Thanksgiving is a traditional time for family gatherings, relaxation, charity walks, protests, pre-Black Friday online shopping, and gratitude. As a fall holiday, Thanksgiving gives opportunities to embrace the positive. It is also a good time to reflect on how to turn the negative into positive in one’s life. As a witch of color, a creative spirit and a loving daughter, I am grateful for my circle, my family, the good times and the hard times. As the calendar year of 2015 wanes, during this Thanksgiving season, I am grateful to the Gods for the lessons gathered through caregiving.
My home faith, Hellenic Alexandrian Tradition, stresses the four personal virtues of moderation, self-control, reciprocity, hospitality in combination with a fifth virtue, Charis (grace or the outward reciprocity between humanity and the Gods) to frame our religious concepts. Prayer and creativity are the twin flames of practice and belief. In the room next door, my mother sleeps. As I listen to the sound of her breathing, I am grateful that she is alive for me to care for her, to love her, and to be annoyed at little things she does. She is the gentle reminder of how the personal virtues combine with gratitude to enrich everyday life.
Moderation in caregiving is a daily reminder that nothing has to be overboard and that there is time, however brief, to enjoy a loved one’s presence and just have fun. This year, I been grateful for the ability to use moderation in dealing with minor setbacks. Instead of a long or stressful plane flight, a walk around a park or down the block on a sunny day may bring just as much of a smile as the lure of seeing another place. Watching a favorite show or a classic movie leads to conversation about past and present goals. When the end of life is staring you in the face, joy in the small things is a good thing. I am so grateful for that lesson this year.
Self-control is hard as a caregiver. I live as an activist, a supporter, a defender, and a champion for my loved one. It doesn’t matter that Doctor X recommends Option A and Doctor Y recommends Option B; I am grateful for the will and strength to fight to get the best medical care possible for someone who did the same for her mother and her mother-in-law. Daily prayer helps to strengthen my self-control at times when anxiety robs my mother of the ability to sleep and it is more important to remain calm than to yell or scream at her. It is the little mentioned side of caregiving: the willingness to maintain control of the self even as the one you love is regressing, be it through illness or an accelerated aging process.
Inward reciprocity reflects the joy of giving back what has been received from others, a type of “pay it forward”. It is easy to give back to a loved one when the memories are good and the tasks are simple;however, it can be difficult to pay the love forward when the recollections are negative. When looking at times that others,especially my mother, have nudged me in the right direction, I latch onto the desire to share that love and bounty with those who need it now. In caregiving, my mother says the funniest things at 2am, when we look out the window at snow on the ground, the wind is still, and the full moon shines in brilliance. These moments strengthen the desire to express compassion with others, as they have expressed it to me. Laughter during times of stress is the gift my mother has given to many. During those early morning conversations, when I ask her to try counting sheep to get to sleep,and she reminds me that the sheep don’t want to be counted, I have to laugh. She laughs too. We pay it forward to each other.
Hospitality as a personal virtual is one of welcoming. In caregiving, taking care of the self is just as important as the needs of the recipient. Often, it is the easiest part of the task to forget. During this holiday season, I am grateful for the reminders that being kind to myself, nurturing myself with good food, maintaining solid friendships, developing a healthy mental balance, and enjoying physical activity are not options, but necessities. As a creative spirit and a child of the Gods, I cannot let the well run dry. How can I be genial, kind, warm, and generous as a caregiver when the same qualities are ones I don’t enjoy with myself?
During my talks with the Gods, I pose questions, address frustrations, and simply want to know how to do the best job that I can. For this Thanksgiving, I can honestly say that I have one of the best jobs in the world: caregiver. No, I am not giving false hope, nor am I (too) excessively sleep deprived. It is the fifth virtue, outward grace Charis, that helps to shape and to maintain the whole, to remind me that gratitude nourishes and gives back so many times over. Caregiving unites all of these virtues with love of the Gods, the Craft, overall the power of prayer, and the necessity of always practicing what I believe as a witch. I wish the blessings of gratitude, the personal virtues, and grace to all this holiday season.
11/28/2015 by Clio Ajana