Writing and Healing-Reflections
Putting your deepest feelings on paper or into a journal can be a journey into your own soul and a tool for self-discovery and inner peace. There are also some surprising health benefits. There is research that shows that writing what you feel may be a boost to the immune system and help prevent illness. James W. Pennebaker, a psychology professor, did a study where he asked people from all walks of life-prisoners to medical students to write about traumatic events in their life. The control group was asked to write superficial events of their life. The group that wrote the traumatic events had fewer doctor visits and showed a boosted immune response to hepatitis B Vaccine and the Epstein Barr virus. (Important – it seemed the writers used negative response words in the beginning and showed new incites about the incident by the end).
Another study was done at State University in New York, where 51 people with rheumatoid arthritis were either asked to be part of a group that wrote about traumatic events or a group that wrote about neutral events and again the group that wrote about the traumatic events reported less stiffness, swelling, pain, and fatigue than the group that wrote about neutral events. All of this is showing that in fact, writing your deepest feelings is every good for your health.
I started keeping a daily journal in 1985. My first journals were written on 3×5 cards. Eventually, I kept my journals in actual notebooks, and today, I have two bookshelves full of the writing I have done to record my life. Some days are simply – that -simple-what I did with my kids, how I felt, where I ate, traveled, etc. Other days the writing is deep-maybe a poem or reflections from a book I’m reading or feelings I would not necessarily want the world to read. Sometimes I think, “Who is that crazy person? Me!”
One of my goals is to go back and read my journals. I have begun the process, and it’s sometimes fun to look back and think about those early years as a Mom and an older college student pursuing a degree. Sometimes it’s hard to see how serious I was taking life and how many moments I missed worrying too much about things that today seem trivial. It will also be hard to review a time when my spiritual journey took me away from those day to day moments-maybe too much. Eventually, I had to come back to the middle way.
But regardless of how it feels to go back and self-reflect, I have always found the journaling process to be healing and an excellent tool for gaining inner peace. My journals are often my best friend.
My journal goes with me wherever I go as much as possible. There are days that I don’t take the time to journal, but I always go back to those days and add reflections on what I did or how I felt that day. Lately, I enjoy taping my daily newspaper horoscope in my journal and then write about what that could mean to me.
When I travel, I love to journal the sights, sounds, experiences, food, and people from my trips. At the beginning of the summer, we toured Eastern Europe with our Rabbi and Members of our Synagogue. This trip was structured around the history of Jews before, during, and after WWII. There were both painful and joyful moments filled with reminders of the Holocaust and the effects of the War in Eastern Europe and the Renewal of Jewish life today. I was the only one with a journal in my hands throughout the trip. I am currently transcribing those journals and my reflections and hope to include some of the 2500 photos I took while there. I plan to share some of this writing with you.
If you have ever thought of journaling, it is never too late to start. Just get yourself a notebook or writing journal and a good pen and start writing. Write as if no one will ever see it. It is your private conversation with yourself or a dear friend as in Dear Diary.
There are no rules for journaling. Do it your way-the way that feels most comfortable for you.
Here are a few tips to get started.
Choose your writing tools. The sky is the limit. You can use binders, notebooks, decorative journals, or even 3X5 cards.
Find a quiet place and time for writing. I can journal anywhere-at home, in restaurants, on airplanes, or doctor’s offices. But it is really comforting to journal with a cup of tea or glass of wine. Light a candle for an even sweeter effect.
Let go of obstacles that get in the way. If you are worried about someone reading your journal, find a private place to keep them-your secret place. You can even buy lock and key diaries, but they are bulky. A journal is for you. They can also be used if you are writing a memoir or autobiography and wish to share some of your story with others.
Let go of your inner critic. Most important is to let go of an inner critic and editor. Don’t worry about grammar and punctuation. Just write. Later if you want to share your story, you can worry about editing.
Use prompts to get you started and keep you going. As I said, I sometimes cut out my daily horoscope as a prompt for writing about my day or life.
