A Healing Ritual in a Sweetgrass Bowl: Self-Care for Surgery

My support system is in place, but no one can protect me from vulnerability. When you read this, cochlear implant surgery will be over and I’ll be home recovering. As I write a few days before surgery, I feel the weight of what’s to come. Not the heaviest of weights, but a practice run for the big challenges in life. Still I honor this time as an initiation into a new world–a hearing world.

I’ve longed for this surgery, but I’ll be unconscious and immobile, as they cut behind my L ear to insert a cochlear implant. It’s a small price to pay.

I offer my body to surgical expertise and care, but I do more than submit. Weeks ago, I created a healing altar with photos of my husband, my dad who supported me when I had eye surgery as a child, and my teacher Marion Woodman. I asked for and received healing dreams.

Basket bottom

spiraling seashell

Skilled surgeons and anesthesiologists will do their work. My job is to heal and accept the support I’m offered which is not an easy task for me. My son Anthony will take me to surgery and stay at my home four days. If I need more help, a friend and my North Carolina son David wait in the wings. Friends offer everything from soup to rides to dog care. I accept it all.

A close friend gave me a sweetgrass basket, a perfect fit in my cupped hand, woven from a spiral center like threads of our lives, like the spiral shape of a cochlea. I’ll fill the basket with healing drops and ointments and spiritual reminders. My ritual in a bowl.

For the body and emotions:

  1. Lavender oil: A calming scent to put on warm wrists after my pre-surgery shower.
  2. Arnica pellets: A homeopathic remedy for swelling, injury, and trauma.
  3. Rescue Remedy: a Bach Flower Essence I’ve used since the 1970s for every emotional or physical challenge. A few drops on my tongue or in the weak green tea to sip during the 2 hour drive to the surgical center with Anthony behind the wheel.
  4. A special flower essence made for this procedure by my Arizona friend, taken in drops now and for many weeks.
  5. A bottle of CBD oil for inflammation and healing delivered by friends during the deep freeze. Another gift infused with love.
  6. CBD salve, a gift from my North Carolina family to rub into tight shoulders and jaw—or anywhere I hurt or ache that isn’t bandaged. And when the bandages go, salve for the healing wound.

Tibetan Prayer flags

For sacred help:

  1. Tibetan prayer beads from Namgyal Monstery in Ithaca because prayer beads soothe Hindus, Catholics, Buddhists, and me.
  2. A tiny Sumerian bull face to remind me of my strength.
  3. A small statue of Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of New Beginnings.
  4. Tibetan prayer flags hung inside my home to welcome me when I return.
  5. Two feathers so my prayers have wings.

I can’t say how I’ll pray, but I know I will. Maybe “Help me, Divine Mother” will be the only prayer I need.


What will you put in your medicine basket? How do you care for yourself in challenging times? With gratitude to many online contacts who have cochlear implants, shared helpful and reassuring information, and gave me their time. I don’t know if I’ll respond to comments immediately or be out of commission for a few days. Either way, I always love reading your responses. (Implant audio won’t be turned on until six weeks after surgery when all inflammation is gone, so it’s another waiting time.)

For another article about hearing, see I Want To Understand You: Hearing Loss, Grit, and Grief. For another article about self care, you’ll enjoy My Care Basket for 2019 by Anne Gorman in Voices of Experience at Grief Healing 

  1. May you have a smooth recovery.

  2. Sending you prayers for your complete recovery Elaine.

    • Thank you Gail. I felt held in the loving prayers of friends and the healing arms of Divine Mother. What more can we ask? Oh, hearing… I’m asking for that, too, but not for 6 weeks. Patience needed.

  3. I hope that you are progressing well. Holding you in the Light

    • It’s nice to hear from you, Patt. I’m moving around and tired but OK only 24 hours after hospital release. My son is staying with me and was with me at hospital all day, so that helps, especially when waking up not knowing where we are. Oh, I know you! What day is this? Thanks for your kind holding. That’s the best place to be held.

