Winter Wheat

Ever since my mom’s stroke, people have been telling me to remember to take care of myself.  These people mean well. They are often very somber and earnest in admonishing me to take care of myself. It is as if they believe they can will their words to permeate my brain and convert into action. They never quite do.

I realize, on some intellectual level, that self-care is important.  I don’t think I fully accept that it is important to me, however.  After all, it isn’t like my mother is living with me and I am the full-time caretaker.  Lots of people handle much heavier burdens than I do.  Somehow, “just” managing my mother’s life, being her advocate, and visiting a couple of hours a day six days a week doesn’t feel like enough to entitle me to the concern of those well-meaning people.  It doesn’t feel like I deserve the “permission” to take care of myself.

I remember reading the book The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (of Little House on the Prairie fame) when I was younger.  The premise of the book is that the residents of a small town in the Dakota Territory were running out of wheat to make bread during the particularly cold, blizzardy, and brutal winter of 1880-1881.  Most of the citizenry, regardless of how they earned money, raised their own food.  Some people were actually commercial farmers, but even those who weren’t had chickens for eggs, a cow for milk, and fields of vegetables. And wheat.  They grew wheat for home consumption. They stockpiled stores of the grain to make sure they would have flour during the lean times of the year when game was scarce and the ground was too hard and barren to yield crops.  They were hardy, forward-thinking pioneer people who knew how to eke a living off the land.  They were used to living in harsh elements.  That long winter demonstrated that, sometimes, the elements win.

As the wheat supplies dwindled and winter showed no sign of abating, townspeople started approaching starvation.  Because the weather was so violent, it seemed foolhardy to travel to a larger town in hope of finding emergency grain.  People were rationing and doing without, but it became clear that the town was not going to survive until spring without some infusion of food.  A rumor started that the Wilder brothers still had a store of seed wheat that they intended to use to plant the next season’s crop.  One man in town approached them, begging them to share just a little of the seed wheat to keep his family from starving to death.  The Wilder brothers agreed, but could see that this was, at best, a stopgap measure.  Giving up their seed wheat would only stave off the famine in the town for a week or two.  It would also mean that there would be no wheat at all to plant for the next season.  Ultimately, the brothers decided to brave the wicked whiteness to find wheat for sale. After a long, uncomfortable, and perilous trip, they found someone with wheat and brought back enough to see the town through until spring.

I think this story is a good metaphor for caretaking, even if one is “only” providing care for a loved one living in a nursing facility.  Caretaking does mean meeting the hour-to-hour physical needs of a loved one. It also means some other things. It means managing the administration of her life. It means being her advocate to campaign for her wishes. It means listening and concentrating and trying to interpret when she attempts to communicate. It means keeping her company.  It means trying different strategies to keep her engaged and connected. It means being her proof that she has been-and still is- valuable and loved. It means showing her that she, herself, is still able to love.

All these forms of caretaking involve stress. They all require energy and emotional food. All caretakers are susceptible to emotional famine.  It may feel safer to try to just ride out the difficult season, rationing your emotional reserves and hoping you make it to spring.   It may feel dangerous and impossible to remove oneself from the immediate situation to look for the food that might be the longer-term solution to the problem.  After all, if I give my all and do nothing but my best all the time, all I am left with is nothing.  And nothing won’t yield any wheat in the next season.

What do those of you who are caregivers do to replenish your supplies when your “winter wheat” is diminishing?  Please respond by leaving a comment.  In the alternative,  you can email me at

Have a nourishing day!

Terri 🙂


I learned a lot of good stuff while I was working.  I figured most of it would immediately become moot the day I retired.  That assumption is probably correct, but I’ve found I actually did learn some transferable skills.

Recently, I’ve been struggling to fight my way through the administrative jungle involved in applying for financial aid to help with my mother’s care.  After hiring one law firm to help, I quickly realized that my own background provided a much better machete for slicing my way through the undergrowth. For several months, I fought through vines and branches of internet research on my own, trying to understand the eligibility and documentation requirements.  I spent a lot of energy wandering around in useless circles without clearing much of the jungle out of my way.

