Nature Wisdom

with Pat Tuholske, Naturalist

Giving Care

Jack was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in ‘02 and January ‘13 began his third chemotherapy regimen. My husband is a fighter and rarely complains. First of March he hefted cinder blocks onto his shoulder, tossed them into his Kia for traction in the deep snow, and hurt his back. With this simple robust movement, he fractured three vertebrae. Our very active lives changed at this pivotal moment. He went from a hard-working, out-going man to screaming in pain at the slightest movement. I went from working at our camp, running after grandkids, responding to missing person searches, teaching and taking seminars to being his 24/7 caregiver.

This has been a challenging journey for us with ten days in the hospital and home health care for the last two months. Our lives have condensed from the wider world to our cottage in the cedars. Our days are filled with physical therapy, occupational therapy, and home nurse visits. Jack is learning how to reclaim his life and is moving through this trial with the grace of a warrior.

We first stepped upon this cancer path over ten years ago and I’ve cared for Jack as he recovered from every chemo and radiation treatment. We have excellent doctors and alternative healers we deeply trust so we don’t need any advice or remedy or diet or judgment. We do appreciate and believe in the power of compassionate prayer and healing energies.

Tending Jack through this disabling injury is a new adventure. We are sharing a tremendously powerful and personal experience that is strengthening and solidifying our soul bond. I am blessed to be his partner in this battle. It is my job to help bring him gradually back into the physical world.

Being a caregiver can be a stressful and demanding job. As long as I keep strong in my center, I can do this. I try to do something to recharge every day…. walking with our dog Morgan, communing with our secluded pond, engaging in a good story, gathering wildflower bouquets, talking with a friend, journaling, calling on elemental allies. At times I feel powerless and sad but I also recognize this experience is providing an opportunity for my own personal and spiritual growth.

Music is very important to Jack and the first thing he did when he got home from the hospital was put on Leonard Cohen. Jack closed his eyes and let the poetic lyrics and haunting melodies reclaim him. He also loves sitting in the sun so we’ve set up a healing place of stones, sculptures and wild plants where he can bask in the healing rays. He reflects on the greening of the woods, the newest blooms and feels the regeneration in his own bones. The wildness of a spring thunderstorm, drifting clouds, frog song, birds at the feeder, Freya purrs and Morgan licks are all helping to reconnect him to life.

We’ve established a new daily routine, slower pace and take one day at a time. We’ve kept our sense of humor at this bizarre turn in our lives. We aren’t too shy, proud, or afraid to ask for help. We are aware of the limits of our current abilities. We celebrate small things like folding laundry, cutting vegetables, making tea, sharing meals, washing dishes. We are full of gratitude for the tenderness of family and friends as we are gifted with cards, messages, food, chores, movies, visits, prayers and healings.

The caregiver’s art is to bear witness, listen with empathy and give the loved one a feeling of empowerment and a sense of accomplishment. We are the keepers of the flame of hope. We each touch upon the caregiver experience at different times in our lives and with various intensities. When you don the cloak of tending as a profession or for a loved one, may you serve with patience, compassion, generosity and grace. May you heal your own soul with the knowing you are of deep service and providing the ultimate gift.

We aren’t sure where life will take us. We have made the commitment to move through this time period with awareness and mindfulness. My frequent prayer, “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark”, uplifts me. I hold on to faith in the resilience of the human body and its ability to heal. And hope for a healthy productive future.

I often think of what he wrote on the healing tree in the oncology ward at St. Luke’s in ‘05: “To dance at my grand-daughter’s wedding”. We so very much look forward to dancing together again.

Check out Pat Tuholske’s journal “Nature as Healer” for musings on the Human-Nature relationship. Go to elementalearthcamp.com. Pat is the guide at Elemental Earthcamp “off the grid” encampment in the Missouri Ozarks. See her wild wreaths and native plant remedies at WillowRainHerbalGoods.com.