care for the caregiver

Shake It Off!

After my mother was diagnosed with cancer, we spent a lot of time together. When I visited on weekends, we would try to have at least one outing to do something she enjoyed. One weekend she was stuck in a very pessimistic, anxious space, even deeper than usual after her diagnosis. As she continued this emotional nosedive, we still kept our commitment to go have some fun. We went to La Cantera, her favorite mall in San Antonio, Texas, which is known for its undulating outdoor paths, streams, quaint cabanas, and oases of lush landscaping.

Our venture to La Cantera, however, did not mitigate the downward spiral. We stopped for some hot tea as the emotional turmoil brewed within her.

In the midst of the overcast mood, we became aware of a mother and her young daughter seated next to us. The little girl was about four years old with numerous shoulder-length, tight brown curls. This little princess, however, was not getting her way about something. Nothing her mother said assuaged her, and her disappointment boiled over into a full-blown public tantrum.

The mother turned to her seemingly demon-possessed daughter, looked her in the eye and lovingly yet firmly instructed her, "Shake it off!" The little girl became still for a nanosecond and then began shaking her entire body with gusto, her bouncing curls flailing back and forth like a poodle after a bath. After about 30-seconds of "shaking it off", her mother asked, "How are you now?" "All better Mommy!" she enthusiastically replied.

My mother and I looked at each other and could not stop giggling. More dark steps loomed on the horizon as my mother continued her journey with cancer. When the fear, anger and sadness would on occasion spiral downward from a normal emotional reaction into despair, then we would remember that little girl. My mother would shake her head vigorously until she felt she was in a better space.

Tragedies and unpleasant emotions are unavoidable. The only way out is through. When, however, we find ourselves stuck in a place that is unhealthy, counterproductive or self-destructive, perhaps there's no better medicine than starting a wiggle that builds into a frenetic, full-bodied gyration, like a whirling dervish caught up in the divine. The cobwebs clear as the outer movement stirs inner movement. As we literally shake it off, we may discover that the body is a most trustworthy ally in the search for peace of heart, mind and soul.

P.S. If you want to "shake off" old ways of relating to the divine in favor of images and practices that are meaningful for you today, join us this Saturday, December 1 for a day retreat. Registration closes Thursday, November 29 at noon. For more information and to register, check out the Classes page.

A Bird in the Hand

Monday night I went outside to water a few plants.  In the front yard under our redwood tree I noticed a small, gray, fuzzy blob. A baby Mourning Dove had fallen from its nest some twenty feet above. We had been watching the past few weeks as the devoted parents incubated the eggs and then as tiny beaks appeared in the nest. Monday night I looked up and saw the remains of a disintegrated nest. My partner Herb and I took the little squab inside and put him/her in some soft towels under which we had a heating blanket set on low. We decided to call our little visitor Francis. While I was tempted to become a foster parent and raise Francis myself, I realized that a wildlife rehabilitation center offered our friend a much better chance of survival. So the next morning, Francis and I went to Wildcare, a fantastic nonprofit that rehabilitates over 3,000 injured wild animals each year.

After one last look, I closed the shoe box and entrusted Francis to the compassionate woman at the desk. She took Francis into the animal hospital for a brief examination and then to a cozy incubator. She told me Francis would join a nest with other rescued baby doves, who are cared for by adult doves recuperating from various injuries. The adult doves will show Francis what it means to be a dove and how to survive in the wild. Meanwhile, parenting Francis and the other babies will speed the healing of the adults.

Tears came to my eyes as I considered this beautiful arrangement in which babies and wounded adults nurture each other. As I left, I was given a number with which I can track Francis' progress. Wildcare will also notify me when Francis is released back into the wild so that I can attend.

In caring for this avian infant, I felt so much tenderness, purpose and connection to Life that it became impossible to tell who was really helping whom.  Francis reminded me that every being, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, in some way affects every other being on the planet.  Now I know just how much a bird in the hand is worth.