by Susanna Bertelsen
The first weekend of October my husband and I drove up to Grand Marais hoping to catch the colors of the season. On the ride north on Highway 61 we passed many golden aspen and birch amidst the deep green spruce and other evergreen trees along the way. An occasional crimson burning bush, an orange maple, or brown leaved oak stood out in contrast.
In the midst of this autumn beauty, it was striking to see along the way a patch of forest that had been damaged by strong winds or forest fires. In those areas blackened and broken trees or branches stood as a sad reminder of darker times. Looking closer at these areas, I soon realized that at the base of some of the damaged trees there was leaping out of the ground new growth in the form of fresh aspen and birch saplings, also sprouting small golden leaves, as if to shout out their joy in gratitude of bouncing back after a long past storm or forest fire. Surprisingly, there were patches of resilient colorful daisies and chrysanthemums on the road side in the cool autumn air. These daises above in full bloom, a gift from a caring family member years ago, remind me of colors of the fall leaves and the seeds tossed to the earth, in hopes of new life coming in spring. This image invites me to consider “bouncing back and leaping forward” with renewed energy after dark and damaging experiences along my highway of life.
I think about recent decades when I attempted to be long-distance caregiver and advocate to aging parents, and, to my brother who lived with them most of his life with Schizophrenia. In winter 2002, seven years after our father’s death, our mother died suddenly. Consequently, amid the shock and turmoil, my brother moved from out of state to live with me and my family in Minnesota. His challenges and mine became enmeshed to the point of crisis and chaos, until Vail Place services and NAMI MN support and educational resources came to our aid, along with participation in significant retreats leading to my seeking much needed spiritual care from a compassionate spiritual director.
Thanks to both secular and sacred support, many graced moments eventually restored my bruised resiliency, taught me ways to practice self-compassion in self-care, and rekindled the hope for my brother’s quality of life in Minnesota, as well as quality of life for myself and that of my family.
I invite those caring for loved ones experiencing long term physical or mental health challenges to join me at Loyola on Wednesday morning, November 7, from 9:00 am to noon for a reflective Fall workshop on: Bouncing Back and Leaping Forward: for Caregivers.