2024: Empowering Family Caregivers through All Seasons

Happy New Year! Every new year brings remembrance, review, and resolutions; it also brings change. The change can be small, such as writing a different year on financial documents, to something bigger, like the planning and cleaning out of closets and drawers. It can also bring about internal changes of self.

Vern McLellan, a writer, speaker, musician, broadcaster, and associate pastor, once said, “What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year.” I happen to agree and believe this to be the answer in bringing about positive change into the new year. Evaluate what isn’t working and make change, resolution, to move forward.

I know this may sound cliché, but I love planning for resolutions and this time of year. I thrive on change and the changing of seasons. The autumn season used to be my favorite, but the older I get, the more winter is becoming my season of choice. Perhaps it’s the stillness and the beauty that sparks from its dark and dreary place, or the inward rebuilding of what nature appears to do without effort. Whatever it is – the beauty in the gloom, the acceptance of changing moods, or cyclical phases – is, without a doubt, at the top. I happen to thrive for the newness that internal change brings; it sparks inspiration and empowerment.

The theme for 2024 is Empowering Family Caregivers through All Seasons. The changing of seasons can be, for some, overwhelming and bring on a sense of restlessness; perhaps a bit of what caregiving may look like. As the seasons change, empowerment can be a valuable antidote for the restlessness.

Empowering the soul in the midst of those dark and dreary days can be challenging. It can also be a transformative experience; as in nature, there are lessons and opportunities for resilience and growth. One of the lessons is the positive thoughts that can occur. While December 21st marked the change from Autumn to Winter, it also became the shortest day of the year. The positive antidote to the often-dreary feeling when this happens is that each day moving forward gets lighter and longer.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs and speeches, there is a reciprocal relationship that exists between self and nature. What the new year unfolds is what we choose for the new year, and can help us consider what we have and don’t have control over. So, try to bring with it the positive side of change. Empower the soul by embracing the complexities of life. Find strength in adversity and cultivate a mindset that allows for growth and transformation, even in challenging conditions.

Empowerment in the context of caregiving and loss involves taking intentional steps to regain a sense of control, confidence, and well-being. With caregiving, sometimes it is putting self first – putting the oxygen mask on and taking “Just 10-Minutes” for a short break.

The Hope Grows Think Caregiver program continues to remain a source of strength for caregivers. If you are new to the program, it consists of monthly check-in phone calls, bi-weekly emails that offer Simple “Self-Care” Suggestions, and moments of self-care and respite activities and support. Hope Grows has 11 years of working with and understanding the impact of providing care and the impact that loss has on the mind, body, and spirit. Our goals for those caregiving and grieving are about cultivating wellness; regaining balance and perspective, along with empowerment as some of the benefits. We value those we help with a supportive, understanding, and encouraging way to help navigate the challenging stages of both caregiving and grief.

Learn from the silence of what nature is bringing us right now. In the stillness of a dim and lifeless natural setting of winter, there can be a profound opportunity for introspection and self-discovery. The quietude of nature can be a powerful teacher and perhaps bring that thought into the new year.

Written by Lisa Story, MSCP, LPC, CT
Hope Grows Founder & Clinical Director

Notes from the Garden: The Tree of Life

December Plant of the Month: Tree of Life

doTERRA Essential Oil of the Month: Clary Sage

If we surrendered to the earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like trees. – Rainer Maria Rilke

The Tree of Life has been a sacred symbol, revered across cultures and religions, for thousands of years. Almost every major civilization and faith over the ages has had some level of sacred regard for the trees. 

While researching this blog, I found Tree of Life symbolism throughout Egyptian, Celtic, Mayan, Native American, Buddhist, Hindu, African, Greek and Roman mythology, and folklore. In the Bible, the Tree of Life is planted centrally in the Garden of Eden, near the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, the Hebrew phrase etz hachayim, meaning “Tree of Life,” has been used to refer directly to the Torah, Jewish sacred scripture. Proverbs 3:18 likens it to wisdom, saying one can derive happiness from holding onto her. 

The Tree of Life symbolizes healing, power, strength, and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Her roots extend downward, spreading their tendrils beneath the ground, and her branches reach up, interwoven, into the heavens. She occupies two worlds, symbolizing the harmonious connection between the divine and earthly realms. She is often encased in a surrounding circle, symbolizing the oneness and unity of all life. 

One of my personal favorite renderings is the Celtic Tree of Life. The Celts considered trees to be sacred repositories of memory, folklore, and the presence of spirit beings. Their Tree of Life symbol has its roots and branches intertwining and knotted together infinitely, with no beginning or end, symbolizing all of us inextricably connected within the Tree of Life’s protective stature. 

Wisdom is in the trees. Acting as both givers and sustainers of life, trees provide us with gifts of nurturance. From cradle to grave, we rely on them for our very breath, shelter, shade, medicine, music, healing, fire, and food. Whenever I have faced periods of struggle, or illness, I find solace among the trees. During a particularly difficult time years ago, it was the trees who taught me how powerful and restorative it can be to connect with nature. Walking among them day after day, their magnificent and healing spirits tended to me, making me feel safe, restoring my spirit, lifting me up to higher ground. It was within their loving embrace that I first felt the invisible connective tissue of the web of life all around me, cradling and connecting me to an intelligence far greater than mine. I was no longer a party of one; they connected me back to the infinite whole. They are my trees of life. I didn’t leave Pittsburgh much during that time, but looking back, I can see now I was on one of the most definitive journeys of my life. 

Journeys of adversity, healing, and wholeness ripen us, and often shake us to our core. They strip away what isn’t real and leave us clinging to what is. They make us human, and the most profound ones will reveal our humbling connection to all that is. I have been a care recipient, and I have a feeling I will be a caregiver before my life is over. What the trees have taught me is that even though these two souls walk hand in hand, experiencing two very different journeys, both are being held in the sacred boughs of a larger whole, to which they will forever belong. 

Written by Jessica Giannotta, Hope Grows Horticulturist

Tree of Life drawing by Emma Stair