the chapter on “Making the Best of Hard Times,” Johnson writes, “Working together to defeat a common enemy — your loved one’s illness — can forge an even stronger bond with your loved one. That’s just one more potential blessing in the hard times.”
Practical advice is included on things that might seem mundane, like paperwork and coordinating medicine, and a primer on preparing for the funeral and the final moments of life is surely a Godsend for those facing life without a loved one on this side of the veil.
Movingly, Johnson also shares her last moments with her husband. “How am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to watch my husband die?” she cried out to Our Lord.
When she surrendered her husband to God and asked for Stu’s heart to turn completely to him, “so that he can receive the highest degree of glory possible,” Johnson witnessed the grace pour out upon him as he prepared for a Mass that would be offered in his room.
An epilogue and appendix, “Thirteen Saints to Walk With in Hard Times,” and a final list of resources finishes Johnson’s lived experience of support.
This book took Johnson eight years to write, giving her time to reflect and organize so as to share what she learned and walk closely alongside those traveling the same path.
And now, as life goes on, Johnson shares how the experience has increased her awareness of the needs of others.
“And you will, too,” she encourages. “It’s not knowledge we would ever have sought but it is a gift that you and I were given as a result of our loved one’s illness and/or death.”
She closes by expressing her firm Christian hope of meeting the book’s readers and her dear husband on the other side, where God “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).
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