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 🙂

4 thoughts on “Winter Wheat”

  1. Very well written and shows you love your dear mother. to go daily is very good, but as your friends tell you, remember to care for yourself too. Okay that is all the sermoning I will do. I am still praying for her and for you too. I did caregiving for my aunt and uncle in CA at Town & Country Manor and that does take so much out of you.

    Love, Lois

    1. Thanks, Lois. I am taking one day a week off. We usually do something fun on Wednesdays. Today, we went to Disney Hollywood Studios. Belting out “Let It Go” along with all the other four-year-olds at the “Frozen- For the First Time In Forever Show” did help replenish my store of winter wheat. Do you want to build a ☃️? Sorry, after spending the day at Disney, my brain is a little indoctrinated!
      Love right back at ya 😘

  2. I think you underestimate your caretaking. I would venture to guess that the emotional burden of caring for your mom takes a bigger toll than that of putting in an 8-12hr shift as a paid caregiver in the facility she is in. The paid caregiver gets to leave at the end of a shift and do something different. There in lies one way of replenishing the reserve of energy – take a break and do something different or focus thoughts on something else. When my ” winter wheat” is diminishing, I go for a walk, eat nourishing food, drink lots of water, rest physically, listen to music, enjoy comedy, socialize.

    1. All really good suggestions, Mona! Thanks. For me, I do try to fit in the exercise and to eat reasonably well because my body makes its displeasure known pretty obviously and immediately if I don’t pay attention to diet and exercise. Sometimes it feels a little stressful to make time for friends and fun, but I really really want to, so I find the time. It is easy to forget that rest and time to do nothing are also valuable! 😴

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