Tonight I am anticipating a three day retreat from Caregiving.  It will begin as soon as the car is loaded and on the road in the morning.  I will travel between five and six hours on the Interstate to get to a place that has provided respite and renewal to me off and on for almost twenty years.  

I will tell you some of things I look for in a Retreat, some of the things I do, but what is more important is for each of you who serves as a Caregiver to find a place that renews your spirit.   What provides you with respite and renewal is likely to be much different from what does it for me.

The place I will go is called St. Francis of the Woods Spiritual Renewal Center.  To go there requires no particular Spirituality.   There I will find complete solitude.  The cottages are very comfortable and very few.  That there are very few cottages is the reason for my expectation of solitude.  There will be no agenda to follow, no meal times to honor.  It will be in complete contrast to the Caregiving Role that is done entirely in response to someone else’s needs. 

There is a beautiful, ornate, Orthodox chapel there for those who appreciate that environment.  There is a library filled with books intended for those seeking renewal.  St. Francis includes a five hundred acre working farm.  There are pastures and woods, a chicken house filled with clucking hens and crowing roosters.  Fresh eggs can be purchased — the honor system – get a dozen from the fridge and leave the money in the basket.  There are paths carved out in the woods, with the occasional bench.  There are areas with no paths, filled with wildlife to be surprised as you come into sight.  There is a small remote field a decent hike’s distance across a trickle of a creek, maybe a mile and a half’s walk away from any of the cottages.  It is surrounded by woods with only one path for a tractor to reach it for any planting or cutting of hay.  That is the spot that touches my spirit and renews me. 

The drive there is a vital part of the experience.  The music CD’s are carefully chosen to help me transition from activities and attitudes that fill my days at home (and at work when I was still working full time).  That time allows me to be prepared for the hoped for renewal time on the Retreat.   The return trip is often a powerful time, since, with an uncluttered and rested mind, solutions to problems often emerge, decisions can be made with clarity.  For me,  a two night stay with travel there on the first day and travel back on the third day is the most effective pattern for renewal.

On the Retreat itself I will carry with me a couple of books that provide me with the spiritual tools I need to stay grounded and grow in learning how to quiet myself so that I am receptive to renewal.  I will bring a couple of books on Quantum Physics, since, while I know very little and struggle to understand them, I find them to enlarge my perspective in a way that excites my spirit.   I will take with me some good binoculars and a spotting scope given to me by my Son.  I will engage to the fullest extent my senses will allow, every dimension of that holy space. 

I will do some journaling periodically as I sit on the three legged stool that I strap to my backpack, or one of the benches if it happens to be in the right place at the right time.  The journaling tends to take me to a place of perspective on my life’s journey.  When I am on retreat, I have a chance to move out of reactive mode.   I can rediscover my center of being as a single individual in a magnificently huge universe.  I can look from a distance at my relationship with Mary Ann, with the caregiving that is a part of our relationship.  Without fail, my love and commitment to her has been renewed on those retreats, the spiritual strength that sustains me has been renewed and enlarged. 

Self-care is not simply an optional task among the many that come with life’s challenges, especially for those charged with the care of another human being.  Self-care is what allows the possibility of being of any use to anyone else, especially the One for whom you care. 

I suspect the question that first comes to mind for many Caregivers is how on earth it is possible to find time to go on a retreat.  Who will care for my Loved One while I am gone?   How will I afford it?  It will only happen if you accept that your self-care has priority.  If something is needed badly enough, we find a way to do it.  We need to eat.   We find a way to do it. 

I went on these retreats when I was working full time and caring for Mary Ann full time when not away from the house at work.  There were some Volunteers who developed the confidence to be a part of the crew who stayed with her when I was gone.  Our daughter and her family chose to move to town to help us out for a couple of years.  During that time, she took one or both of the nights I was gone.  My daughter and her family have driven ten hours to visit this week, encouraging me to take this three day Retreat during part of their stay.

There  are some local organizations that for a charge (one charges $150) will come overnight for a twelve hour shift.  There is a local facility that will provide residential care for an overnight, again, for a charge.  When I began going to St. Francis, the suggested donation was $6.00 per night.  Now it is up to almost half the cost of a night in a motel — a bargain to say the least. 

Your task is to determine what it is that would allow you to disengage for a time from the stream of demands coming your way, what activity would be renewing to you.  It is not impossible to do.  It may is terribly difficult, but it will never happen unless  you decide it needs to happen, it is worth doing.  Do it once or twice and you will understand why it needs to happen.  Take each obstacle to doing whatever renewal activity would be meaningful one at a time.  Do not allow one of the obstacles to sabotage the whole idea.  Reframe the nature of the retreat if need be.  That may mean finding a B&B an hour away instead, or a friend’s vacation home, or the farm still owned by a family member. 

Self-care is not one option among many for a Caregiver.  It is precisely what is needed to do the very task you are called to do.  Love the One for whom you are caring enough to take care of yourself.

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