In Philadelphia, Yelena Nezhikhovskaya, 63, has been charged with killing her quadriplegic and mentally challenged daughter Yulia with a combination of medication and alcohol. It’s a sad and terrible situation, but a reminder to the church that it is just as important to care for the caregiver as it is to care for those with physical, mental or emotional challenges.

Yelena, who has been charged with third-degree murder for killing her daughter last year, is an unlikely suspect. Neighbors described her as “nice” and someone that they see frequently around the apartment complex where the mother and daughter lived. Few suspected that the caring mother had murdered her own daughter.

“Oh my God, that’s really scary. I’ve met that woman a million times, she was very nice to me. I’m shocked,” neighbor Lauren Andrews said to ABC. “I could hear noise (from their apartment) but Yulia was disabled and mentally disabled as well, so she would sometimes yell when she wasn’t happy. It seemed fairly normal. I’ve been living here for three years. I’ve been hearing that the whole time I’ve lived here.” 

There’s no public information right now about why Yelena committed this crime, and what she did is inexcusable and almost too terrible to imagine, but is it possible that the challenges of taking care of someone with such severe needs for years contributed to this unbelievable act? 

Being a caregiver can be challenging. From children with special needs to elderly parents with mobility and mental issues, caregiving around the clock can be tough on the body, mind and spirit. 

That’s something we’ve experienced in my family. For the last five or six years, my mother has been caring for her mother, my grandmother, as her mental capacity and mobility have dwindled. As one of her primary caregivers, I’ve watched my mom be stretched emotionally and struggle under the weight of her mother’s emotional and physical needs and failing memory. It’s something that she is happy to do, but it definitely isn’t easy.

That’s why, as a church community, we need to try and gather around caregivers as often as possible. There is such great beauty in caring for a spouse, parent or family member, but the caregivers often need support. So, if you know a caregiver who maybe needs some help or just a break, here are some great ideas:

  • See if you can provide them with a meal for a night or two. That is one less thing they have to worry about.
  • Offer to help watch their family member or relative either inside or outside the home so that the caretaker can have a break. That could be as simple as going to dinner or the movies, or it could be for a week while they go on vacation. (That is something my mother needed as leaving my grandmother home alone for such a long time was concerning.)
  • Go visit and offer to do things as a group. It could be card games or doing crafts, but something that can be done together to really engage that family member with special needs.
  • Help run a prayer group or commit to praying for someone you know who is a caregiver. That way you can help meet their spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
  • Give them encouragement. If you’re a family member, thank them for all that they do. You can give them a card, a gift card or call them to see how they are doing. Anything that you can do to let them know that you are there to help and support.

There are probably other examples, but the most important thing you can do is to try and come along side those who are helping or providing fulltime care for their parents, spouses or children. Burnout for caregivers is a very real thing. I can’t help but think that maybe part of what contributed to Yelena’s incomprehensible act is that she felt isolated and without options, despite the help that was available to her. If someone is without a support system and spends every hour caring for someone else, that can strain anyone emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.

As the Body of Christ, let’s commit to caring for the caregiver. 

Other Resources: 

Caregiving Isn’t for Sissies

The Caregiving Season (Book) 

Four Ways to Care for Caregivers 

Caring for Aging Parents and Your Marriage

Caring for the Caregiver