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Love and caregiving unite retired Barling couple

New ministry founded after reading bishop’s post-Synod summary

Published: March 14, 2023   
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Mary and Glen Stuttgen chat with parishioner Garrett Bannister as they serve coffee at Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Barling on Donut Sunday, March 5.

BARLING — Inspired by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor’s post-Synod response, Sacred Heart of Mary parishioners Glen and Mary Stuttgen put together a Feb. 14 workshop for caregivers that became the foundation for ongoing support.

“When we read that those most in need of the Church’s loving embrace are ‘the bereaved and for caretakers of those dealing with dementia or other mental health issues,’ we felt called to do something to help caregivers,” Mary Stuttgen said.

The Stuttgen’s love story, connected through, began when both were widowed. They had both spent years as caregivers of disabled spouses and discovered they had similar stories.

“Oh, boy, did we!” Mary Stuttgen said.

Mary Stuttgen, who lived in Arizona, had taken care of her husband for 27 years before he died in 2013. He suffered a stroke at age 50 and couldn’t speak or understand spoken words.

“He was fairly mobile until the end,” she said, “and as a speech pathologist I could work with him on speech. He had about 80 words at the time he died.”

Her three children were grown, but she still had to support herself and her husband. She managed a storage unit and lived in a building on the grounds, so that she could go back and forth during her work day to care for him.

Glen Stuttgen, who lived in Washington, had lost both his wife and an adult daughter to Multiple System Atrophy in 2013.

“It’s similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Glen Stuttgen said. “Your brain doesn’t tell your body what to do, and you start losing motor function. At the beginning, it wasn’t as intense, but I retired early and was a full-time caregiver for three years before she died.”

They met through CatholicMatch in 2014, looking for widowers who had been through similar experiences. Mary eventually flew to Washington to meet Glen.

“We both questioned whether we wanted to make a lifetime commitment again,” Mary Stuttgen said, “because our marriages weren’t walks in the park. We said ‘yes’ because even though it was hard, we had something special going on.”

The couple celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary March 1. They moved to the Fort Smith area in 2017 and became involved at Sacred Heart of Mary Church, where Mary currently manages events at the parish center and coordinating Donut Sundays and other fellowship activities.

Both said they see a need for grief ministry.

“I had wonderful grief support when my husband died,” Mary Stuttgen said. “One of our neighbors recently lost his wife, and he is so lonely. We are encouraging him to get out, but he says that Church just isn’t the same for him. When you’re grieving, it’s best to talk to someone who’s had a similar situation. When you’ve lost a spouse you can talk about how you felt, how the experience changed you and how you moved forward.”

As the couple considered a response to the post-Synod report, they decided to focus on helping caregivers.  Bringing a team of experts together to present a workshop would be a cost-effective way to help caregivers find the support they need as well as finding connections with other caregivers.

“We chose Valentine’s Day for our workshop because caregiving is all about love,” Mary Stuttgen said.

The workshop began with a video presentation by Teepa Snow, who provides dementia training for caregivers in 30 countries. Following the video, representatives from the Area Agency on Aging, Alzheimer’s Association, Mercy Crest Assisted Living, Senior Care Alliance, Humana and other groups made short presentations.

Beginning in April, Sacred Heart of Mary Church will hold a support group for caregivers on the last Wednesday of each month at 2 p.m. in the parish center.

“We are the communion of saints and can help one another in life’s difficulties,” Mary Stuttgen said.

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