by Francy Dickinson www.seniorcarewithspirit.com
Dear Francy; I am going to share a little about my self today because trees came up again this weekend. We live in the northwest and our trees are deep green and tall, we have lots of Douglas Firs, cedar and pine so we have a green mantle around us all the time. You may have a small tree in your back yard or a park close by, take a walk – watch a tree – see what happens.
My people are Tree people:
In the middle of the summer of 1969 I was living in New York City, dancing with a ballet company. I had a curvature of the spine and as I danced professionally it effected the muscles. The pain would come and go, the muscles would act up now and then, but that summer – I was in very bad shape. I simply had to take a break and calm down the muscles and I flew back home for rest. I went from the busy high rise city to the quiet tree filled lanes of my home town.
Home was in Tacoma, Washington where my parents had a lovely turn of the century Queen Anne home in the North end. When I arrived I was shocked at the advancement of my father’s cancer. He had been fighting throat cancer for a few years with only radiation to help keep it at bay, in those days. He was now at home, no longer working, no longer walking well, no longer able to eat food- he had a feeding tube. Mother was working at the college as a cook and she got up very early to do the breakfast shift and came home in the afternoon. So she would put dad in the living room facing the large bay window and arrange all that he needed before she went off to work. He had a commode, water, pre-mixed food for him to administer through his feeding tube, Kleenex, and a book. She then hurried off to work and worried about him all through her working shift. Around 9am a nurse from the neighboring nursing home would arrive and let herself in and give him a morphine shot, she would check up on him and give him anything he needed and then leave. Mother knew the owner of the nursing home and as a neighbor, he sent one of his nursing staff over to help with daddy as a kindness.
That was what greeted me on my arrival and the all too quiet house. A big house that had always been filled with noise from four daughters and now their grand children. But Dad was way to ill, no one was visiting Dad. He sat alone, quiet all day, unable to talk because of his throat cancer surgery. Dad was a man that was exceptionally bright and gifted as an artist. He made furniture and upholstered for a life long living, he had been one of the first home decorators in our city creating things all his life…now he just sat, quiet.
I took over the routine of caregiver, I was 19 that summer. I had to put aside the embarrassment of the commode and learned how to assist him out of his wing chair that he sat in all day long. I learned the recipe for his food mixture and knew how to clean out his trachea tube, it was not pleasant, but when you have someone you love that is sick – the details of care, simply go away and you concentrate on making them comfortable and giving them ways to find happiness – even if it’s in small moments.
It was a few days before we both settled into a routine and I soon would sit by him reading and writing letters to my NYC friends. I had the radio on some times, but most of the time it was quiet. Dad wrote notes all day…funny notes, sad notes, mad notes, help notes…it was an odd way of communicating. Just recently I found a box filled with his notes that mother had kept for over forty years – I have not read them, I just closed the top to the box and remembered how sad that time was for all of us.
I was feeding him one day when I first saw the trees. You see his eyes were that wonderful light grey-blue color that can reflect like a mirror. As I stood by his side holding up the feeder tube, he was looking outside as he always did and I saw the trees reflected in his eyes. I finished the feeding and cleaned the area and when I returned to sit back down I stared outside and saw the large trees across the street. Horse chestnut is what we called them, they were swaying in the wind and had a quite a rhythm going as I watched them. I looked over at Dad and he was still just involved with the trees. It was his meditation point. I asked him about it and he wrote a small note back to me, “I live with them, when I’m gone I will be with them.” He smiled and I excused myself to go and cry in the back yard.
I was there all that summer and into the fall as the tree’s leaves started to turn. It was the 19th of September that he passed that year. Every few years I drive by that house and look at the trees, they’re still beautiful, I think Dad is taking very good care of them.
