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Alyssa Geiger and her daughter, Grace. Photo by R. Short

Care-fully into Advent

Self-care can help prepare us to receive — and give — the joy of Christmas

By Carolyn Pogue

After fastening our seatbelts for a flight, we’re told that in an emergency, “secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.” That advice could apply to the busy Advent season, too. That's because self-care can help prepare us to receive the joy and beauty that Christmas offers while helping us to care for others. Two people came to mind as I reflected on my own Advent “oxygen mask.”

One is Peter Short. He has cared for me as my minister and friend, and for the United Church of Canada as our moderator. Short knows how to offer pastoral care in strong and gentle ways. But that doesn’t mean he’s without his own concerns. He recently told me: “My gifted daughter is working her way through a life crisis, my implacable mother is losing her world to Alzheimer’s and my brave sister is grieving the death of her youngest child. And there's a lot I'm not counting — some of it insoluble. So I have come to understand what my eccentric grandmother used to say: ‘A thing has to be believed before it will come true.’ But it's not enough to just to believe; we have to accept.'"

Peter added that he finds it helpful “to share common memories with my loved ones who are suffering — helpful to him and, he thinks, helpful to them. "Shared experiences of memory places us on common ground. It is a form of companionship — better than handing out advice. Journal entries, photographs, favourite foods, treasured objects, conversations and songs  — there are many forms in which memory can tie us together. And together is good medicine.”

Alyssa Geiger, who attends Calgary's Hillhurst United Church, offers more good medicine. The owner of Pommier Care Company, Geiger is a yoga and meditation instructor, birth doula and ayurvedic lifestyle coach. She said that she became familiar with — and suffered symptoms of — compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout “probably semi-annually.” And she was surprised to experience the same feelings when she became a mother.

“As a new mother, I was led to a year of introspection, prayer and the study of traditional yoga — and it’s sister science ayurveda (the study of life and self-healing). Through this journey, I developed the passion to help other caregivers, and a care plan for myself that is imperfect but beautiful and constantly evolving."

Whoa! When she told me this, I wondered how my life would have been different if I’d considered my own needs rather than responding to each crisis as it arose.

“I set boundaries,” she continued. “I implemented self-care programs to deal with the inevitable fatigue. I suggest that there are three foundational pieces to real, energizing self-care.

Firstly, attention to self and Spirit, and leaning on support people are crucial.

We also need movement and good nutrition to fuel our own fun.

Finally, Geiger says: “taking care of myself is about knowing myself. What works for me might not work for others. What worked in the spring might not be effective mid-winter or in the next season of my life.  Keeping our vessels full in order to give well of ourselves to loved ones is a sacred task.”

I wish you the blessing of a care-full Advent season. Just remember your oxygen mask.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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