Write the good, the bad, the ugly. Write when you’re happy and when you’re sad. Write when your grateful. Get it all out in your journals. Just Write.
DON’T FORGET TO LAUGH
Laughter is a release, a bonding agent, a prescription for health, a weapon and more. When someone laughs at your jokes today-not a polite laugh but an honest-to-goodness “I get you” laugh — it feels like love. (From my daily horoscope)
When was the last time you had a real belly laugh? A laugh where tears are rolling down your face, and your whole body is moving. In that moment you forgot everything around you. This is very healing-very important.
The average adult laughs 17 times a day. Humans are one of the only species that laughs. Have you ever seen your cat or dog laugh? They kind of just look at you like your nuts or maybe wag their tail.
Laughter is the best medicine!! While you’re at the pharmacy picking up your $ 500 worth of drugs or while you’re at the health food store buying mega dollar’s worth of supplements pick up a bottle of humor. At the end of my mother-in-law’s life when she was very sick, her doctor wrote on a prescription pad-Laugh!
The study of laughter is called gelotology. It is actually a science.
What really makes us laugh? There are a number of theories about laughter.
Incongruity theory – Jokes- We anticipate the end, which usually is something stupid, or something illogical –doesn’t fit-or fits in an abnormal way –it’s just funny. Hits us as funny. A good joke can be very clean. Knock knock jokes etc.
Superiority theory– laughing at the expense of someone else or someone’s culture etc. Not really helpful and can just be a cover up for prejudice and anger – not healthy.
Relief theory- Jokes in the middle of tension – just need a humor break in the middle of stressful situations.
Tickling – but you can’t tickle yourself because tickling needs tension and surprise.
Laughter is the rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory, and involuntary response of the body. When someone tells a joke, you need the left brain to analyze the joke, the frontal lobe activates (social emotional response), the right brain helps you “get” the joke, the back of the brain sends nerve signals that make you react.
Damage to any of these areas can prevent someone from having a “sense of humor”.
When you laugh, many things are happening in your body. 15 facial muscles contract. The respiratory system is upset enough to make you gasp. If you laugh hard enough the tear ducts are activated. The mouth opens and closes so you get enough oxygen. The face becomes red and moist from increased circulation. We create all kinds of noises – some dainty and some very loud.
There are two types of sound in laughter – ha ha ha or ho ho ho or both. Laughter Yoga uses these sounds while teaching deep breathing and laughter. It’s wonderfully healing:)
Laughter is contagious.
John Morreal, a philosopher believes that the first time humans laughed was after danger passed and they shared the relief-like wow! That was a close one! Ha ha ha.
It is something we share with others and usually you laugh with others when you trust them and feel like you belong. People are 30 times more likely to laugh in a social setting than when alone.
I was at the book store one day and was reading a book. Across from me was a young woman reading a book and every few pages would burst out laughing as if nobody was around. She made me laugh!! It’s like The Wonky Donkey video -a grandma having the best laugh as she reads the book to her grandson.
We laugh at different things at different ages and get jokes more as we mature.
We laugh at the things that stress us out!
We may not laugh if we don’t get the joke or we don’t find the joke funny or if we just lack a sense of humor.
If the boss laughs you can laugh or if the one in power laughs it is okay to laugh – tribal.
Laughter is sometimes used to cover up anger or sadness or fear. Nervous laughter!! There is laughter in those tears or tears in the laughter. Helps to release emotions. That is why funny movies or comedy clubs are so popular.
There is scientific research that shows that humor reduces stress, increases your ability to tolerate pain or even to forget about chronic pain, and boosts your immune system
In the book, The Anatomy of an Illness , Norman Cousins describes how he healed from his chronic illness by watching funny movies and television skits. Carl Jung believed that all Illness is mental illness and all mental illness is a spiritual disconnection.
Don’t take things so seriously. Anything we take seriously can be made fun of!!!