  4. Dear Elaine, thank you for your wonderful article and sharing of all your healing “tools”.
    I hope your surgery went well and many
    wishes for a good and easy recovery.
    Much love,

    • Helena, the surgeon said it went well and I trust him. Pain is minimal. I’m using all those healing tools. Now I have another 6 week wait until sound is turned on. Then, I’m told, the hard work and fun begin. I loved seeing the 4 generations of women in your family. So much love.

  5. Dear One, thank you for your typically generous and much-needed up-date. So many prayers and so much love, from so many, on their way to you.

    • I’m doing well, Patti. It’s been a gift to feel so much support from friends and also feeling myself in the arms of the Divine Mother. The only prayer I needed was, “Thank you, Mother.”

  6. I shall be keeping you in prayer as you go through this surgery and healing.
    Thank you for mentioning my article that was added to Marty Tousley’s Voices of Experience at Grief Healing.

    • Thank you, Anne. I was working on refining my article when I saw yours. Such similar and needed themes. I’m glad you shared all you’ve learned about self-care and recovery after years of caring for someone else.

  7. I’m writing this after your surgery, and hoping that all went well. I so admire your ability to face challenges like this full on. Consciously. Mindfully. Taking the next step you have to take and asking for all the help you need. You are such a wonderful model of courage, authenticity, and mindful intention. Wishing you a speed and profoundly satisfactory recovery of health, healing, and hearing! Love and blessings, Jeanie

    • Jeanie, when I woke up from full anesthesia, I didn’t know where I was or when it was. Then I sat up and saw my son there–taking photos of me. He knows his mom likes photos. A beat-up woman with a gauze turban with huge lump over the L ear. We’re imagining how to decorate it with musical notation and butterflies. The pressure bandage stays on for a week, but I’ve only needed Tylenol for pain. I asked for and received support from local friends, online friends, and my son who lives far away and texts and sends gifts. Mostly from my son who lives nearby who is getting a taste of what it’s like to caregive. He was with me all day in the hospital and then stayed here last night and will stay as long as I need him, too, cooking, feeding the wood stove, running errands for me. He’s quiet and working, so that’s good for both of us. Now I wait 6 weeks to be “turned on.” That will be another experience, but practicing and discovery, not trauma. Thank you for your blessings. I accept them all.

  8. Dear Elaine, As I read your pre surgery post and know that your implant operation has now taken place, I feel super excited and hopeful that the beauty and gift of sound may slowly (in a new form) return to your world. What great timing too as songbirds lift up their melodies, which in coming weeks will add to the beautiful late spring crescendo! How wonderful to have met others who have had similar surgeries and how generous it was of them to share what has helped them through their own deep, healing journeys.

    What a beautiful sweetgrass basket! I love your two prayer feathers and what you say about wings! It’s great to know you’re being loved and looked after at this time. Your soul’s support and healing altar in place! Yes, open your heart and arms and know the power of love anew! Follow the thread through the labyrinth, cochlea and spiral shell until you arrive home within, for I believe we must connect with both our “Nature’s,” above and below. Sending you love and light across the oceans between us, Deborah.

    • Thank you for noticing the details, Deborah. You always do. My son stayed at the hospital all day and drove me home late last night. I felt ready for a bowl of soup which he heated. The small things mean so much. I ended up with a white feather replacing one of the feathers in the photo because it was sent to me by my writing class. Writing is a way to fly, isn’t it? I feel supported and loved. I needed that or at least wanted it, even though it’s not the most serious surgery and I don’t have the most serious ailment, but I want so much to hear again–people’s voices, those bird songs, even music if I keep practicing. Implant folks tell me what Bach pieces they love again with their cochlear implants. To be honest (and I try to be), I’m thinking Joni Mitchell and late Beatles so I can dance inside in lousy weather. I have a longer list, but you get the idea. And yes to love and supporting each other near and far. I felt held in love all day and still do as I read these messages. As I had to wait a while for surgery. nurses kept bringing warm blankets. The last thing I remember before going under was being held on the stretcher and moved to the surgery table. I felt the swirling movement of that cochlea today, too. It isn’t the most stable for walking, but when I think of it as that spiral of life and walk slowly near counters and walls, I feel happy to move. The only prayer I needed was one of thankgiving. Love back to you, across the sea.

