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My Long-Lost Companion: Earth

Do you know how something can be right before your eyes, yet you just miss the whole thing? During the 4-years and 400 Finding Positive Perspective posts that I wrote about wellbeing and creating healthy relationships, it never occurred to me that I was missing the most important relationship of all: my relationship with Earth.

You might be thinking that I should say “the Earth”, but I don’t think of Earth that way. Earth is Mother Earth. Earth is a “she”, or maybe a “he” or “they”. She is definitely not an “it”. I am in a relationship with her as surely as I am in a relationship with myself and all of my loved ones. Though I sometimes abandon support for myself in a flood of self-criticism, Earth is always there for me, and always supportive of me. My loved ones are (almost) always supportive too, but it’s impossible to be there 24/7 when I need them, especially when I’m 500 miles away and holding vigil for my sick and eventually dying husband.

If you’ve never cared for a critically or terminally ill person, some context is helpful to understand the reality of that labor of love. Caring for someone who is terminally ill is a full-time job, which many of us have to do on top of our current work and basic life responsibilities. The bills still need to be paid (but now there are medical bills too), the house still needs to be cleaned, the work responsibilities remain for those of us trying to maintain employment. There is an endless parade of drugs to procure, organize, and administer (there were times we were dosing 8 times per day a combination of a dozen or more drugs); insurance approvals; doctor, treatment, and para-professional services (like physical therapy, occupational therapy, grief counselors, or case managers) to manage and coordinate; constantly evolving dietary needs and preferences to track, experiment with, and provide for; side effects and disease symptoms to document and manage; physical care like bathing, and making beds and meals; basic cheerleading and chief morale officer-ing. There’s this whole other world involving durable medical goods and services that you don’t even know applies to you (like palliative care and social work), and how to get, use, and manage them. Even previously simple logistics, such as how to get my loved one from location A to location B are no longer straight-forward, given changing medical and physical conditions.

Then there’s the care required for emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs, for my loved one, but also for myself. Daily we’d cycle through grief, fear, frustration, a sense of feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and alone, interspersed with feelings of hope or optimism. There’s the judgment and looks from well-intended loved ones and strangers when you didn’t do something perfectly. There’s no defending yourself against these criticisms, stated or implied, because they’re right. Perfection is a sick fantasy; there’s only trying to keep our collective heads above water. There’s no one to talk to, and no shoulder to cry on in the wee hours of the morning when you’re not sure how to help your husband make it through the night, even while fighting your own exhaustion, poor diet, and sleep deprivation.

Even at the hospital, there’s no relief or rest. With every shift change I had to make sure the staff knew which “as needed” drugs were to be given as an exception, or as the rule. Caregivers have to be vigilant to make sure the right drug is given at the right time, and that the medication and treatments are appropriate given evolving conditions, changing staff, and human error. There was literally a time I thought the hospital was going to kill my husband due to benign neglect, and only vigilant watching and advocacy averted a medical disaster.

I was mostly moving in a daze through much of the 8-month convalescence and the ensuing months after he finally succumbed. There was no TV. No pleasure reading. No napping. Precious little exercise or nutritious food. My only respite was the weekly visits of the much appreciated angels who came out to support me, and the acts of kindness and compassion from the nurses.

But I was not ever really alone. Not at the bedside. Not out running errands. Not during the 49 nights in the hospital sleeper chair. Not while tending to my beloved patient. A welcoming sanctuary was always available for company and comfort: my screened in porch facing the forest and creek in my backyard, my hot tub facing the stars, the healing garden adjacent to the hospital, the tree outside our hospital window, the birds flying alongside as I’m running errands. My long-forgotten friend Earth was always there with me when I needed her. Like many family members who love us unconditionally, she embraced bedraggled, weary, unshowered, and grumpy me, without question. I was terrible company, but she didn’t seem to mind.

I refer to Earth as “long-lost” because, like most children, I experienced a deep and intuitive connection with her that faded as the matters of the adult material world grew increasingly important. I have drifted so far away, I have to learn how to be with her again in a way that’s reciprocal, fully appreciative, and respectful. I have much ground to recover, and wisdom to re-learn.

In this blog, I explore the reformation and rehabilitation of my relationship with Earth, after a long emotional absence on my part. I will be rediscovering her animals, plants, and minerals. I will be exploring my often-unconscious connection with her and making it more conscious and intentional. I will be exploring what it means for humanity to be in relation to Earth in the modern world of jet planes, cell phones, climate control, and internet, through the lens of my personal and lived experience.

It matters because Earth needs us now, just as we have always needed and benefitted from her abundance, generosity, and genius, whether we’re experiencing desperation or richness. It’s our turn to step up and there is much to re-learn about our care for her. I hope you’ll share this learning journey with me, and rekindle your own relationship with Earth in the process too.