Ross nun who answered call to tend elderly strives to reinvigorate others
Before she learned to tie her shoes, Sister Norma Rodriguez knew she wanted to spend her life caring for the elderly.
Raised without grandparents, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born nun of Puerto Rican parents always sought company from older generations.
“They crack me up,” said Rodriguez, 49, of Bloomfield, who offers social support to senior citizens struggling mainly with depression.
That role is among her duties with the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, a convent in Ross belonging to the Diocese of Pittsburgh that she entered in the early 1990s.
“The wisdom, the laugh, the stories they share — it's so awesome.”
But while offering health and social services is viewed by Rodriguez more as a ministry than a job, she acknowledged the exhaustion felt by many who tend to the ill, whether as an occupation or voluntary responsibility.
And that is why she is preparing to lead a series of talks in October and November to bring into focus for caregivers the importance of setting aside time to regain vigor.
“You need to take care of yourself,” said Rodriguez, who worked for 13 years as a nurse's aide at Marion Manor, Greentree, a care home for senior citizens, where her parents resided before they died. She would journal and read literature when she was not working. Such endeavors are the sorts of things caregivers need to make time for, she said.
“You need to mark on your calendars, ‘When have you done something for yourself?' ”
A calendar, she noted, helps her schedule times to read, write and pray when not caring for others.
Caregivers must recover energy in an effort to “make you fall back in love with what you're doing.”
Her talks, offered as a four-part series called the “Revitalization Seminars for Caregivers and Volunteers,” could strengthen the resolve of caregivers struggling to balance personal and work-related responsibilities, said Bill Backa, an outreach coordinator for Gateway Hospice in McCandless. The center offers in-home health services in several counties across the Pittsburgh region.
Backa organized the seminars — each of which are scheduled a different franchise of Panera Bread — in response to a dozen phone calls and emails he said he has received in the past couple of years from caregivers who “really need a little help — mentally, physically and spiritually — to sustain themselves.” He sought the expertise of Rodriguez, who worked as a volunteer at the hospice center.
Many caregivers, he noted, are part of the so-called “sandwich generation,” composed of middle-aged parents scrambling to raise teenage children and care for their parents while working full time.
The emotional, mental and physical strain underlying such a lifestyle often goes “unspoken,” Backa said. But “If they don't take care of themselves, they're not going to be in any kind of condition to take care of anyone else.”
Virginia Mayo, who plans to attend one of the four talks, cares for her 88-year-old mother between volunteering as a chaplain at the hospice center and writing occasional sermons for the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
“I can burn out, or feel like I can't do this anymore unless I get some nourishment,” said Mayo, 66, of Lawrenceville.
She said the seminar could bring clarity to a role sometimes obscured by doubt and visceral emotions.
“Am I doing the right thing? Who's going to support me?” she said, referring to what she said are common concerns among caregivers.
Pat Donnelli, 88, views the seminar as a chance to let other caregivers know “they're not alone in this struggle.
“I'm hoping this sister will give me some more food for thought and something I can pass on to others,” said Donnelli, who now serves as a chaplain to nursing home patients afflicted with Alzheimer's after working for 35 years as a registered nurse at St. Clair Hospital.
Jacob Flannick is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Teens elevate Western Pa. communities with Eagle Scout projects
- Mt. Lebanon history center project gets OK
- 50 years later, Vietnam vet gets his degree at Westminster
- More fear ‘tackle’ football too risky for kids
- Museum’s ‘Carnegie Trees’ exhibit shows ‘Winter Wonders’
- eReader books also available to borrow at local libraries
- Strong demand in Allegheny limits participation in after-school programs
- YMCA program helps people with mobility issues regain movement