Laughter decreases stress and stress hormones that cause disease. Increases killer cells that kill cancer and viruses. Can clear the respiratory tract by causing coughing or hiccupping
Laughing 100 times is equal to 10 minutes on a rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike. Lowers blood pressure. Increases vascular flow. Assists in healing.
And when there is no chance of avoiding the end of life, live in the moment. I can remember when my Mom had pancreatic cancer. She was dying but still managed to laugh. We kept her alive with humor, chocolate, high fiber Vitamix smoothies, and a powerful use of denial. We laughed a lot and also shared tears together.
The world is a crazy place. Not one of us will ever be able to figure it all out. We cannot possibly judge because we are limited humans and lack all the facts. All we can do is watch ourselves play our parts in the movie. Grab some popcorn and raisinets and laugh. You would not tear apart the movie screen so don’t take your life so serious. Sit back and observe yourself and your relationship with others.
Figure out what makes you laugh and do it! Read funny books or watch funny movies.
Surround yourself with funny people. Don’t waste your time worrying.
Develop your sense of humor. Be funny. Coco Chanel said – You only have one life to live you might as well be amusing.
Have fun!! Enjoy!! What is preventing you from laughing right now? Whatever it is……
It’s all a silly mad Idea don’t forget to laugh!!!! (A Course in Miracles)
Florida Artist Rita Schwab is holding her beautiful glass mosaic that reflects journey, path, heart 🙂
This is a long post with a long story that begins with just a catch up on our travels including our experience with the flu, and then my cardiology journey and resistance to doctor’s orders. If you have ever felt you and your doctor were not communicating-read this post. Enjoy!!
This year we have done a lot of traveling-California in January, Nevada and Arizona in February, Florida in March and early April, and in May I went on a wonderful and writer changing retreat in beautiful and peaceful Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each of these trips have their own story and lots more to share.
It’s been both fun and exhausting and Steve has set his own boundaries around travel. “I can’t unpack and repack a suitcase without an at home for a while break. “It’s too much!” I, on the other hand have a hard time saying no to life and opportunities to travel, explore and experience everything. Steve reached his limit when after completing a delightful family Caribbean cruise, we embarked for a 10-day vacation to be with friends in Cape Coral, Florida and the second day there he was diagnosed with Influenza B. Poor Steve. For the first week of that trip he was either outside on their beautiful lanai or in the house wearing a mask. Although our friends were wonderful, “like family”, and we did enjoy many great conversations in between rest time, this did take a toll on all of us. Our dear friends hung in there with us and we all went on Tamiflu. I was the only one who did not have at least a day of the flu.
At the Urgent Care, it was noted that my blood pressure had climbed to 160/90 — yikes! I was stressed. I managed my stress by writing daily out in the Tiki Hut down on their deck and canal landing. It is a beautiful and serene place to reflect and write. Some days I would just rest in the hammock or sit and meditate and listen to the many sounds of nature. It helped that the weather was beautiful. I also enjoyed an evening glass of wine, which I noticed did lower my blood pressure. Toward the end of our stay we were able to go out and enjoy the last few days of our trip. One of our outings was an art fair in Cape Coral where I met and photographed the artist, Rita Schwab and her glass piece used with her permission as my photo for this post.
By the time we got home and to our own beds, Steve was exhausted and I was concerned about my heart. I purchased a new OMRON B/P monitor and made an appt with a cardiologist.I continued to monitor my blood pressure and it varied-sometimes high and other times normal. I really focused on my breathing and although I did not sit in formal meditation every day, I attempted to stay mindful of my thoughts and pace of living.
As I sat in the cardiologist’s waiting room, I felt a bit out of place. The room was filled with elderly people, some in wheelchairs, and the younger patients were very overweight. I “pride” myself in being as healthy as I can “the middle way” through exercise, a plant-based diet, and meditation, yet here I was. I have to admit I have a strong family history of heart disease—Mom, Dad, and siblings. But I thought I was different and was on top of controlling the risk factors, at least that’s what I thought. Yet now I realize how hard it is to control the biggest risk factor-underlying tension and anxiety.
