Meditative Swims for those we have Lost

(A Women Swimmin’ Participant Profile)

by Erica Steinhagen

“I swim in meditation to those I and others have lost.”

I had decided not to bring my neoprene sleeves. It seemed so warm to me. Even at 8am, it was getting humid, and I didn’t even deign to look at the Cayuga Lake temperature abstract that I so faithfully refreshed each winter dip in order to record the audacity of our character on those bitter days. Today was a miler, and I was so eager to get in, I only made sure to have my sleeveless wetsuit for buoyancy, cap, goggles, Garmin, bright pink buoy… When I arrived at East Shore, I checked. 63 degrees. Hm, ok. I forgot my water shoes, too. Ah, well. I rushed in like always and pushed my face into the water and instantly bucked up and made that hooty reflex-sound like “WHOOF” and then eased back in, letting my face and neck get acclimated as I started the crawl. The water was so still it looked like a pool, but it was earthy and silty and the weeds were starting to reach the surface like they do in mid-June. The cold on my  bare arms made me almost smile, remembering the millions of needles of 32-degree water in February. This was easy. Exhilarating. Here we go. Whoosh. Quiet. And loud. Water in my ears. I’m alone.  

Every single time, it happens. I am distracted by the starting, by the challenge to my comfort, the settling into a rhythm. But then, once I’m settled and in a pattern of right/left/rightbreathe, left/right/leftbreathe, I start to feel a little tightness in my throat. All of a sudden, I hear Carol telling my how when I’m 40, my voice will do that too…I’ll find my lower range, I’ll sing that role, don’t worry, it settles. The laugh, the tease, the big sister squeeze when we part after the gig. I am sitting with Camilla, on the end of her sofa, and she’s got a tiny smile and is much too pale, and she’s telling us how she dreamed us before we were born, the three girls with blonde, brunette, and red hair, she called us the Princesses and we each had a pony to ride that matched our hair, and she drew us, and knew us when we finally met. And then my Kel, at the end, unable to speak, but rolling her eyes with a joke, and squeezing my hand so tight, and letting me rub lotion on her bald head and the sound of her breath the last time I was with her.  

In the water they’re sort of above me and behind me, these women, because in front of me is just green. Foggy green. Flash of sun. Foggy green. Flash of land. Breathe. Sip. Settle the breath. Calm the tight throat. Get it together. I am here because I CAN be. I can still move my body. On land I am now clumsy, less coordinated and strong and confident than before my foot dropped from nerves being crushed by an exploding disc in my spine. I limp on land. I am no longer a fast walker, a source of great pride, especially when I lived in NYC. Not now. I am slow, awkward. In the lake, I am buoyant. I am not fast, but I am confident. I can set my face in the water like the sun is set with some insistence and firmness into the morning sky. Not high, but purposeful at 8:30am. Me too, I say to myself. To the sun. To my women. Me too. I am insistent. I will move because I can move. I am still here.  

Somewhere is my sister, too. She’s quieter. But to be frank, death is all around me. And it is a part of this meditation. Every time. That I have had so many lost to me who were gathered so closely in my net. That is why. That is why I am in the water. Because there is nothing to be done about loss. It has happened, it will continue to happen, we are all plummeting towards it every moment. But one thing I can do is swim. I can swim to raise money for Hospicare. Easy. And hard. I want it to be hard. Two miles. More. Let’s go. I can do it. I am here. I can move. 

I am so grateful to Hospicare for helping us witness and be present for deeply loved ones who are dying. I am so grateful for the support, and resources, and care that allow for the…what? The transition, the guidance towards what is next. The resting of a forehead to a forehead, saying words that might be the last ones. Say them every time in case they are. Then they are. That is all.  I love you, I will always be here, I will be ok, I will take care of her/him/them, always, it’s ok, you can let go, you can rest, I’ll be with you, I am with you, I love you.  

Swimmin’ for My Mom

By Casey Carr

We brought my 95-year-old mother home to live with us at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic so we could safely give her the loving care that she deserved. Although the first nine months were filled with lovely meals together, fun family card games, holiday celebrations and bonding time with my two sons; my mother’s health began to rapidly decline after she suffered a fall. This decline necessitated a hospital bed, Hoyer lift, and an enormous amount of emotional, medical, and physical caregiving. Due to COVID-19, placing my mother in a nursing home was out of the question. 

Casey Carr (left); Casey’s mom – Helene Carr (middle); Casey’s sister – Jayne Weeks (right) 

Hospicare to the rescue! I cannot begin to tell you how Hospicare made it possible for me to care for my mom at home and stay in balance at the same time. The emotional and informational support from the Hospicare social worker was phenomenal. She really cared about me, my mom and my family and made this difficult transition do-able. She helped me find and use every resource Tompkins County has to offer. 