  9. Dearest Elaine . . . I so hope the surgery and recovery go well. Keeping you within my prayers.

    • Thank you, Larry. I appreciate your prayers and kindness. Everything feels just right. I’m so ready to hear again. I’m supposed to give a hospice talk in April. I was asked last week if that was still OK. I said yes. Worse thing is I can remove the implant sound receiver and use the poor hearing I have now in my R ear. Somehow, I trust it will work out fine one way or other.

  10. Wishing you deep healing and new awakenings through this process, dear Elaine, and sweet smiles shared for and with you within the beautiful circles of love, skill and caring hearts, hands, eyes, ears…. <3

    • Thank you, Ursula. It’s been a great week to have thoughts and images of Marion in my life. I feel held in strong circles of love from the surgeon to my sons and friends, from the nurses at the hospital to the robins in my field this afternoon, to Divine Mother’s arms. Those brushes with the Underworld add beauty and love to everything.

  11. You are entering into this special period of your life with preparation typical of you, Elaine: physical, spiritual, and emotional. And friends and family from far and near are on hand to help. Why not!

    And, gracious woman that you are, you will accept it. And remember, Milton words about his blindness, “They also serve who only stand [sit or lie down] and wait.”

    The spiral image is a perfect one to inspire healing of the ear. I am praying for you in my own special way.

    Remember: You made it this far — Yipeee! 🙂

    • Marian, I’m entering a new period of waiting now that surgery is over since sound doesn’t go on for 6 weeks. I feel well enough to think about this incubating time as another important step in moving toward sound. Last night, my son scolded me (sweetly) for moving around too much since I was a bit on the wobbly side. I laughed and asked if he’d just figured that out about me. Seems my husband took most of the blame for impatience, but he was more patient than I am. My son and I shared a long healing laugh. I feel lovingly supported and grateful. Thank you for the Milton quote. I obviously need it. Yes, surgery is done. That’s the hard part, but now the waiting followed by a mix of practice and joy.

      • Another thought occurred to me . . .

        Over the years as your hearing diminished, your other senses became more keen. Think of how sharp you’ll be with restored hearing and other senses in A-1 shape too, my true assessment.

        I’m happy to hear you are on the other side of surgery and able to respond here. WOW!

        • I feel slowed down as much by medicines (antibiotics don’t agree with me) as by the incision, but my energy is steady. Bionic at it’s easiest. By summer I should have some idea how acute my hearing might be, but maybe not that soon. It takes a year for some people to fully adjust. It’s up to the brain learning to interpret new auditory signals and my job will be practicing, taking tutorials, and listening for comprehension. I look forward to trying music, too. The change to a more extroverted life may be fairly challenging. Less time on the computer and more time in the hearing world. An adventure.

  12. Elaine,
    You express your thoughts with consummate skill as a writer and humble aplomb as a human. Acknowledging with appreciation and grace the unseen work of medicine, you open wide our eyes and spirits to the endless space for inner strengthening within grasp. Tangible tools, gifts and ritual provide templates and suggestion for us to implement and discover our own. You send forth words of gratitude for all the things and beings, terrestrial and ethereal, who help you in this endeavor. As we read your piece we cheer you on while storing your gentle, enduring energy to apply liberally when needed.

    • Dearest Ellen, as I just wrote in response to Deborah, one of those feathers was replaced with a white one given to me by my writing class. Thank you for the card signed by all and the feathers needed for flying through this procedure. It’s the first and most threatening step in a long trip, but you’ve watched me take slow and fast steps toward deafness and vertigo. And I’ve watched you struggle and heal. We can find our way through with help–no matter where we’re going. Your words are heartening. I feel relieved to have the surgery behind me and to feel myself surrounded by human and celestial love. I also wish I could be in class this week and look forward to writing at your table next week. I wonder what I’ll write about. Hmmmm… I’m gathering my stories.