My cholesterol is high but so is my good cholesterol. I used to smoke but quit 36 years ago, and I have not been overweight since nursing school. Why was I there? My primary care physician was okay with me going although he has never seen my blood pressure over 120/70. He takes my blood pressure every time I see him, and he carefully monitors my lipid profile every year.
Long story short, the cardiologist was not quick to put me on any medication (I liked that!) until I had some tests to determine if I, indeed, showed signs of heart disease. He ordered an echocardiogram and coronary calcium scan (CAT Scan of the heart and its major blood vessels). I was game. The heart scan took about 20 minutes and the echocardiogram took almost an hour.
The next day I got a call from the nurse who gave me the results of my tests—the echo was normal and the heart scan showed minimal heart disease, better than most for my age so the doctor would like me to take a daily 81 mg of Aspirin and 40 mg of Lipitor. Noooooooooooooo.You would have thought she told me the doctor wanted to do open heart surgery. I totally reacted with surprise, anger, sadness, and disappointment and asked that she have the doctor call me.
He did, and it did not go well. The American College of Cardiology recommends the aspirin and Lipitor for a patient picture like mine. Actually there are many cardiologists that feel we should all be on a statin. But that’s it! This doctor really does not know me and I am not a typical patient. I had only seen him one time, and we need to go beyond one size fits all medicine. My primary care physician is an MD with years of alternative medicine experience and for over 25 years has followed my health and prescribed the daily supplements I take. I take no prescription medicine and don’t want to start. On the other hand, I also don’t want to have a heart attack or stroke and would welcome a plan to prevent further heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women.
When the cardiologist called, I let him know how disappointed I was that the nurse called and that we did not talk before I was given a prescribed plan that included a statin drug without more discussion on its benefits and its risks. Statin drugs do lower cholesterol and prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, but they also come with an array of side effects—muscle aches and weakness, GI symptoms, and more. There is a ton of research that is now questioning the cost/benefit of statins.
I have to admit, I did not give the doctor a chance to explain how we would proceed or how he would follow up with me. When I got off the phone, I felt sad that the conversation did not go well and I wished I had sat in a 30-minute meditation prior to speaking with this doctor. This doctor has an excellent reputation as a cardiologist, is very kind and personable and I am sure he has saved many lives. I wish I could have expressed myself in a better way to be heard by the doctor. I also wish his office would have scheduled a follow up appointment so that he could go over the results with me in his office. Most of all I have used this experience to reflect on my own defensiveness and fear and also trust that there is a blanket of universal forgiveness between both of us.
Doctor patient communication can be difficult. There is fear on all sides. I have a deep respect for the medical profession. I am a Registered Nurse and know how difficult it is to navigate around a system that is frustrating to the patient and the doctor. And I also know that in today’s world of alternative, integrative and functional medicine, there is much that medical schools and nursing schools have failed to teach. The research is often driven by pharmaceutical companies who have a vested interest in us taking drugs when there are so many alternatives to healing. I will not take a long-term prescription without research and that is my current mission about statin drugs and heart disease prevention and treatment in general.
Dr. Danielle Ofri’s book What Patients Say. What Doctors Hear, states it well:
Patients, anxious to convey their symptoms, feel an urgency to “make their case” to their doctors. Doctors, under pressure to be efficient, multitask while patients speak and often miss the key elements. Add in stereotypes, unconscious bias, conflicting agendas, and the fear of lawsuits and the risk of misdiagnosis and medical errors multiplies dangerously.
A week later, I went to my primary care physician. He agreed that going on a statin drug was premature, but also agreed that we needed to take the tests serious and take a closer look at my cardiac risks and current status. He was grateful to have the test results for additional information about my health. He recommended beets and cayenne pepper as nutritional support for the heart. He also recommended 1000 mg of Niacinamide (Vit B3 derivative-not as much research on its affect on cholesterol like Niacin). He also said he may want me on a low dose of of Zocor, which is a statin. I might add that my physician knows me well and suggested I relax and balance my chakras.