Weekly visits from Hospicare’s nursing staff taught us how to care for and love someone while they are leaving us. They helped with everything from stress management techniques and medical intervention to changes in nourishment, toileting and mobility. They answered every concern and question no matter how odd or uncomfortable. Most of all, the nurse who visited weekly and more during the last few weeks of my mother’s life helped us understand what we could expect and how to respond in a medically knowledgeable and loving way. Please support Hospicare so they can provide this immeasurable resource to others.  

The home health aide that Hospicare provided gave me much needed respite to take care of other things in my own life that kept calling to me. The spiritual advisor checked in every week to ensure my mom and I had someone to process the changes happening during this challenging time.  

And they did all of this for no charge to us at all! And so, I swim for Hospicare to give back so Hospicare might be able to help others enjoy and care for their loved ones at home during the last weeks or months they are with us. Please help me by donating what you can to Hospicare and Palliative Care Services. 

Artwork for our 18th Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare!

Each year a local artist creates a custom design for the event t-shirts for Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. We are incredibly pleased with the amazing work that Lisa Cowden did for the 2021 event. The design is a paper cut out and really captures the spirit of our Go the Distance event. Read more about her background and connection to hospice below.

An Artist Perspective By Lisa Cowden

The Finger Lakes region has been my home for more than 40 years, and if there has been a constant while I’ve lived here it is the enduring beauty of the landscape graced by the transformation of the seasons. I live in the woods, and my studio overlooks an old meander of a creek that goes over Taughannock Falls, and is visited every spring by optimistic wood ducks and the occasional stern heron; it’s a meditative space and suits me well.

No matter how often and how far I ventured out to find work as an illustrator and designer whether it happened to be for Cornell, Corning, or the New York Times, or I was creating my own body of work for an exhibition, the fulfilling and inspiring solitude of nature has always been right outside my window and this room has seen many an ebb and flow of all kinds of projects.

I went to Berkeley. I traveled. I became a certified Montessori teacher, raised goats, children, eventually got an MFA from Syracuse University in surface pattern design, and wrote and illustrated two cookbooks.

Much, if not all of that, is behind me; but I’m still ruining fancy scissors by using them to cut paper and I keep making stuff because it turns out artists don’t retire.

And if I look outside now, I can see that the skunk cabbage is in its glory and the maple leaves are just beginning to unfurl.

I am so happy to have been asked to make the artwork for Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare 2021. When my mother was dying and my brother and I were desperate for support and guidance, we could not have navigated the situation as well as we did without help. It was a long time ago, and in California, but I still remember someone from hospice calling me a year after my mother passed away to see how I was doing. I’m still grateful for that.

Wintering and Cold Water Swimming: An Exploration in Radical Self Care During the Pandemic

by Laura Ward, LMFT, CT

“When it’s really cold, the snow makes a lovely noise underfoot, and it’s like the air is full of stars.”

Katherine May

The water is completely still under a brilliant sky, layers of light beneath a canopy of dark clouds. The moon shone brightly above us.  Walking into the lake, I admire the tiny shards of shell glittering on the rocks below, each shard clear and defined in the calm water. As we swim, I can feel the cold reaching all the way to my center, reminding me to just be, to breathe deep. Walking away, I carry the lake within me, calm and shimmering.

I wrote this reflection after completing my second cold water swim in Cayuga lake with my co-worker Sara Worden, Assistant Director of Community Engagement.  Cold water swimming has been shown to have numerous physical and mental health benefits and many people engage in the practice regularly. 

I became interested in this practice after reading the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat During Difficult Times by Katherine May, which is the book featured in our upcoming community book discussion. 

In the chapter “Cold Water Swimming”, Katherine talks about the mental health benefits and comradery of cold water swimming. Many people are using cold water swimming to help them cope with the many losses experienced during the pandemic. It’s a safe activity that can help swimmers feel connected to the healing powers of nature and other humans.

Book Discussion: March 4th with Laura Ward via Zoom. Register here.

Then, while talking with Sara, I discovered that she had had just booked American ice, open water and endurance swimmer, Jaimie Monahan, to speak at an upcoming event for the Women Swimmin’ community.  After marveling at the coincidence of our shared interest and the intersection of our upcoming events, we decided to give cold water swimming a try for ourselves and committed to six swims over a two-week period. 

Virtual Presentation: March 18 via Zoom. Register here.

It has been an exhilarating experience and one that has reminded me that I need to continue to stretch out of my comfort zone and look for new ways to stay healthy and care for myself as we approach the year mark of the pandemic and social distancing. To many, this might sound like a rather extreme example of self-care and I agree. 

However, we invite you to join us in reflecting on what you might need to keep going during these challenging times.  We hope that you will be inspired by Katherine May or Jaimie Monahan as you contemplate how to answer this question for yourself.

In Gratitude…

This time of year we traditionally gather with friends and family. That may look a little different this year, but we can still cultivate gratitude in our hearts. 

November is also National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, a time to pay special recognition to the work done every day by these skilled individuals, whose dedication to Hospicare’s mission has withstood even a global pandemic.

