When Yellow Leaves Do Hang

Early Morning West Pond, ©2015, Snapseed filters People say that there is no fall in California. That's not true. Fall arrives slowly and takes its sweet time once here. Sometime around mid to late October, the leaves begin to turn--first the sycamores fade bronze, the gingkos go yellow and finally the pistache leaves take off like bottle rockets with scarlet, crimson, pumpkin and wine, lighting up the city parkways with their stationary fireworks.

It's a month that calls for poetry and I was lucky enough to receive one of the most exquisite autumnal poems ever.

I was talking with my father. We spoke about our understanding of retirement. His definition, which I love, is that all retirement means is that you have left behind a salaried job with all the fringe benefits. My father has written five books since he retired as an English professor and, in his early eighties, is wading deep into his sixth. As we ended the conversation, he told me that he wanted to share a poem and began to quote from memory, Shakespeare's sonnet Number 73. I share it with you because it says so much about the season of autumn and the turnings in our lives.

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou may'st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou see'st the twilight of such day, As after sunset fadeth in the west, Which by-and-by black night doth take away, Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the death-bed whereon it must expire Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by. This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Perhaps that is the benefit of retirement. If we are lucky, we burn brightly with all of the colors of our life; the complex layers of experience, relationships and gifts which come together to be set out again in any form we choose.

Finding Renewal, or, "Self Care 101"

My tools for self-care Self-care. The word sounds a bit stiff, as if someone who liked the meaning of the two words separately, put them together and ended up with less than when they began.

Many times, this essential, bottom line topic is trivialized and minimized so that we keep it at a distance. Frequently, at a healthcare conference, it is the last topic of the day. You are filled to the brim with useful information and ideas, you’re ready to call it a day, and with a scant half hour to go, the moderator gets up to speak on self-care.

The advice is boiled down, then offered up like overcooked vegetables: Remember to breathe. Eat well. Sleep. Rest-- and of course, exercise. All good advice, but how many of us are listening?

We need to be more resourceful in how we look at self-care. It is, in fact, a form of treatment. Vital word: as in therapy, remedy, cure, to care for. Rather than leaving it to chance and the final scraps of the day, I propose that we look at caring for ourselves as if we were a patient or client under our own care. We need to assess ourselves as carefully as we would that patient.

I like to remember quotations I learned in college. One that stands out is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all… To thine own self be true.”

I understand Shakespeare's words to mean, in this context, that each of us finds unique ways of getting whatever we need to redeem ourselves. Those ways are going to be different for each person, just as the course of treatment for the same disease can be different for each patient enduring it.

As I thought about it, I realized there were at least two levels of need for self-care—immediate response to a potentially overwhelming crisis and those activities that we can pursue in abundance, say when on vacation.


One of my tried and true "emergency" treatments is to resuscitate myself with a cup of tea. Taking those few minutes allows my thoughts to settle and often, I regain the clarity and energy I need to meet the next wave of challenges.

If each person reading this blog wrote down all the things they do to care for themselves when they do have time, the list might be very long: making art, running, yoga, getting together with friends, reading, rock climbing, going to a movie, listening to music, swimming, dancing, hiking, hitting the beach, etc.

There may also be an intermediate level of self-care. We want to create ways to sustain ourselves while at, or after work, --an ongoing renewal-- when we don’t have the opportunity to travel to our favorite get away or sanctuary for a few days.


Recently, I presented a workshop on self-care to our Child Life Specialists Network of Sacramento, in which I shared many of these ideas with them.

Afterwards, I introduced and led them through a SoulCollage® workshop; a wonderful and pretty quick route to renewal. We looked right into the heart of the matter: “What sustains me? What nourishes me?”

The results were astonishing. Many participant's artwork revealed aspects of themselves not readily seen. Many uncovered feelings that may have lain hidden, unexplored or simply forgotten.

One of the most surprising results was my own collage. Initially I thought it must have come from my silly side, the side that remembers the theme music from Captain Kangaroo, or spontaneously makes up nonsensical songs. What I realized the next day though, was that in fact, the dancers in their rabbit costumes extolled the power of partnership as a means to self-care. For those introverts among us, we sometimes forget that a powerful form of renewal is to share the company of others.