It was exhausting, but even inefficient persistent activity can sometimes result in progress.   Using the experience and education I amassed during a 30 plus year career in bureaucracy as a basis for my analysis, I slowly began to understand what was going to be necessary and how to ask the right questions. A kind stranger also gave me a referral to a specialty law firm.  That law firm helped me trade in my blunted, bedraggled machete for an earthmover.  Working with the staff of the new law firm, I was able to work more methodically and spend my energy on the activities that were going to matter.  Rather quickly, I was able to see some light at the other end of the jungle.  I’m still whacking away at low-lying branches, but I’m getting there.

During that process, I met with the office manager of the law firm.  She did the initial interview, pointed me in the right documentation-gathering direction, and assigned a caseworker to help me.  In our conversation, she asked what I did for a living before I retired.  When I explained the progression of my career and what my role was when I stopped working for a living, she offered me a job in her office.  I could kind of see her thought process.  My career was actually very similar to the kind of work her office does.  On the other hand, her offer stunned me.

I never contemplated working after I retired.  That was never part of the plan.  While I was still in my job, people used to talk about how well I could do if I went into private practice when I retired.  I reacted to those comments with complete bafflement.  What would be the point of retiring if I was going to keep working?   In my mind, I would just keep my steady job with a nice income and benefits if I wanted to work for a living.

Yes, I understood that some people liked the idea of having their own business and being their own boss, but it always just sounded like a lot of extra trouble to me.  Yes, I understood that some people think they can reduce their hours and stress when they work after retirement.  I’m not sure I buy it, especially for someone like me.  I believe God gives us all talents and expects us to develop them.  My talent happens to be worrying. I have spent a lifetime learning to excel at it.  I’m not sure it matters how few hours I work.  I would be wor”ry”king full time.  Yes, I understood that some people are passionate about their work and can’t imagine giving it up completely.  I can almost get behind that argument. If there was some opportunity to get paid for working at some passion of mine, I might concede.  But battling bureaucracy?  I don’t think that’s anyone’s idea of passion.

Still, when the office manager asked me about coming to work for the law firm, my first impulse was to try to figure out a way to make it work.  My brain immediately stumbled over obstacles to device possible strategies that would allow me to work at a job (that I didn’t even want) while also taking care of my mother, doing the tasks necessary to keep my household running smoothly, writing the blog, maintaining my relationships, and trying to have some sort of fun in my “spare time.”

I think this process reveals a congenital defect in my reasoning ability.  At some point very early on in my life, I somehow bought into a pretty basic fallacy.  If someone asks me to do something, it must make sense for me to do it.  I spent a good deal of my career attempting to fulfill that fallacy.  I often didn’t consider whether I actually wanted to do a particular job or assignment or even if it was feasible for me to do it. I figured that, if someone was asking me to do it, it must be possible and it must be a good idea for me to do it.  I’m not saying that this was always a bad thing.  In fact, following other people’s plans for  how I should spend my time and energy was a good thing in some ways.  If I had stopped to consult my own preferences, I might have passed up some opportunities I ultimately enjoyed and from which I profited.  It is sometimes easier to stretch your capabilities when someone else is pushing you than when you try to expand your horizons under your own power.  Still, there were also other “opportunities” that would have been better left untapped… at least by me… and I would not have been tapping them if left to my own devices.

This time, though, when the office manager offered me the job, I managed to stop myself before agreeing.  I let myself live in an awkward pause while I did not immediately reply to her suggestion.  During that time, I am sure my face did express a certain degree of horror at the whole idea.  Initially, the office manager thought I didn’t realize she was serious.  She started reassuring me that the offer was real.  She extolled the virtues of the position.  I was still not responding.  She got the idea that I was either dimwitted or just not interested.  She looked kind of embarrassed and unsure of how to extricate herself from this particular line of conversation.  My mind unfroze and I bailed her out, explaining that I just didn’t see how I could take on anything else while caring for my mother.  The office manager seemed happy to let the matter go, but did mention that I should call her when I “got bored.”