The story of Norma Helsper (as told in the video below) highlights the continuous service our interdisciplinary team has provided to all those that need our care in our community. 

We also wish to honor those advocates, volunteers, referral partners, and donors whose support sustains the good work of Hospicare. We thank YOU for all the many ways you support Hospicare!

VIDEO: Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare goes virtual!

Women Swimmin’ 2020 – We’re going this distance!We hope you will join us this year for Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. We’re going the distance (virtually)! Whether you’ve been a past swimmer, paddler, Kayak Safety Team member, volunteer, or spectator — or if this is your first year ever participating — you are invited to join us for what promises to be a unique, fun community endeavor. Join us for our VIRTUAL COMMUNITY EVENT, now thru August 8. Open to all! All ages, all genders, all activities, all together!

16th Annual Women Swimmin’ – we made a splash!

WOW! We did it! YOU did it!!

340 lake and lap swimmers, 170 escort boaters, 172 volunteers, hundreds of spectators, 4,000+ donors… and more than $415,000 raised for Hospicare & Palliative Care Services!

A special message from Kim De Rosa, Hospicare’s Executive Director.

Our hearts are full with gratitude and awe, and we are glowing. We hope you are, too. This community is exceptional!

What a year! At the last minute we found out our bus company had gone out of business, but we were rescued by Ithaca City School District. Then we had some late morning wind that made for some challenging swimming and boating, but we are happy to say that every last swimmer was able to complete her swim.
We did it, and we raised over $435,000 dollars!
Escort Boaters and members of the Kayak Safety Team are essential parts of the event, and we could not do it without you!
Whether you were picking up trash, signing in swimmers, or taking donations, VOLUNTEERS are an essential part of the event, and we could not do it without you!
A good time was had by all! Thank you to everyone for supporting Hospicare & Palliative Care Services!

Tips & Tricks for Registration Day 2018!

Gearing Up for Women Swimmin’ 2018

On the morning of Saturday, August 11, 2018 Cayuga Lake will be bustling with activity for the 15th Annual Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare.  Women Swimmin’ is a community swim—not a race—that raises money to support of the work Hospicare & Palliative Care Services. More than 300 women will swim 1.2 miles across Cayuga Lake that day escorted by nearly 200 boaters and supported onshore by 100 volunteers. Dozens of other women will be swimmin’ laps in pools in Tompkins and Cortland counties, across the country and even around the world in the months leading up to August 11.

Photo by Frank Leahy

Women Swimmin’ is Hospicare’s largest fundraising and community outreach event of the year.  Many of the services we provide to our community are possible because of the generous support we receive though Women Swimmin’. Obviously, all of us at Hospicare think it’s a wonderful event, but you don’t need to take our word for it!  The following is what some past participants have said about Women Swimmin’.

From women who swam across Cayuga Lake:

  • “My favorite part of Women Swimmin’ is the sense of community, joy and love on the day of the event, meeting new people, and knowing that I’m helping a family receive the end of life support the need.”
  • “It was one of the most beautiful and powerful days of my life and I can’t wait to do it again and again. The greeting I received coming out of the water from one of the volunteers moved me to tears.”
  • “I believe in the purpose, in Hospicare. The swim is a wonderful way to raise money and give back. Swimming across the lake I swim with all I have lost. Shadow swimmers beside me crossing the lake on a beautiful morning.”

From women who swam Laps:

  • “It just feels good to do something that is good for the community as well as for your own health.”
  • “I loved being able to swim Laps because I couldn’t make it back home to Ithaca for the swim! It was fun to stay involved despite being farther away.”

From some of our boaters:

  • “Rain or shine, wind or calm, it’s a great day. A chance to be on the water, do good, honor those that are gone, celebrate with those that are here, and help promote an extremely important and worthy cause.”
  • “It is a fantastic way to support friends, families and Hospicare. In a world that is full of negatives, this is a celebration of Life.”
  • “Hospicare was my family’s blessing a few years ago. I was glad to give back to them!”

If you’d like to join us for Women Swimmin’, as a swimmer, boater or volunteer, here’s what you need to know to participate in this year’s event:

  • Lake Swimmer registration will open May 7 at 6:00 AM. In past years swimmer registration filled in 2 to 3 hours, so if you’d like to swim the lake this year, we suggest you plan on setting your alarm for 6:00 AM on registration day. This year’s event is eagerly anticipated by women in our community–and beyond. Some will even come from other states and other countries to participate!
  • Boater registration opens April 15 and will be ongoing until August 5.
  • Women Swimmin’ Laps–where swimmers swim at their own pace in a swimming pool of their choice– opened for registration March 15 and will be ongoing until August 10.
  • Volunteer –registration opens May 15. We rely on the help of over 100 volunteers to make Women Swimmin’ possible!

For regular updates on the 2018 event, “like” Women Swimmin’ on Facebook.

For more information, visit www.womenswimmin.org