“The cactus and the rose”

I love metaphors and imagery. Both are very useful for me while under hypnosis.

It was a beautiful morning as I entered Connie’s backyard for our hypnotherapy session. The summer’s warmth had not yet penetrated; I appreciated the coolness and noticed the lovely flowers in the garden as I entered her guesthouse.

Before coming to our appointment, I had visited my father who was in a separate nursing facility from my mother. He had only recently been discharged from the hospital. I drove to my appointment listening to my new song. My song was more beautiful than anything I could have ever imagined.

The past week had been busy for me; I was very excited to share with Connie so many things. I looked forward to sharing my new song with her and planned to sing it the moment I arrived. I brought a CD player so I could play the karaoke version of my song’s arrangement and sing along with it. In the quiet of her guesthouse, the sounds of a flute interweaving with a violin lifted my heart as I began to sing my song aloud.

The act of singing was such an intense form of emotional expression for me. My breathing felt effortless as I produced soft, delicate tones for the many high notes in my song. The beautiful melody enveloped my heart and soul with comfort. As I sang the last lyric line of “I need to set you free,” I truly felt peaceful. I allowed myself to appreciate the release that singing had brought me.

Now the room was silent. I could see that Connie was touched. After all, she knew I had not sung for three decades. Sharing my transformation with her was always very moving for me. I had been attending hypnotherapy sessions with her for at least three years. When I first began seeing her, I was a completely different person. I did not hear or play music and my guitar had been mostly in its case for the last thirty years. I was also plagued by many stress-related ailments. My parents were living with me and I was overwhelmed with their care. For many years, I had been fighting with the school district and advocating for all three of my children. My career had dissipated. I was beaten down and very withdrawn from life.

A recent snapshot of a performance at the open mic night held in North Hollywood at Kulak’s Woodshed.

I babbled happily for a few minutes, and told Connie how amazed I was that I had composed a song that was so expressive of my feelings. The week before I had played my “developing” song for her on my guitar. In only a short week, I finalized my song and even had it arranged.

Our session began with me discussing the many aspects of my life that had improved. Even though my children and my husband were adjusting to the new person I had become, I still had elements in my life that were extremely stressful. I was struggling with weight issues again. Connie said she could help me while under hypnosis. As always, I was open to anything she suggested.

It was time for hypnosis. I quickly descended into a deep, hypnotic state. Her voice was very far away. I could barely hear her and I wanted to drift off to sleep. I asked her to repeat what she had said so I could process it. She asked me to allow for an image to form that would represent my stress. I waited for something to appear and suddenly, I was transported into a desert landscape.

I told her I envisioned a cactus. She asked me to describe it. I replied that it was a large, Saguaro cactus; the spines were prominent and close to my face. She told me to allow the image to move from the center of my vision to one side. Gradually it faded into the background as she asked me to replace the cactus image with something else. My next image needed to be beautiful and comforting.

I remembered how when I entered her garden that morning, I definitely noticed all the flowers. I chose the image of roses. I found that interesting because there weren’t any roses in Connie’s garden. When she asked me to describe them. I didn’t see roses that were of one color. The ones I envisioned were exquisite with subtle gradations of white, yellow, pink, and orange.

I told her that there were noticeable thorns. My mind noted how I chose two, separate images that had similarities with sharp spines and thorns. I was surprised when Connie’s voice told me that it was now time to awaken. I was so relaxed and it felt like it was too soon. However, I heard her command and I needed to open my eyes. I squinted and grinned at her as I always did when I awakened from hypnosis.

We hugged goodbye as I was leaving. She said, “Over this next week, I’m hoping that the images you chose will be helpful for you.”

As I left our session I wondered about the significance of my image choices.

I took this picture of my parents to be used on an invitation for their 40th anniversary party, which was held at my home.

“Allowing for beauty to overshadow pain”

It was evening. I closed my eyes and replayed the images from my hypnotherapy session. I wanted to interpret the meanings behind them. 

All I had noticed about the cactus were the spines. I easily imagined the pain of touching them. That was certainly a perfect metaphor for the stress in my life. I was always trying so hard to avoid being wounded. I had become excellent at dodging pain because I would definitely be stabbed, if I weren’t careful. 

The roses were similar because they also carried painful thorns. However, the part that was much more prominent for me were the beautiful flowers. I realized that the difference was that I allowed myself instead to bask in the aroma and appreciate the delicate colors of the roses. I did not focus at all on the thorns.

My interpretation was that the image of roses was far more beautiful for me than the cactus and was another way I could conceptualize my stress.

It was far better to allow myself to look for beauty instead of dancing around the pain.

That was why my song was such a comfort for me. It expressed my sadness and pain, while at the same time allowing me to express my love. The beauty of the guitar chords and lyrics erased all of my sadness.

With this interesting realization, I wrote about some of the stressful moments I experienced over the past two days and utilized the metaphors of a cactus and a rose.

I will categorize the stressful moments first as “The Cactus.” I will follow those with my observations that allow for beauty to overshadow pain. Those will be categorized as “The Rose.”


On Friday afternoon, my oldest son agreed to help me empty out my father’s unoccupied room. It was unlikely that he would ever be able to live independently again. I sent a letter giving thirty days notice, and my father was anxious. He did not want me to wait until the last moment to remove his belongings.

