Rev. Knutson was interviewed by Harry Wiland.
I serve as a visitation pastor at Our Savior's Lutheran Church. We have a membership of 2,000 members. Over 500 members are over the age of 65 and I serve that segment of the congregation as well as I serve as chaplain at Luther Haven nursing home where we have 120 beds.
For me, caregiving is an opportunity to be a vehicle for God -- to bring inner peace to people whether it is my own family or my parishioners. The opportunity for caregiving personally for me evolves from my mother being a family caregiver to my grandmother when my grandmother had Alzheimer's in the later years of her life. I saw my mother become quite a sacrificial, dedicated, loving caregiver to my grandmother and now as my mother ages I strive to be just part of what my mother was. My mother was so dedicated to my grandmother and as a long-distance caregiver to my mother, my goal is just to be the best daughter to her that I can. I call her every morning to make sure she's okay and I call her every evening when we chat a while.
You are Lloyd and Fern's pastor?
Yes, both of them, I think are very close marital partners. Some of the stresses that they have include 24-hour care because of Lloyd's emphysema. The nighttime hours are very interrupted for both of them and the nighttime hours are very frightening for both of them because sometimes Lloyd doesn't know if he is going to survive the night. The nighttime is very difficult and when nighttime is difficult and sleep is interrupted that means one is tired during the daytime hours. But no one realizes how difficult the daytime hours can be if they don't know that the nighttime is so difficult.
What do you do for them?
I visit them and we talk about the challenges in the caregiving process. We talk about what it means to wonder when you're struggling for air if you're going to survive. We talk about "What does it mean if the time comes that he takes his last breath?" Is Lloyd at peace with God? Is Fern at peace with God? We're also pre-planning their funeral services. I've written a "pre-planning your funeral service" form which really is a spiritual exercise. It's a very tender exercise.
When did you learn that you get a lot more back when you give?
I think I've known that for years and years just through personal experiences. I just know from seeing the relationship between my mother and my maternal grandparents that as we love those around us we are just even more blessed. It's more blessed to give than to receive. I know that's a cliché, but it's so true and I see that with my mother.
Do you ever get down?
I used to get more down; I used to get more depressed, but since I've become focused on senior adult ministry I have such a passion for what I'm doing that I just feel driven and led by the spirit 24-7. It may sound unrealistic, but I get so excited about the ministry in which I'm involved. I feel so honored to be invited into the holy ground of people's lives that right now I don't struggle with times of being down, of being depressed. In fact sometimes it's just discouraging to get tired. It's the end of the evening and I have no more energy to keep going, but it's God's way of telling me Lois, you need to rest.
I view caregiving holistically. Of course, I'm a spiritual caregiver, but in our congregation we have many spiritual caregivers. You don't need to be a pastor to be a spiritual caregiver. We have wonderful lay visitors.
In terms of the faith community here we have a wonderful senior advisory committee. Our senior advisory committee's just integral to what we're doing here because we have one agenda item for each meeting and that is to give referrals for pastoral care and lay visitation. In a faith community, in a congregation this size it's impossible for one person - a visitation pastor or any pastor to be aware of all the changing needs within the senior adults in our congregation. A person can have a fall in the evening and wind up in the hospital the next day. A person can have a stroke at three o'clock and maybe you visited that person at two. You never know how quickly the needs change, but our senior advisory committee really strives to lift up persons in need. We just don't want any of our members to fall through the cracks of spiritual care.
Then we have a one-day-a-week parish nurse in our congregation. She's a volunteer and she's an RN. She gives of her time freely. She works in a nursing home four days a week. When I am making visits if I sense that there's a fairly acute medical need but doesn't require going to the emergency room, I can call our parish nurse. I can say, "Would you please go and see so and so and evaluate for this particular situation that may be developing."
What if you were President?
If I was President, I would make sure that medications are covered for senior adults and if I was President I would make sure that senior adults that need hearing aids receive hearing aids. If I was President I would make sure that there is money for home health care to keep people out of nursing homes. If I was President I would make sure that all visits to eye doctors are covered and when a person has cataract surgery that the financial coverage for the new glasses afterwards doesn't have just a limited amount of money. If I was President I would enact a bill that in our country we would honor our senior adults and we would honor our caregivers.
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