I was forty when my sister found out she had cancer. It was a strange thing, she had called me on the phone and told me she was going to the doctor and there was something odd about her voice. I asked her if she wanted me to join her and we could have coffee afterwards, she said a reluctant OK and came and picked me up. After her appointment she returned to the reception area and sat next to me waiting for the doctor to instruct her on her next appointment and he came out and stood in front of us. In the middle of other patients he simply said; “You have cancer” and walked away. We bothjust sat there, not able to speak, not knowing what to do, not even feeling really- just like a scene in a movie we sat quietly together. Until I broke the silence and told her we needed to leave and we walked out the door to her car. I drove her home and we sat in her beautiful backyard and drank tea. No tears, no words- just shock. It was a horrible time for us both. She was alone with no one to care for her, I was married and worked with my husband. She needed someone to help her through the massive operation and home care…and the only person that could do it without paying for it, was me. It was the second time I gave care to someone who was terminal. It was such a sad time, she had so many needs and I had to learn so many skills to keep her comfortable. I tried so hard to make her laugh, I tried to think of funny things about the meds and the procedures and we tried to laugh all the time. But it got harder to laugh as you saw her go down in her body’s ability to function. One day I brought her a plate of crackers and cheese and put it on the table next to her. She was sitting in a favorite chair of hers and looking out the window into the back yard. I glanced at her eyes to give her a smile and there they were…the trees reflecting in her light grey-blue eyes that were so much like my father’s – all those years before. I asked her about the trees, “Do they make you feel good?” She smiled and told me that when she looked at the trees it was like they drew her in to them. She could just sit for a moment and they called to her and she instantly felt relaxed and had less pain. They made her feel comforted and left her feeling “not so alone”.
I remember going into the kitchen and crying again. The trees; they were pulling her in – that seemed to mean that we were all connected to each other. You hear about connection to all things on earth, but it’s a concept so hard to really grasp until you actually feel a kinship withsomething like a tree. My sister lasted from day of discovery of cancer to her death only five months. So much of her time in those months were in pain. There she sat, in the quiet watching the trees in her back yard, her face relaxed and eyes reflecting the leaves and branches. I came to understand the connection and respect it.
It was not until 2006 that I saw the trees reflected in my mother’s eyes. She had been living with me for a few years as I gave her full time care. She had had a series of little strokes. Her mind was still strong but her body just slowly failed her. I had taken two bedrooms in my home and given her one for her sleeping room and one for her sitting room. It was in that sitting room that mother would sit in her automatic lounger and stare out the window. Our home looks out into a ravine that was filled with Douglas firs. We see the upperparts of the trees so the view is wonderful. They’re filled with birds and the swinging of the branches in the breeze. Mother started to stare out the window about two months before she passed. She would forgo her favorite TV shows and her books and just stare out the window at the trees for hours at a time.
Mother’s eyes are like mine, green and yet the sea of green branches swinging in the wind reflected just as well in those eyes than it did in the grey-blue eyes of my dad and sister. I knew she was leaving me. I suppose it should have made me sad, angry or afraid that she was spending time with thetrees, but it didn’t. I knew she was finding calm and quiet thoughts with the trees. I knew she was sharing things that are hard to put into words and I just let her float there during the day. She passed just shy of her 100 birthday, but in her 100thyear. I was ready when it happened and both my husband and myself were by her side. The trees swooped down and took her away like in a book of fairy tales- off to be with Dad and my sister…
I use the trees myself now, I sit up on roof top deck and I just relax into the trees around me. It calms me and I feel it allows my mind to be more creative and at times I feel close to my family that has passed.
My husband, Georgie is now fighting Alzheimer’s. If he has a day that is filled with confusion, I take him up to my deck and we just sit and watch the trees. He calms down and starts to hold my hand and I feel the Georgie inside of him coming to the top again. I guess we are all Tree People…we just take time to know it.
I encourage you to spend some quiet time with trees to find a calm and safe place to go when you are in need. I wish you well and hope you will visit my web site and see the other services I offer www.seniorcarewithspirit.com
Thank you, francy