I read this post on Facebook the other day:
“The Japanese term Shinrin-yoku may literally mean “forest bathing,” but it doesn’t involve soaking in a tub among the trees. Rather it refers to spending time in the woods for its therapeutic (or bathing) effect. Most of us have felt tension slip away in the midst of trees and nature’s beauty. But science now confirms its healing influence on the body. When you spend a few hours on a woodland hike or camping by a lake you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants to protect them against insects and from rotting, which appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost your immune system.” ~Mother Nature Network
I do love the woods in northern Michigan. Yet the sound of the breeze blowing through palm trees is a sound that I have loved forever. Could it be that there is something very healing about walking barefoot in the sand, feeling the salt air against my skin, feeling the warmth of the sun against my skin, listening to the surf as the waves barrel into the shore? “Beach bathing” is soothing to my soul.
Since my move home from Kauai to Michigan in 2002, I have spent spring breaks visiting my parents at the condo they rented for two months every winter in Florida. My parents and I have always been good “beach buddies.” We all enjoyed morning walks along the seashore, watching dolphin and observing various sea birds. One beach we frequented had gopher turtles in the dunes. One had manatee swimming in a river near by.
The last trip I took to Florida was with Raymond in the spring of 2011. We drove his camper down to visit my parents who were in Bonita Springs. Our plan was to stay one week with my folks (I remember Raymond being a little hesitant about that length of time) and then continue on to the Keys.
When we got to Bonita Beach, Ray and my Dad hit it off so well, we stayed two weeks with them! My dad loved Raymond. Raymond loved my dad. They spoke for hours about each other’s families, their military experience, their mutual employment at Ford Motor Company and of course, ethnicity (Raymond’s favorite subject).
Dad had told me that one of the things he loved about Raymond is that he truly was interested in my Dad’s life, his history, and his experiences. Although Raymond was a talker, he was also a good listener.
Both Raymond and my Dad are gone now. I’ve spent over two years caregiving and helping both of them make their transition home. When I wasn’t caregiving, I was grieving. Most of my free time in the past two years consisted of being paralyzed, unable to get off the couch, unable to eat, clean my house or take care of myself.
I decided, late last summer, that I needed to winter in Florida this year! Due to my frequent anxiety attacks, my brother made the 17-hour drive with my cat and me. After a rocky start (the place I had rented, was unacceptable), Bruce and I found a clean, beautiful 2-bedroom condo on Manasota Key. The key is a narrow strip of land that lies between Lemon Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Bruce flew back home on Jan. 6th. It was a chilly January here, and I had about 5 good beach days. The rest of my time was spent lying out on the lanai getting sun. Although temps were in the 60’s, the sun was shining and it felt like the 70’s to me. Being on the second (top floor) of the condo, my sight line is level with the tops of the palm trees. I spent days on the chaise lounge chair, looking at the breeze rustling the tops of the palm trees.
Slowly, ever so slowly….. Something amazing happened to me! I started to notice that I was happy again. My time in the sun has helped me find my smile again. What a revelation! In my first month here, I remembered that the tropics are good for my spirit. Maybe enough time has gone by, and my grief is lessening. The cloud of sadness that I have been sitting with for two years is lifting. I did feel lonely a couple days in January, but mostly I was happy.
My mom, with a bit of hesitation about leaving home only 8 months after my dad’s death, decided to come stay with me for 2 months. She arrived on Jan 28th. We are both glad that we are in a “new area” of Florida. We aren’t seeing ghosts around every corner. The memories we are sharing together are happy ones. It is sad to be here without my Dad and without Raymond, but I believe they would both be thrilled that we are here together; beach buddies for life, my mommy dear and I.
The death of the two most influential men in my life and the grief surrounding those events literally grounded me. I realize that I needed that time on the couch. I also realize that my time on the couch is over.
At this point, I am filled with hope. Hope that when I return to Michigan, I will bring my smile back home with me. Hope that I will stay off the couch and start to participate in my life again. Hope that I do indeed, have a life and I intend on living it with gratitude, trust, and faith. The cloud has lifted. Life is a series of peaks and valleys. It is what it is. I’m climbing up a peak, “beach bathing” at sea level, healing my spirit. Life is good.