I’m a caregiver.
I would use that word to describe the bulk of the work I do in my practice: to hold space, time, and energy to support the healing of others.
Recently, I’ve had to shift my use of the word to include what may be a more common definition (though not the only one): one who provides exactly the same – space, time, and energy – to support the healing of a loved one undergoing a specific challenge that requires round the clock assistance.
I am lucky; I am not alone (though it took me a while to accept). I’ve been more than grateful that others have rallied around me and my family to do this work with me. It’s been an overwhelming gift of abundance in a situation that would very easily drive one to despair. Even with this love magic all around me, it has been a struggle to see the abundance for what it is.
I’m learning slowly, but I’m learning. These lessons have not come easy and not without a lot of complicated feelings, as reflected by the cards that have been most present through this. I share their lessons to me with you, hoping they might guide you to your own needed wisdom, however you might move in this world as a caregiver.
This piece will be more Honey than Ritual. My ritual, as it turned out, was to follow the card’s to their answer – how to find abundance when surrounded by this very specific kind of scarcity.
On the day we received the diagnosis, images of this card from my many decks flashed before me as the doctor spoke. Along with inner voices saying things like, “take a breath, and then another – wait, no breathe out first, okay breathe in, clench your fist – hold in the grief, unclench your fist and look up, you need to listen to this.” Strength in the tarot is very much an internal experience. It is the roiling wave of water in your gut, heart in your throat, and you choosing to face down the oncoming anyway.
As caregivers, we need to remember that Strength is also the moment after the breakdown in the bathroom, after you’ve cried and wailed and despaired, when you splash water on your face, walk out and hold your loved one’s hand. Seeing this card in a reading, as a caregiver, is a reminder that you don’t always have to be unflinching or unyielding, Strength is those brave moments of keeping it together and also what you do after you fall apart.
Caregivers who see this card in their reading will know this energy well. This is you at your best: pulling resources, scheduling time, working out the details, coordinating paperwork – seemingly making things happen out of thin air. The ultimate multitasker, somehow you are working out some way to get the bills paid and managing everyone else’s emotions and advocating for your care-recipient and shifting your own schedule to match and… and… and… when was the last time you had a full night’s sleep?
Four of Pentacles (reversed)
This card usually shows up right after The Magician has had all their magic drained out of them. Did you ever answer that question, by the way? When was the last time you had a full night’s sleep? When did you last drink water? Eat? Receive a hug instead of giving one? Four of Pentacles in its shadow element is the consequence of selflessness gone too far. You have been left empty as a result of giving everything of yourself and keeping nothing for you.
Five of Pentacles
If you’re anything like me, when met with the Four of Pentacles your first instinct was to answer with “of course there’s no time to take care of myself, this is more important,” to answer with scarcity. And through that scarcity, someone (you) has to get the bills together, ensure that my loved one is as comfortable as they can be, comfort other family members, and just all around deal with this horrible thing that is shaking apart everything you know.
Receiving the Five of Pentacles from the Daughters of the Moon Tarot felt just about right. Everything I had, falling into the crack caused by the ground breaking apart beneath me, causing a rift I couldn’t begin to keep together.
I learned almost too late to remember to look up when this card shows up. The ground beneath you may be shaking loose, but it is not the only foundation available to you.
Ten of Wands
Not that it is so easy to look up, especially when the weight is squarely on your shoulders. You are holding everything and everyone up and beneath them is your bowed back, dragging it all along and just one more hopeless moment from caving. Ten of Wands is where caregiver burnout lives. Fun fact: “caregiver burnout” is the second result that Google offered when I was searching out care strategies for caregivers. Apparently it is that inevitable. Or rather it’s inevitable if we forget that caring for others requires us to save some of that care for ourselves.
The Ten of Wands is the big flashing neon sign after all the other warning signs along the way remain ignored or disregarded.
I was surprised to see this card come so soon after 10 of Wands. I felt like no kind of Empress. Where is abundance to be found in all of this worry, sadness, and grief? How did this card of lush and plenty and creativity even begin to fit into my world of monochrome hospital waiting rooms and sickbed vigils? How can this card fit into your world of caregiving?
With ease, it turns out. The Empress is the essence of the caregiver. They are full of care to spare, because they have chosen to be careful. They do not have to withhold their love, because they have learned to give from the overflow. This is the caregiver in you that remembers to eat, sleep, drink tea, and take off to just lay in some grass for a bit. The Empress returned me to the earth to show me I still had soft but steady ground to fall on despite the quake. The Empress is Beltane’s lesson, showing that hope is a form of abundance; prayer is abundance; bringing all that to bear is claiming abundance. The Empress is sad and tired and lays down to rest and still remembers to turn to their magic and summon a spell or prayer.
What does your caregiver’s tarot ritual look like? What cards keep showing up in the light and shadow of your caregiver’s journey?
In lieu of a ritual, how about we share some tea.
I conjured this brew on pure instinct as I rushed wildly out of my home, before a five-hour drive to my loved one’s side. I barely paid attention as I made my selections and shook them all up in a large mason jar, murmuring a prayer to steady my heart. All I knew is that I needed sanctuary through all this, a magic to hold my tender heart while I held up everyone else’s. Here’s what I found when I finally bothered to look at the contents of the jar..
Hawthorn and Rose are dearest heart magic, and they soothed and protected my heart and allowed me the chance to process the mess of emotion passing through it.
Holy Basil has always felt like a loving hand on the small of my back, helping me to sit up straight and carry on no matter how bad it got.
Hibiscus is the sweetness and rest when ease is a long lost memory.
Rosemary in its polar energy was my True North, returning me to myself when I got caught up in the chaos.
Rosemary was also my ancestors with me and likely the ones who added the sprinklings of Calendula and Jasmine, which are my loved one’s herbal medicine. They were whispering their own prayer spells with me too.
What does your caregiver’s sanctuary look like? Is it tea or something, perhaps someone, or somewhere else?
This piece was originally submitted to Little Red Tarot.