I’m not bored and I don’t foresee myself getting bored.  On the other hand, part of my mind still keeps revisiting that job offer.  It was heartening to have someone validate my value on the job market.  I felt kind of sassy and swaggery.  The whole exchange was very flattering. I think part of me has always kind of felt that most of my success in my career was due to simple longevity.  The fact that someone wanted to hire me for a professional position to do something new and different makes me think that maybe there was at least some actual talent fueling my career success.

I haven’t done anything mad like calling back and asking for the job.  The bottom line is that I don’t want the job, but it’s very nice to be asked.

What do you think?  Have you ever considered starting to work again after you’ve retired?  How is it working out for you?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a pleasantly busy day!

Terri 🙂

The Path To Easter

Someone I know once said that people should be careful what they wish for when they pray for faith.  Sometimes, God just gives them faith.  Sometimes, He sends challenges to help them develop their faith muscles.  Sometimes, He puts them in situations to show them just how much faith they already have. In short, at least two out of three of those options tend to be uncomfortable.

Last Lent, I felt like I was on a pretty good path of spiritual development. I felt like I had been spending years lazily luxuriating in a big, soft Catholic feather bed.  I had been comfortable for a long time, but had not really done anything to grow or focus my faith.  When I retired, I began investing more time and energy into spiritual development.   I was participating in a program called “Best Lent Ever” and it kind of was. Every day, the administrators of the program sent me an email with a video message, Scripture readings, reflection questions, and suggested activities.  I opened my heart and my mind.  I felt like I was learning a lot. I journaled about the program’s reflections every day.  Sometimes, I even posted comments on the program’s discussion boards.  In short, I felt like I really took last Lent as an opportunity to deepen my commitment and understanding.

This Lent, not so much.  The church I have been attending has offered Lenten activities, but I haven’t been able to summon the energy to attend.  I started going to Sunday school a few months ago, but have missed several sessions lately.  I even missed the service a few weeks ago when I messed up on the whole “springing ahead” thing.  In general, I feel like I’ve just kept stumbling over my feet this Lent without making any spiritual progress.

Some of you might point out that my stumbling has not been confined to spiritual progress. You would be correct. Since my mother’s stroke and the ensuing chaos in my external and internal life, I’ve been fairly lacking in competency in any arena.  I sort of stumble through everything now.  And maybe that is really more in keeping with the spirit of Lent than my activities with the “Best Lent Ever” program.

I think maybe God puts us in whatever desert He thinks we need for Lent.  Last year, I was just starting to re-examine the depth and maturity of my faith.  Maybe God wanted to tempt me to continue by providing me exactly what makes me comfortable- orderly growth and tidy spiritual development.

But no one gets to Easter without going through Calvary. This Lent, I think perhaps God is using the sad path I am navigating to grow and develop my spirituality.  It isn’t orderly or tidy.  It is certainly not comfortable.  But it seems to be my Calvary. I try to accept His will and offer up my pain for love.

I’m not equating my struggles in any way with those of Jesus at the Crucifixion.  In fact, I am clear on the fact that no one will ever have to endure the complete pain and emptiness that Jesus experienced on His Calvary, simply because He did experience it.  He endured it exactly so we would never have to.  And, truly, the challenges I’m experiencing are nothing when compared to those that many other people battle.  Still, I don’t think God minds too much when I complain and cry over my difficulties…. Especially when it is to Him I cry.

This Easter, I will rise above my difficulties and celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection.  I will try to rejoice that, just as I share Calvary in my very small, weak way, I will one day also share in the Resurrection.

Have you done anything special to prepare for Easter this year?  How has it been working for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a blessed Easter!

Terri 🙂