  13. So glad that you,re well on this side of the procedure dear elaine and we both send much love to you,

  14. You know you have all my good wishes! Your assembly of natural supports is a good one into which a good deal of thought was placed. I quite understand this is a time of rest and healing. I remember being so very tired in the days after, moving slowly and sleeping often, and being September, sitting in the warm fall sunlight in the afternoons. And I have to smile at the mention of arnica montana. A friend sent me a bottle of pastilles of this very remedy the first time around (the left ear was implanted first) and did I ever need it, what with the swelling. I am a fan of another maker of flower essences, who believes that they can also be applied as drops mixed in water in a spritzer bottle for when the emotions and the spirit need a boost. The blend for grief and loss, I feel, took the edge off the rawness so that I could do the work I needed to do, on multiple levels. Hoping with the coming of spring you will experience a similar rebirth into the world of sound.

    • Thank you, Joe. I feel your support. Sound will be turned on 2 days before Spring Equinox and then, everyone including you tells me, the work begins–but also the rewards. I’m moving slowly, but lying down is a little uncomfortable so I keep head elevated. I wish I could sit on the back porch in the sun or walk in the woods, but it’s damp and cold out there. Not snowing though, so I may go out for a while and see how it feels. I’m using antibiotics as instructed even though I hate the way they make me feel, but I carry my basket of other goodies from upstairs to down. My son bought me a triple pack of arnica yesterday, so I’m all set. I’ve also sprayed essences but not recently. It’s a great technique for sick rooms. I’m using Bach Rescue Remedy for a few more days plus a second special remedy I’ll take the next month or more made by my friend who has been a flower essence practitioner since the 1970s. She made it for my particular situation. She’s branched out from the originals in many directions. For whimsy, I have butterfly stickers on my gauze head bandage at the moment to make me smile and also to remember the coming rebirth into the world of sound. Thanks for all the information you’ve shared.

      • 🙂 The butterfly stickers reference reminded me that you might like this: https://www.greenhopeessences.com/essences/butterfly-kisses

        • Thanks, Joe. I glanced at it but didn’t read yet. Looks interesting. I thought I’d said, but maybe not, that a young woman made a Monarch essence last summer by positioning water beneath an emerging chrysalis with sun rays going through the butterfly into the water–if this makes sense. I’ve never made essences, so may not be explaining correctly, but she captured that moment of transformation from chrysalis to Monarch.

          • I understand perfectly. And how cool! It’s probably a very potent essence.

          • I took it for a month or two while I was raising Monarchs last summer. Steeping myself in transformation imagery.

  15. Sending you lots of healing light Elaine. I can’t wait to hear about your successful surgery and your new life to your ears. <3

    • Surgery is done and seemingly successful. The sound part doesn’t begin until mid March and learning to hear from the new signals could take months or even a year. Patience is not my strength, but I’m getting lessons. Just imagining being in Mexico where you are makes my body relax. Ah, sunshine and warmth…

  16. So much love and wisdom shared in this beautiul circle of healing! I loved learning about the tools in your healing basket and giggling self-awareness with your son. May you always love your open heart and remember that healing is a journey of ups and downs, and never lose faith. ~S

    • Yes, ups and downs. If I lose faith, I’ll contact you. As I just told someone, I now have butterfly stickers all over my white gauze pressure bandage wrapped tightly around my head and L ear. I thought they might lighten things up and they did when my selfie made my sons and daughter-in-law laugh.

  17. Once again, I find myself moved and inspired by reading your words, Elaine. It is wonderful that the only prayer you needed was, “Thank you, Mother.” I’m grateful for your reminder that “those brushes with the Underworld add beauty and love to everything.” How true and yet how easy to forget when we contract in fear.
    And part of your deep generosity is that you share your journey in a way that brings delight to others; I was grinning as I read, “For whimsy, I have butterfly stickers on my gauze head bandage at the moment to make me smile and also to remember the coming rebirth into the world of sound.” Now it’s only five and a half weeks until that part of the journey begins!

