Caring for a parent, Mental health, Self-care


The children are nestled all snug in their beds, back in Seattle. The tree is stripped bare, but for the lights. The sun has risen on a new year. I am back to my own projects and to musing about the months ahead and trying not to be terrified, both personally and globally. Trying to keep the barrage of news that triggers that terror in its place.


Although I  no longer actively engage in the religious aspect of Christmas, it is the winter holiday I celebrate. I mused during Advent on the names Christians have historically given to Jesus (and no doubt are similar to figures at the helm of other religions): Prince of Peace, Savior of the world, the Truth, physician, redeemer, our hope, counselor. Never in my lifetime have I felt this country, this world, in such need of all of that. “Come, we are waiting.”

But what if WE are the One? Maybe we shouldn’t be waiting for the arrival of some Savior with a capital “S.” Maybe, even, we have been Jesus or whomever all along. Whatever your religion, maybe the One Who is More must be manifested in each of us. We are the light.

And to be the light to others, I realize I need to feel light in myself. 2017 was a hard year for that. I’m looking for ways to gather it back in.

The first thing I have done to bring a return of the light is to unsubscribe from all the email lists I have somehow gotten on. You sign a petition for one thing or another, or send money to an organization doing work you believe in, and suddenly the inbox is crammed with requests to sign more petitions, send more money; dozens of them, every day, every few minutes.


The National Enquirer-like subject lines are a flood of darkness: “Gretchen, this is T E R R I B L E!” “Seniors BANKRUPTED!” “Medicare GONE” “URGENT” “BREAKING” “I’m disgusted,” “Despicable,” “Destroyed,” “Devastated.” Yes, it’s terrible, I write in the box explaining why I am unsubscribing, but how are the sensationalized headlines of questionable truth—and often unrelated to the content—any different from the news sources we berate? It’s not helping me be a better person, it’s ramping up the terror. I want to stay informed, but this is not the way.

But that’s not why you read this blog. I’m also reflecting this week on what I’ve done the past year to regather myself after four years of in-home caregiving and where to go from here. Mama and I are both emerging from the year of getting acclimated to our new surroundings.

Before Christmas, the hospice nurse said Mama told her “it was so hard a year ago, when I moved, but now I am grateful.” She is even telling people the food is better! Didn’t think that would ever happen. She had us bring her Dove chocolates to distribute to people in the dining room for Christmas. She is still a giver; I need to learn from her example. She often talks about the helpers with gratitude, both staff and residents. Maybe it has become home.

I am making my house home too. When I decided to stay here for the foreseeable future, I promised myself two things when my mother no longer shared the space, the carrot at the end of the tunnel: to cut the lower limbs of the fir tree that blocked the view, and to get a new refrigerator. Both were, at least in part, symbolic gestures of a view to the future and a regathering of my self. I had the branches cut last summer, and three days before Christmas my refrigerator was delivered.


I have found new income streams and freed myself from the one that wasn’t adding joy to my life (effective January 1). I’ve made small changes in the house that added color to my life. I’m sharing my home with interesting people through Airbnb and my writing life with a circle of other writers. My new year tarot spread tells me it’s time to leave the beginnings behind and dive deeper. I’m not sure what that means yet, but I’m eager to find out.



As I read back through the memoir I’m endlessly editing, I see the evidence of how far my mother has descended down the spiral of her life these past five and a half years. It has been so gradual, I forget that when I arrived she was reading the newspaper, listening to recorded books, walking without assistance and up the driveway with only an old broomstick for support, sitting on a stool in the garden to pull weeds, bathing herself, cooking her own breakfast.

As I visit with her several times a week now, I note how the pace of decline has picked up, to the point of nearly daily change. She sees almost nothing, she doesn’t take a single step without her walker, she’s becoming less confident about being in the halls by herself for fear of getting lost, she can mentally keep track of very little. She also thanks me more often for being such a good daughter.

