Sr. Sue Mosteller, a member of Toronto's L'Arche Daybreak community, says caring is about presence and love.


Sr. Sue Mosteller, a member of Toronto's L'Arche Daybreak community, says caring is about presence and love.

July 4, 2011

EDMONTON — Caregiving is more oriented to being present to others than being successful in solving their problems, says Sister Sue Mosteller.

When people fix things and make good things happen, others "applaud and they say, 'You are a success, you won my court case, and you cured my mother when she was sick,'" Mosteller told the annual meeting of Catholic Social Services.

"But caring is something more," she continued. Caring is all about presence and love, regardless of what the end result might be.

Mosteller is a Sister of St. Joseph, teacher and longtime member of L'Arche Daybreak community where she has lived and worked with people with disabilities. She was the keynote speaker at the CSS June 24 meeting and celebration of its 50th anniversary held at the Northlands Expo Centre.

Volunteers and staff with Catholic Social Services care for abused mothers, provide therapy for couples, support refugee and migrant families, and so much more, said Mosteller. In many instances, the volunteers and staff cannot fix the person, cure the problem or achieve success.

Working with people who are permanently damaged, one is confronted by the weakness of his own humanity because the problem is unfixable, she said. But one can still care.

"We don't talk much about success in caregiving circles, but we do talk about nurturing relationships and the beautiful people that we discover. Caregiving is primarily about presence."

Mosteller spoke of a recent 20/20 episode where a father of two daughters was diagnosed with cancer and was going to die soon. During his illness, in his absence, he asked his six old school friends to care for his daughters.

This "council of dads" rode a tractor with the girls, read books to them and took on other fatherly roles.

"The man knew that if something were to happen to him, this circle of friends would surround his daughters," said Mosteller. "They would have these wonderful and mature relationships with men who were in some aspect bringing the fatherly and paternal gifts to them."

She shared an experience from about 30 years ago that changed her caregiving ways.

At that time, she was responsible for a household of about 25 people, most of whom had intellectual disabilities. Suppertime was chaotic and making matters worse was a fellow named Paul, a farmer. He never showered after working in the barn all day and came to the dinner table stinking.

When she confronted him about showering before he came for supper, Paul got angry and stormed off.


Later, Frank, a resident with Down's syndrome, recognized that she was having troubles with Paul. Frank told her, "If you want to help Paul, you have to love him."

She felt as though a train had hit her, and those words stayed with her through all these years.

"As trained professionals, we are often told to not get close to the clients. But as Christians and as people on this human journey, all belonging to one human family, our caring should not be walled off in higher and lower relationships," she said.

It's important for us to be open to the beauty and the goodness of those we care for. That is what defines a family, she said.

Caregivers must also care for themselves, even before looking after others, she said. If a person is not taking care of his own difficulties and pains and secret sufferings first, eventually he burns out. She encourages caregivers to take time for fun and communion, and to have a sacred space for solitude.

"We don't care well for others if we don't care for ourselves. Jesus told us, "Love your neighbour as yourself.' We seem to only get the first part," said Mosteller.