It was hot and I had been shuffling through debris and papers for hours. It was sad to sift through the items of my father’s life that he had deemed important. I tossed piles of old and yellowed newspaper and magazine clippings into the trash. I knew he envisioned sharing many of them with me, but I did not have the time or patience to save them.

I noticed he had saved piles of cards; there were many I had given him. I could not discard those, and put them aside to sort later on. I paused to read one that was written to him by my mother. I could feel the tears well up inside my throat. It was harder to imagine now that they had once been so close. My mother’s dementia had reduced her to a completely different childlike person. My father was incapable of caring for her now and he did not want to even talk to her.

I drove home with my van completely full of trash bags, boxes and bulky items. I had no idea what I’d do with everything, but decided I could think about it later. For the moment, I had promised my father I would save most everything for him. It gave him hope and that was important.

My son and I emptied my father’s car and my van. Soon everything filled up my living room. I did not allow myself to be stabbed by the pain.


I went back to the moment when I read a few of those special cards my father had saved. I closed my eyes and pictured images of my parents when they were younger and stronger. They had once loved each other deeply. I always felt secure and safe with their love. My pain subsided.


I was careful in the morning when I visited my father. I made sure the floor was dry because the last time I had visited his catheter had leaked onto the floor. I almost slipped on a puddle of urine and could have hurt myself.

My father told me he was miserable. All my life he never used profanity, so when he told me, “I feel like shit,” I believed him. He said he had not slept the prior evening. The fact that he was woken up for an ultrasound late at night infuriated him. And then there was his cancer-stricken roommate. My father said, “His moans and cries upset me terribly. I suggested earplugs and he became angry as he snapped at me and said he could not handle them.

From across the room I heard a loud, hacking cough followed by a grown man’s plaintive cries. Then, my father began to cry, too. Two men crying in harmony – It was so tragic!

My father wailed, “You see what I’m talking about?” His distress was overwhelming. It reminded me of how a year earlier my mother had also had a dying roommate. She did not sleep well either for several weeks.

I looked at my father. His eyes bulged and he had shrunken so much. He appeared to have a perpetual grimace. He moaned, “Where the hell is my breakfast?” His irritation was intense, even though the nurse that quickly came to his bedside was patient and kind with him.


I watched my father eat his breakfast, and was glad to see he still had some appetite. I told him that it was nice to see him enjoying his breakfast. He replied, “I’m not enjoying my breakfast, but I am enjoying your visit. At that moment, I saw the barest glimpse of a smile on his face.

My tears subsided with that thought.

My father did not want his picture taken and put his head down on purpose. Both my parents have become very thin.

I am amazed that as I quickly snapped this, I captured my father reaching his hand over to say goodbye to my mother.


After my hypnotherapy session I headed over to a restaurant where my family was gathering for lunch. It had become a weekly ritual, taking my mother out to lunch on Saturdays. Her caregiver, Miriam, came along to help. My two brothers and sometimes a grandchild or two also joined in. My father’s favorite restaurant was “The International House of Pancakes.” My brothers disliked the restaurant, but I didn’t care because I was so grateful that it made my father happy.

I was shocked that my father said he would go this week. He had hardly gotten out of bed since being hospitalized the week before with pneumonia and a blood infection. He had even mentioned how he missed going the week before, while he was in the hospital. I took this as a sign that he still wanted to live.

I arrived at the restaurant; Miriam and my mother had gotten there first. I noticed that Miriam looked distraught. She privately spoke to my older brother and I and explained that my mother’s dementia had progressed to the point where it was best not to tell her in advance of any impending activities. The anticipation caused my mother to become anxious and unravel. Miriam was exhausted from trying to hold my mother together.

A few moments later, my middle brother wheeled my father inside the restaurant. My father was shaking and said he was freezing cold. It was actually warm in the restaurant and I noticed that his sweater was full of holes. My father said hello to my mother without any eye contact; mostly they ignored each other.

My mother looked tired. Her difficult morning had worn her out. It was clear now that she did not make any sense at all. I was aware of how many of her words were not words at all. As she babbled nonsensically, I felt sad. The other family members conversed around her and she would make statements no one understood. I looked at her directly and nodded while smiling at her. I didn’t want her to feel ignored.

During the meal, my father began to cry and said he was upset because everyone was talking too fast. After that, I tried hard to speak slowly. Although my parents sat next to each other, they were miles away from each other. The aging process had reduced my parents to pitiful shells of their former selves.

I remembered how my paternal grandmother never allowed for pictures to be taken of her. Now my father was the same way. When he saw a camera, he shielded his face and put his head down. As my parents said goodbye to each outside in their wheelchairs, I quickly snapped a few pictures.


I heard my song playing in my heart and head as I sat in that restaurant. I felt so blessed to see my parents together. This was a precious lunch; I realized there weren’t going to be too many more like this. There was intuition between my brothers and I with that knowledge. We eyed each other and my oldest brother squeezed my hand.

My parents were surrounded by all three of their children and two grandchildren. Despite the pain of their predicament, they radiated happiness to be alive with loving family surrounding them. I admired their courage.

My smile was broad throughout that special luncheon. I reminded both my father and my mother that I was very happy with my life; that was what they had both wanted for me most.

I tried not to notice their pain.

Although there were many thorns in my life, I allowed for beauty to overshadow the pain.

A transcription of my mother’s words on the card below:

Dearest Lee,

So much has happened and mostly because of me. I am so sorry. Thank god for such wonderful children we nurtured. They are all so wonderful.

All my love,

Your wife, Shirley

© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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