My lifestyle supports health but there is more I can do. I exercise (making sure I get 10,000 steps a day) but could increase the intensity of my walks and add more strength training. My diet is plant based; no red meat and I avoid saturated fat- but I am far from perfect and need to be more aware of salt and sugar. I do meditate, but I am a hyper personality and need to focus on breath awareness and slowing down in between life’s adventures. But more important than all of that is that I often feel I live in two worlds. On one hand I teach and coach a very deep spiritual path of love and forgiveness and on the other hand I have the same fears of illness and death as everyone else. Our fears fuel our defenses and often cause us to separate rather than join.
In two months we will repeat all of the blood tests that aid in determining my current heart disease risk. Since being more mindful of my diet, exercise and meditation as well as forgiving myself and the doctor, (Forgiveness is a powerful medicine for the heart), I have noticed my blood pressure has been staying within the normal range and I am hoping my blood tests show that I can reduce my heart disease risks without taking medicine.
In the meantime, I will continue my research, be mindful of my lifestyle, and stay “open hearted”. I have a follow up appointment with the cardiologist in 6 months. I’m not sure if he is the right fit for me, but it would be nice if we could meet again. I will go prepared to listen to him and hopefully he can also listen to my concerns and we can join in a much more productive manner.
In the end, its not about any of this. It’s always about all the lessons we learn along the way and as I continue the journey, I enjoy bringing you along.
“Healthy people eating healthy food should never need to take an antibiotic.” -Dr. Joel Fuhrman
Tis the season for colds, flues, viruses, sinus congestion and just feeling plain yuk! Many run to the doctor at the first sign of illness, which usually is not necessary and simply spreads your germs or sends you out only to pick up some more.
For a virus, antibiotics do nothing but mess up your normal good bacteria in your digestive tract (mouth, stomach, intestines).
When I get sick there are a few things I do that seem to shorten my days on the couch, but I try to start my natural regime at the first sign of a depleted immune system (scratchy throat, achiness, fatigue, or what I call the eewy geewies when I just know there is a bug in me).
If you have incredibly horrible symptoms like a high fever, cough, sore throat, sneezing and blowing out green or yellow gunk for more than a week – you may need to make an appointment with your doctor but generally rest, stress management, and supporting your immune system with a healthy diet and natural remedies will decrease your time on the couch or bed.
Before you try any of these remedies, although you probably don’t need the doctor, I would at least ask what he or she thinks of the magic. More than likely your doctor will say “whatever works” or “there is some research to show…” or “never heard of it but it can’t hurt” or just take some Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or Aleve and rest. That’s all good advice but is there anything else you can do? Yes! Here are some home remedies you can try.
First and foremost eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants-vegetables and fruits, green smoothies and soups with added healing herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric. Apple cider vinegar added to your food or taken as a drink has long been known to heal sore throats, colds, and viruses. Horseradish root is an excellent natural antibiotic and decongestant great for loosening mucous or encouraging a blocked sinus to drain. Avoid sugar except for raw honey, which has long been used for its antibiotic properties. Honey added to a cup of ginger tea and sprinkled with a pinch of cayenne pepper is an excellent sore throat remedy.
My favorite natural remedy is garlic. I carry garlic with me when I travel and at the first sign that I feel like there is a bug in me. I eat raw garlic chopped up on bread or mixed with my food. When I am dining out, I don’t hesitate to ask my waitress or waiter to bring me a side of chopped garlic. And yes sometimes you do reek to those around. There is a famous quote “Since garlic then hath powers to save from death, bear with it though it makes unsavory breath.” – Salerno Regimen of Health.
I can remember a time when I was traveling and while at the airport waiting for a flight, I felt like I was coming down with something. I went to one of the airport restaurants and ordered hot soup and a side of garlic. I ate it all. While on the airplane I heard the people in the seats behind me saying “ I smell garlic. Wow! I bet she just ate Italian food!.” It seemed my garlic ingestion was noticeable.
And speaking of garlic, check out my recipe for Garlic Soup.
