Heart and Soul

Every rosebush in my garden has my heart. If one begins to struggle, it also has my soul.

From deep within, I draw upon my natural instincts to tend to the afflicted and distressed. It doesn’t matter what they need. If it’s in my power to provide it, then I provide it.

More water? I drag the heavy hose across the yard to supplement the daily ration from the drip system. Special fertilizer? I drop to my knees to sift healing granules into the soil. Strategic pruning? I gladly reach inside the thorny web to clip a sickly cane or invasive sucker.

And always, I speak of their beauty in warm tones, gently brush my hand across leaves and petals, and let them know they have a caretaker who loves them.

The whole experience of caretaking in the garden is so similar to caregiving in the human world that it’s like a vast reflection in a cosmic mirror.

My mother was 77 when she came to live with me in 2001 and was 80 when her health took a serious turn for the worse. She came back from what looked like the brink and lived nine more years.

Not without considerable care.

Check-ups, medical tests, procedures? I escorted her and stayed with her every moment the doctors would allow. Prescriptions? I sorted a rainbow of pills into multi-compartment trays and ensured she took them all. Embarrassing accidents, wound care? I slipped on latex gloves and did what I had to do.

Wisely, we hugged often and spared no words when it came to expressing our love. When she passed away in 2013, there truly was nothing left unsaid.

This past week, all of the ailing bushes I’ve tended in the garden, along with all those precious years of caring for my mother, washed over me in quantum waves while I’ve tended my husband. He had cancer surgery last week. Details are his to share if he chooses. Suffice to say “thumbs up” so far.

Caring for him is another story, though, and it’s mine.

The basic tenets of the task are familiar – food, drink, reassuring words, doing what you have to do. Something new is a stubborn independence that my roses lack and my mother quietly suppressed.

“No” is the word of the day.

As soon as we knew he needed surgery, I promised my husband I would do anything in the world to help with his recovery. Anything. By the day of the surgery, I had instinctively resurrected my caregiver’s don’t-worry-I’ll-take-care-of-everything posture. The day after we came home, I had to let that go.

As it turns out, he mostly needs me to let him lead this dance.

It was a surprising, new lesson for a seasoned caretaker who usually thinks she knows best. But I got it almost right away. When you’ve known each other since American Pie conjured up images of driving your Chevy to the levee with Don McLean, words aren’t as important as heart. Or soul.

Heart and Soul

What We Do for Love

Gardening is caregiving.

The thought occurred to me last week while carrying gallons of water from one corner of our property to the other. I continued until my side ached. I continued because there hasn’t been a drop of rain since we turned off the irrigation system for the winter.

Caregiving - It's About LoveI made 33 round trips from the spigot to the rose garden that day. Caregiving came to mind because hauling water is one of those tasks you aren’t necessarily eager to do, but you do it anyway. You do it to ensure the object of your care receives what’s necessary to survive. You do it without promise of rest. You do it for love.

How do I know? My mother lived with me the last 12 years of her life and, for nine of those years, she depended on me for her care.

It unfolded the way a tree grows in the desert. When you first plant the seedling, it gets along on moderate amounts of water and fertilizer. As it reaches ever upward toward the heavens, its need for your support increases exponentially. The demands wear you out sometimes, but it’s a privilege to be part of the experience.

It’s funny how the garden puts sweet metaphors into my head at just the right time. It’s funnier still how the world circles around to hug you when you need it.

On December 9th it will be five years since my mother quietly pulled up roots and drifted unfettered toward the heavens. It’s a tough anniversary. Maybe because human hands typically have five fingers, we tend to think of five as some kind of golden measurement.

Five-year-olds start kindergarten. Five letters are always vowels. Five food groups teach us to eat healthy. Five questions answered in a Jeopardy category is a sweep. Five years post breast cancer is a celebration. Five, five, five.

If only five meant that I could mark mourning off my post-Mom “to do” list. Regrettably, grief has no end date and, by the time the sun came up on November 1st this year, I was already dreading the anniversary. Thank goodness for angels on Earth.

“Would you like to go to the caregiver recognition luncheon with me on the 14th?” came my friend’s first text that morning.

And then, “Would you be willing to judge some of our nominations?”

Within hours I was reading about extraordinary people who tirelessly care for family, friends, and clients. Their stories were inspiring and unexpectedly comforting. Caregiving is my past, but it’s their present, and participating in the award process allowed me to support their journey. The luncheon popped up on my schedule last week. It was healing, even cathartic.

Two days later, I made those 33 round trips to the water spigot. Every time I filled up the container, my soul also filled up – with compassion for caregivers everywhere and with gratitude for my own experience.

Long about trip No. 5, I realized … it wasn’t water I was carrying. It was love.