Caring for a parent, mother daughter relationship, Retrospective, Self-care

Saying Yes to Gratitude

2016 has begun with Yes!

Its opening days brought glistening sun on frosty fields and the first snow of two winters. I’ve escaped the dark cocoon of my basement suite, into the light of the room I re-purposed from Mama’s piled up collections, abandoned projects, and perpetually drawn curtains, to openness from which I can see the mountain, the pink and gold sunrises, the chickadees playing in the bare lilac. I have big plans for what can happen here, but for now I am basking in the return of the light.

Gratitude. Yes!

DSCN5619IMG_1834The beautiful days—including the snowy one—drew me into the woods. One of my intentions for this sparkling new year is to get into the beauty outside my door several times a week, and onto both the trails I built and the ancient ones used by traveling cows moving to summer pastures long before I roamed them in my childhood. It has already reminded me of why I am here, and why I want to be here.

Gratitude Yes!

DSCN5626DSCN5777In the woods on New Year’s Day, I came upon a remarkable phenomenon. I’ve never seen it, I had no idea what it was. I posted on Facebook, Googled it, even asked a UW atmospheric scientist (he was not helpful). Turns out it’s called frost flower or feather frost or hair ice—or crystallofolia. It is rare, and spectacularly beautiful.

Gratitude. Yes!

DSCN5524(Spoiler alert: If you prefer the mystery, don’t read this. The conditions must be just right, below freezing air/above freezing ground. Sap freezes in a space that cannot contain it, causing fissures in the wood. Water is drawn through the thin cracks and explodes into the world in hair-like strands of ice. There’s more, but this is not Wikipedia. You can Google it, or let this be enough.) For more of my photos, visit my website: Writing Down the Story.

The next day, I went back out and discovered the frost flowers were still there. I carried one home on its stick, knowing Mama couldn’t see it, but hoping perhaps she could experience it in other ways. She felt it with her fingers and her lips. And tried to see it with a magnifier. I told her what I had learned about. She asked more questions, which I couldn’t answer, and were not—in my world—relevant, and therefore annoyed me. Her many questions about all things is one of the ways she has always attempted to experience the world. On the second day, I was a little disappointed that it was still there, not held to that one magical day. And, knowing what it was, I experienced it differently. Knowledge is power, but it reduces wonder. We are different, my mother and I. But that she is still curious and still retains whole pieces of the cloth of which she was made is something for which to be grateful.

Gratitude. Yes!

DSCN5685I am nesting in a friend’s home in Port Orchard again, for a couple quiet days for reflection and looking forward. As I write this post, the ferries slide by unseen in Sinclair Inlet, blowing their mournful horns that echo off the hills, as they glide invisible through the deep fog. I hear the beckoning voice of my intentions for the new year, but don’t yet know how they will become manifest. After yesterday’s rain, today promises to be glittering, but not yet. (I wrote about another visit at the advent of a new year here.)

Gratitude. Yes!

DSCN5799DSCN5827DSCN5840One of my intentions for the new year is to say yes to gratitude. In this portion of my journey, what am I grateful for? What am I willing to endure for the trade off in pleasure? People ask why I am doing this. I ask myself, too. The question is how can I better deal with the hard parts and how can I increase the pleasure for my mother? Can I find a way to ask the question of her? What makes her life worth living? And how can I help her find more of it? After all, isn’t that why I am here?

Meanwhile, I have a picture of what gratitude looks like forever imprinted in my mind. It ekes out of our pores, bringing beauty into a cold and weary world, and melts quickly away. And it’s easy to miss. I sit with my back to the window at dawn, and miss the sunrise. I don’t make it into the forest, and miss the frost flowers. Mama’s good spirits are ephemeral, and I am often so irritated with the ways I am different from her, that I miss her curiosity.

DSCN5456What if I trained myself to look at things with gratitude, then opened my heart and let it go without regret? Nothings lasts, but something else always comes along. What if I said Yes!


11 thoughts on “Saying Yes to Gratitude”

  1. Gretchen, This is a beautiful post. Your word pictures of nature remind me of J Krishnamurti’s notebook and journals. In which he was totally attentive in the moment…the aliveness….like the Zen saying that we can live each moment so that it burns up without a trace. Your focus on gratitude reminds me of Rumi’s poem ” The Guest House.” which speaks of welcoming everything even if it wipes your house. clean of all its furniture. You and your mother have a sacred contract as souls. She is your teacher, you are her teacher. Hang in there….you’re doing great. Your sharing this journey helps all of us.


    1. Such lovely words. Thank you, Beth, so much. The beautiful people who read my blog and comment here, keep me on the path. “The Guest House” used to be taped in my pocket calendar, back when I had a different kind of job. I had forgotten about it. Thank you for bringing it back to me. Blessings. Gretchen


  2. What a beautiful post, Gretchen. I can particularly relate to spending too much time thinking about how different my mother is from me, particularly when her decisions make it harder for me to care for her, to keep her healthy and moving forward. I forget the good stuff. Going to work on that. Many thanks for sharing your journey. You seem to be off to a very good start to 2016.


    1. Thank you for reading, Clare (is that your name?). One of the hardest things, I think, about caring for someone with cognitive dysfunction is “when her decisions make it hard for me to care for her…” And harder for her to find joy in her life. And I’m not sure she realizes that. My mother’s insistence on control, for example, doesn’t just make things more difficult for me, but for her, too. She thinks that control is keeping her alive, but at what expense? (And it’s killing me!)


  3. Happy New Year Gretchen, to you and your beloveds! I, too, appreciate the wisdom and struggle and insights and questions you pose in your writings. Always something that turns me to wonder, looking inward, as well as outward. Thank you for that gift.

    I especially appreciate the question – what if I trained myself to look at things with gratitude, then opened my hand (or heart) and let it go without regret? This is one of my intentions for this new year, as well. Thank you for walking this journey with your mother and sharing some of the lessons along the way. I wish you all the best in this new year. Enjoy your mini-retreat. With love, Jude


    1. Thank you, again, Jude. Lessons abound; I keep trying to internalize them, with not as much success as I would like. I’m glad for the opportunity to share. (And I love “open my ‘heart,'” I edited the post. Thank you! Collaborative writing.) Happy New Year to you and yours. Much love. Gretchen


    2. I think I am too quick to grab my camera, too. It’s probably an attempt to hang on to something that isn’t meant to be clung to. Which is why I have 7,000 photos on my computer. After dumping a load onto a flash drive to clear space on my hard drive. 😳


  4. When I read your posts Gretchen, I don’t want them to end. I am grateful for you and your willingness to share this life journey with your readers. I too am practicing gratitude this new year and being open to new learning. blessings to you and Stella Jo for 2016.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s