Rebecca asked her last week if she was ready to go. “Yes,” she said emphatically. “What is keeping you here?” Rebecca asked. “I need to know you are alright,” she replied. Every time I see or call her, she asks if Rebecca is okay. My sister is the baby of the family, but I suspect she has the same concerns about me. Does a mother ever leave off worrying about her children? I don’t think it’s possible to convince her once and for all, that we’re okay and happy, but it’s a clue that we must take every opportunity to reassure her, the equivalent of telling her it’s okay to go. The fact is, her hold on life is keeping us from making different decisions for our lives in the short term; but in some ways that keeps us safe from having to make major decisions while giving us the opportunity to make the most of our lives within the constrictions that bind us.

The new year is an opportunity to gather up and look at the bits of the year past and to set intentions for the coming months. For the past five years, I have used the Gaian Tarot deck created by my friend Joanna Powell Colbert as a guide to my exploration.

For you who are interested, here is my seven card spread for 2018, the question that goes with each, and the brief answer uncovered in my journaling. (If you are coveting a deck of your own, with the accompanying beautiful and helpful book—understandable even to a tarot neophyte—you can order it here.)

Happy New Year!


Four of Water: “What do I leave behind in the new year?”(Last year’s key theme.) Beginning a new thing.

Seven of Earth: (One of my favorite cards.) “What do I open up to in the new year?” Nurturing this piece of earth, reveling in the process and letting go of immediate gratification; letting go of what I cannot do. Patience.

Three of Fire: “Key opportunity of the new year.” Getting outside of myself, eschewing self-doubt and letting my brilliance shine. (Scary.)

Justice: “Key challenge in the new year.” Maintaining balance: caregiving, income needs, this old house, writing, time with my grandchildren, establishing friendships, self care.

The Builder: “Hidden concern.” (A “wow!” pick.) Where do the tools, skills, and resources I need to structure my life come from? This is what I am not good at. I need a structure and I need confidence. And always, that raptor in the upper corner of the card (my mother, my sisters) watching my every step.

Three of Air: “Deep wisdom.” I’m often overwhelmed with battling needs (income), fear (my future, the earth’s future), desire (to spend more time on projects, less on caregiving of mother and house), loneliness. Joanna’s book suggests a gratification journal: three things I’m grateful for each evening.

Six of Earth: (Another favorite card.) “Key theme for the new year.” Be part of the cycle of giving and receiving. Be generous, be a friend; it will come back ten-fold in myriad ways.




12 thoughts on “Regathering”

  1. Dear Gretchen, what a beautiful reflection on where you have been and what intentions you are carrying into this new year. I am sending blessings your way and wishing that 2018 brings you, your mom and your sisters all that you need. With love – Jude


  2. This post feels like a beautiful meal. A satisfying little bit of everything. ( And I think that regather is my new favorite word ). Cheers to giving up some of the unnecessary noise (email) that can wreak havoc on that ambiance. I love your spiritual thoughts and your desire to be the light for others (you already are, you know). I hope we all make that simple choice this year. In many ways it felt like a year of “dancing through the panic”. Globally, of course, but also in your own world with your Mom. It seems you have both been gathered safely in and are feeling better about your places and your roles. I think that you were right all along that changing YOUR role from 24/7 caregiver to daughter would benefit you both. I sure love hearing the tenderness.

    The house looks beautiful … HYGGE ! ( What book is on the dining table ? It seems important .. ) Happy New Year. Let your brilliance shine *


    1. Your comments never fail to broaden the story. Dancing through the panic indeed. I hope that the need for peace and quiet doesn’t make us complacent on the national scale, but helps find another way to navigate the dance steps.

      The book is a decidedly unenlightening suspense novel.


  3. What we do without those special Tarot cards to guide us as we venture out into this new year. I thank Joanna every time I use these beautiful cards. My key theme is Three of Water – the curious sea otters – smile and spread the joy. How cool is that?


  4. Gretchen, I think you are expressing what a lot of us maybe be going through in some form or another as we contemplate the coming year and new beginnings. My Mom died when she was 51 so I didn’t have to go anything like declining age with her. I am the one now who may become “the aging mom” for my 3 daughters in about 10 years or sooner. There’s a lot for me to be aware of and your blog helps me to think about these before they happen. Keep it coming.


    1. Thank you, Brenda. Yes, our time is coming. I write for myself really, how do I want to be and how do I hope to be cared for and how do I hope I respond to that care… Thank you for reading my ramblings; I’m glad they are helpful!


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