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Caregivers at scene of tragedy advised to take care, additionally, of thems

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–There is a high cost to caring, Joe Williams told participants at a conference on “The Church and Random Violence.”
Williams is chaplain to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Oklahoma City. A longtime veteran police and sheriff’s department chaplain, he was among those who arrived on the scene after the federal building in Oklahoma City was blown apart by a fertilizer-and-diesel-fuel bomb April 19, 1995.
For 19 days, he worked as the wounded and the bodies — and parts of bodies — were recovered from the rubble.
He talked of the high cost of caring, which comes to “people who observe and listen to experiences of pain, grief, suffering and loss — ministers, emergency responder personnel, therapists and others.”
Those in ministry face the additional issue of listening to “the tears, groans, hysteria … and the questions,” he said.
“Parents, siblings, friends and the world are waiting for you to give them answers to make a difference in the way they feel. Ministry people are seen as representatives of God … are ‘supposed’ to have the answers.
“Ministry people are expected to be able to make reason out of the unreasonable, understanding out of chaos and to make sweet the bitter,” he said.
After a while, he said, caregivers can experience an overload of caregiving.
A new term which has come into use in recent years is “compassion fatigue,” Williams said, defining it as similar to burnout, but more focused on the results of the overload of caregiving.
“When the caregiver takes on too heavy a load of other people’s burdens, leaving little time or energy for themselves, they become disillusioned and depressed and often start to show cracks in their professional veneer,” he said, noting that compassion fatigue symptoms include anxiety, numbness, shock, deep disturbance, fatigue, headaches, emotional reactions, irritability and anger.
Williams said compassion fatigue happens when a caregiver becomes so involved in providing care to others that he or she becomes emotionally and spiritually exhausted.
He encouraged caregivers to “practice self-management” and recognize when they are becoming overwhelmed. “Many caregivers, when they find they are overwhelmed, work even harder to keep up, as their bodies, spirits, family life and qualify of life suffer.”
Williams reminded caregivers that “you do not have to give all of your blood, just transfusions.”
Caregivers must also receive care, and “find a place where you can squeeze out your emotional sponge. Reestablish balance and care for yourselves,” he said.
The conference, held at First Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas, March 29, was sponsored jointly by the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ church/minister relations department, the LeaderCare ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and the San Antonio Baptist Association.

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  • Dan Martin