MARY’S GARLIC SOUP
Start with Chicken or Vegetable Broth (You can use any clear soup or make your own with bullion cubes). Bring to a boil
Add Several cloves of fresh garlic cut up. (I add as many as 10 cloves to about 4 cups of broth) Use as much as you can stand and don’t over cook the garlic.
Simmer the soup with the garlic for a minute or two. (Another variation is to sauté the garlic in the pan before adding the broth. This makes the garlic more tolerable if you don’t like it raw.) I eat garlic raw so I cook as little as possible.
Remove from heat and add: 1 tsp of Apple Cider Vinegar. Sprinkle with Cayenne pepper. (According to taste -a dash can create quite a tang so add according to what you can tolerate).
Other helpful spices are Turmeric, Cumin and Ginger which all have healing properties.
Another variation is to add a beaten egg to the boiling broth like egg drop soup.
If you want to make a more hearty soup, go ahead and add some cooked chicken, turkey or sautéed vegetables. Onions are always good for healing.
Be sure to chew the garlic pieces when you eat the soup.
Enjoy! And Be Well!
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” -The Dalai Lama
This year I thought a great idea would be to give my grandchildren (ages 8, 8, 6 and 3) each their own meditations cushions – known as zafus, a large square cushion topped with a zabuton, a puffy little pillow to sit on. Anxiety is an epidemic in children and adolescents and it would benefit more promotion of mindfulness and meditation. I was so excited. They picked their colors pinks, greens, blues, and yellows. I ordered accordingly. I carefully reviewed children’s books on the subject of mindfulness and chose a different book for each child based on their individual personalities. I also gave them each a meditation CD and in each of their gift bags was a small little Buddha-each a different color representing various spiritual aspects-faith, hope, peace, and love. I carefully laid their cushions side by side in our lower rec room and imagined they would see them, sit on them, enjoy their books and begin their practice.
That morning, I sat in meditation for 20 minutes on my own new set of yellow cushions and what came to me was a small voice stating I had expectations and needed to let them go. But of course I did not listen to the inner voice and this is how it played out.
Instead of my vision of four excited children sitting on their cushions and enjoying their new books and little Buddhas, they started arguing about which books they liked better and then my grandson decided to make up a game called “let’s hide the Buddha.” His sister, my granddaughter, started crying because she did not like the rules he proposed and wanted to play a different way. The result was great conflict, screaming and lots of chaos.
I had a glass of wine as their mother patiently listened to each of them and attempted to help them manage this conflict. One stated their case and the other stated her case to no avail the crying continued. My daughter-in-law kept trying to get them to negotiate a solution. Meanwhile, the Buddhas were being thrown in the air. I had another glass of wine and finally started yelling and saying insane things like “ what everyone needs is to sit and contemplate this conflict. These cushions are for mindfulness and I am so sad that there is all this fighting when I am trying to promote peace.” Steve, by now walked away saying, we would not have spent all this time negotiating and this is all ridiculous. I went upstairs to make sure our dinner, which was sill in the oven and on the stove was not burning.
The crying continued. My son went upstairs also exasperated by his children, but when Steve came up and said he couldn’t take anymore, my son yelled “ Mom would you like me to bring my children back when they are 18?” That statement broke my heart and I started crying and said how this is not how I had anticipated the evening I had so judiciously prepared for. “ Well, that’s ridiculous Mom. They are kids.” He berated me and Steve and we both felt like ridiculously failing grandparents. Somehow I raised my voice and my son raised his voice and it was a mess. My daughter ended up pushing us in the back bedroom to continue our fight as our grandchildren were disturbed by our argument.
How did it end? My son and I both agreed we were wrong. We continued to yell and cry and really had a darn good talk. I was humbled and put in my place, and he realized he had expectations too- for us as grandparents to be more perfect, more patient, and less human. I did see the folly in my great expectations and we then talked about other pent up feelings not expressed including just simply missing talking to each other and stating our mutual love, respect, and appreciation. It just all turned out different than expected.