    • Medical procedures are always a little threatening, but I was grateful for an opportunity to hear in a new way and didn’t have much to lose. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Everyone at the hospital was caring and comforting. We know that isn’t always the case. I was a little afraid and my blood pressure showed it, but the body is smart to be wary.

      My butterfly stickers took a beating while I slept last night, so I’ll have to redo them. Fortunately I bought a bunch of butterfly stickers at the grocery store last summer. Who knew what I’d use them for, but this life is too damned serious. I’ll take whimsy where I can find it. I hope you’re doing well with your own challenges, Anne. Thanks for healing messages.

  18. Dear Elaine, I stumbled upon your blog while searching for ways to comfort my husband after the death of his father. Your good work has done that but I’ve continued to follow your posts. What you have expressed in idea and emotion have made me feel less alone in the world and in my own personal struggles. You remind me that we, mortal beings, depend on each other and feel the same pain and joy. Thank you. I wish you a speedy recovery and more joy than you can possibly need.

    • Thank you, Betsy. You just being there with love and patience is good medicine for your grieving husband. Grief has its own slow pace, but it helps if we know someone knows we’re struggling and is beside us. Thanks for letting me know you follow my posts and they’re helpful to you, especially that they make you feel less alone in your own struggles. I love being blessed with “more joy that I can possibly need.” I’ll be excited if I can hear better and have high and joyful hopes for that.

  19. 5 days on Elaine after the 5th feb surgery! It’s been wonderful to read your post, the comments and your responses to them. The spiral shape of the cochlear is a beautiful thing, like the inner pattern of a sea shell.
    Today is Sunday. 5 days on. Your butterfly stickers on the bandage is a brilliant idea – you have helped the monarchs so much, now they will help you.
    Thank you for your post Elaine. Your approach to this serious surgery is utterly uplifting. All good healing wishes coming your way over the seas –

    • Thank you, Susan. I go for my post-op appointment today and hope the bandages will come off so I can have the luxury of warm water on my head and shampoo. The simple things. We’re having a big snow/ice storm tomorrow here, so I’m fortunate my appointment is today. Friends will drive me which is also fortunate. I could do it if I had to, but I’m glad I don’t think I’m quite ready to drive 4 hours, especially because I can’t get my glasses over or under the bandage. Like it or not, I’m getting lessons in patience and staying in the present moment. I’m grateful for Arnica and flower essences, but also grateful for Tylenol and antibiotics (lousy as they make me feel). I’m done with antibiotics today!! Hurray!

  20. As always, I am impressed by your beautiful post and uplifting spirit. May the next six weeks go quickly as you wait for sound to return to your life. Music and voices will welcome ypu back with love and some glee.

    • Thanks, Joan. I’m hopeful. At the moment, silly is good. I arrived for post-op appointment with butterfly stickers all over the large gauze head wrap. My surgeon had to laugh. Laughter heals and, besides, it’s good if neither of us take ourselves too seriously. With bandage removal, I saw the long question mark incision (healing well) from above my ear all around the back to behind the ear lobe. My hair is shaved near it. It has punk possibilities–purple or pink? I look forward to audio, but it demands a big change from an introverted to a more extroverted life.

  21. Der Elaine,
    I am happy for that the procedure is over and went well.. I know you will master the relearning.. Spring birds and summer wind will help. I am looking forward to see you at your home and see you feel good.
    Have patience, your neighbor,

    • Thank you, Christa. How are you? Last week, Matt told me he would see you soon. He’s been a big help from dog sitting to loading firewood on the porch. I’m in waiting and resting mode until mid March, trying to be more patient than what is natural to me. I have a new kind of imbalance, but some of the old symptoms like tinnitus are less. The new imbalance, according to my surgeon, is from work done in the inner ear and my body will adjust. We have high hopes I will hear again.
      Warmly, Elaine

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