We came out of the bedroom and resumed family time. The kids were downstairs enjoying their books and cushions and the family was once again at peace.
The moral of the story and what I had to learn was to let go of expectations. It was a set up for disappointment but in the end, I had a great talk with my son and all was well.
I’ve checked in with my grandkids and they are enjoying their cushions and meditation books and tapes.
I guess game meat is free of antibiotics and hormones
You never know who you are going to meet on an airplane. I’m one of those people who usually gets to know the person next to me. When I’m with Steve on one side in a three seated row there is always a stranger who shares our row with us.
I usually begin the conversation with “business or pleasure?” That clarifies the purpose of my seatmate’s trip to wherever we are going.
On our recent flight from CVG to Las Vegas Steve had the aisle seat (his consistent choice) and I had the middle (I actually prefer the window). We sat down wondering who was going to arrive to take the window seat and share the trip with us. About five minutes after we got settled a man came along and signaled that he had the window seat.
Not for me but open minded.
He was a very gentle man. I remember thinking how polite and timid he seemed. He smiled, took his seat and I proceeded to continue to read. But then I got the urge to get to know him.
I began, “Business or pleasure?” He said, “for me pleasure. I’m meeting my wife. She has been in meetings all week and we are going to have some time together. I’m really looking forward to it.” Curious, of course, I asked what her business was. He said she was an executive vice president for a company. Wow! She was a busy lady.
I asked what he did and he said they had two children and he stayed home with the children while they were growing up. They are now in college but he is the one who keeps the house in order. He stayed home. She went to work. I loved how he explained it-“It was in her DNA to climb a ladder and work in the corporate world. And he said it was in his DNA to be the nurturing parent who was home.
He was very quiet, balanced, and I could see that he could be very nurturing. I asked what prompted him to want to stay home. He told me that his own mother had left the family when he was 4 years old. He is the youngest of four and was the baby at the time. I asked if he had much contact with his mother growing up-“Nope-not interested. I was the bitter one. My siblings all stayed in contact with her until she died.” He said that growing up he was shifted from various homes of Aunts and Uncles and family friends. He was able to observe parenting styles and internalized what he thought was the best parenting.
I asked how old his children were-both in college now and doing well-a son and a daughter and they are very close. He and his wife are now in empty nest, but his wife still travels quite a bit. When the children were young they did gravitate to him more as their mother was working and traveling while they were growing up. She would get home at 8:00 many nights and often only home on weekends. They all appreciated their mother and made the best of their time together.
I wondered what he does now that the children are out of the house and his wife is often away. So of course I asked, “what are you doing for yourself now that you’re no longer raising children. He said “ I hunt.” Somehow this gentleman just didn’t fit the image of a hunter, and I thought of my own negative judgments about guns and hunting, but I hung with him.
“What do you hunt?” He said, “ rabbits, squirrel, deer, wild boar and bear.” I grew up with a father who hunted squirrel and rabbit and I can still remember the flavor, preferring the tasty dark meat of squirrel to the blander rabbit. I asked if he ate what he caught. He said, “ I eat everything I kill. It’s an honor thing.” I wondered about the bear. “ Yes, the bear, the boar and all of the game I catch.” He said he made steaks out of the bear meat. “It’s a little tough, but still tasty.” He also explained that he catches his larger game with a bow and arrow and only uses the gun for smaller game.
He told me how he got started hunting. He was 10 years old when his father got him his first gun and took him out to hunt. His father never touched a gun, other than to teach his son, realizing it was in his son’s DNA to hunt. He told me he has killed 73 deer since he started hunting.”
I asked what he did with the carcass. The story continued with interest. He said he freezes the carcass until he is ready to preserve and tan the hide. He is a taxidermist. I had never met a taxidermist. He explained the process. You pickle the hide, just like pickles; then you brush tanning solution on the inside of the hide which preserves it. He then wraps the hide around a form and creates a piece that looks like either the live animal as in squirrels and rabbits or he makes a cranium form, which is just the head. With the bear, he made a large rug with the head of the bear. He is well known for his work and sells his pieces. He has been commissioned to provide pieces for the Cincinnati Zoo, Aquarium and other museums.
He told me how he uses his garage to complete his work. Carcasses hang in the garage when they are first stripped and preparing to be frozen. I could only wonder what the neighbors thought. Of course I asked. He said he keeps the garage closed and there is a drape that encircles the carcasses. He keeps the forms and completed works in “his bedroom.”
Wondering what his wife and children thought about it all, of course I asked. He said his wife tolerates it and his children have never been interested in hunting. He is the only one who will eat the game meat.
I wondered how often he ate the meat. He said he ate meat every day and game meat three times a week. He was not particularly overweight, but I pictured the inside of his arteries and had to ask about his health and cholesterol. He put his thumb up about the cholesterol and explained that his doctor is also a hunter and they take the same statin drug.
What about exercise? “ Oh yes, I walk 3-5 miles a day with my father-in-law who has Alzheimer’s disease.” This opened up a whole other part of the story. Not only was this hunter, a nurturing father but he was now the main person looking after his father in law. He told me that although his wife has brothers, he was the only one who could take care of his “Dad.” He had the nurturing DNA and the psychological insight, the time and distance from childhood baggage that it takes to care for someone with dementia.
He told me how he gets his father in law to take a shower by telling him interesting places they will visit. When his father in law refuses to go to the doctor, he would say, “ Dad, I am so afraid to go to the doctor. Would you go with me? “ His father in law would then gladly oblige, arriving only to get his own examination. His father in law’s nutrition by marking the garbage cans with a napkin-noting that anything above the last napkin was eaten.
This gentle hunter, house husband, caregiver, nurturing parent had a quiet air about him. He seemed to have a spiritual essence and I shared this observation with him asking if he practiced any form of religion or spirituality. He said he was Catholic, but also very much enjoyed his sister’s mega church.
He still goes to Mass every Sunday because his father in law wants to go. He also takes his father in law to say the rosary three mornings a week. During Lent his father in law wanted to go to confession, so they went to church together. He told me that the priest who heard their confession had once been convicted and “sent away” for molesting a girl in a nearby park. My mind thought of the movie Spotlight. And yet they allowed him to hear their confession-“ I guess you have to forgive, “ he said. I then thought-Wow! I get it, but what about forgiving his mother. I did not say what I was thinking.
We talked a long time and I wanted to get back to my reading. I asked him what he liked to read. He said he read the Bible, and took his King James version out of his carry on bag. He also had a book on depression. He said he was reading it because of his father in law, noting that his “Dad” seemed more withdrawn and depressed lately. He was hoping to gain some insight on how to deal with his father in law’s mood swings.
My gentle hunter told me how he was looking so forward to this trip with his wife but was very concerned about his father in law. While away his wife’s brothers would be looking in on their Dad. He shared that when he got back to Ohio, it was probably getting close to having his father in law move in with him and his wife. “The wandering is a problem. He just walks off…”
I wondered how his wife felt about this-‘Oh, she is fine with it. I would be the one taking care of him.”
This man was a paradox-he obviously was a skilled huntsman, but also a gentle and nurturing soul. He ate bear, yet seemed as cuddly as a Teddy. I thought how fortunate his wife is to have him to take care of everything at home including her father. Yet he said he was very fortunate to have her as she is the financial provider and they have had a very good marriage. All he asks of her is to make and manage the money. He is the homemaker. They respect each other’s DNA and it works.
The gentle hunter told me his nickname-“Carcass.” It fits but Caress might even me better.
The last thing he said was that he was really looking forward to this trip and hoped his wife was okay with him staying the entire week. Somehow, that felt a little sad. I hoped she was looking as forward to seeing him as he was her.
All I can say is never judge a book until you’ve heard the whole story-the same with people. I am so glad I kept my vegetarian health values to myself and listened to a tender story.
Nice meeting you Carcass! Hope you had a great week in Vegas.