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  • Writer's pictureHelen Gardiner-Parks

Tickling my father's ear


(Keith Mattinson Gardiner circa 1985)

My dearest community,

A year ago yesterday was the last time I saw my father. I hadn’t had the date in my mind until I realized that I was feeling off and that I wanted nothing more than to curl up and do nothing for the rest of the day. And then I “accidentally” caught a glimpse of a photo offered to me by my telephone.


A beautiful accident, because now I have a place for my feelings. I am in grief. I am experiencing loss and sadness. I am also experiencing disappointment…hmm, that’s not quite it…sadness, it’s more sadness, sadness that I wasn’t able to do more to support my dad as he sat dying in the nursing home.


When he was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, some years ago, I was completing my training as a nutritional therapy practitioner and so I went to him and his wife with an enthusiastic armload of supplements and lots of research to show how the course of his disease could be arrested with nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. I was full of hope, not a thought in my mind that we wouldn’t be able to heal him.

The two of them were impressed by my studies, by what I was learning and my commitment to holistic health. I was elated and optimistic. But the next time I visited they handed back all the supplements, unopened.

They were not convinced that “my way” would do anything for my dad.


He lingered and suffered through four years of institutionalization. Gone was the man who had taught me to race bicycles; gone was the man who had taught me to backpack and cross-country ski; gone was the man who had helped me build a solar cooker; gone was my dad.


Keith M. Gardiner was a professor at Lehigh University for thirty years. Prior to that he had been with IBM and English Electric. I think he even had a stint at Rolls Royce, as well. He was a quietly determined man. His commitment to his students at Lehigh was such that he hosted a barbecue every year in his backyard. The same backyard where my husband and I had a volleyball-and-water-gun reception after our wedding. Dad thought outside the box as he explored different aspects of sustainability in engineering. One memorable teaching assignment took him to Monterey, Mexico and he invited me along to teach creativity and “playful perception” to the straight-edged engineering students. His trust in me blows my mind as I recall this.


It was beyond painful to witness my dad shrivel up and die in a lonely wheelchair pulled up close to the television which he no longer cared about. He had a favorite nurse who would keep it on soccer games whenever he could find them, but Dad was no longer “there,” his dementia had taken over and pulled great curtains over his eyes.


He squeezed my hand while we visited last April and I tickled behind his ear, something I hadn’t done since I’d been a very small child.

It was a beautiful last visit even as I wished he had been there to really enjoy it. If my dad had had his druthers he would not have gone out the way he did. It was awful. To go from the fiercely independent man who had cycled from Vermont to Louisiana to sitting in a diaper with oxygen up his nose was not something he would want for anyone, let alone himself.


Now, obviously there are no guarantees for any of us in our physical lives, but my commitment is to do the best I can with what I’ve got on all the levels I am aware of and to support my community in the same.

And so I implore you, each of you, to take care of the temple you call body. To take care of it as befits an organism which comes from the earth. It does not need colorful, shiny, processed foods in the latest industry-produced flavors and textures. No, it needs only what the good earth grows and provides for us. When we grow and eat foods with respect, we nourish our bodies, minds, and souls with respect and we will long reap the benefits not only in our own lives but in all those who may come after.


It is simple really, maybe not easy, but also not at hard as you might think.


I didn’t expect to share this story with you today, but it shows me the importance of what I do and why I do it. I believe that when we know what our bodies truly need and why, that we are then empowered to make choices which say yes to our health long-term rather than yes to the short-term taste-bud satisfaction of processed products.


My dad grew up during WW2 in England chasing after bomb fragments. He was a latchkey kid before that was probably a thing as his mother, my grandmother Florence, ran the local Red Cross and his father, Fred, was away fighting in India. No one deserves to shrivel and turn into a shell of themselves as they near the end of their time on earth; my dad certainly didn’t envision that for himself, but he didn’t know that margarine was destroying his brain’s cells and he didn’t know to look past what conventional medicine was telling him.


My desire is to spread awareness of the power of holistic healing, mind, body, and spirit, so that we can create a world where more and more of us are vibrant, joyful, and connected to the very end.

And that is why I teach The RESTART Program sugar detox. Please see this website for further information. I will be talking about it in my Facebook group during these upcoming weeks because my next session runs May 3-31 and it is fast approaching!


I would love for you to join me to get you thriving in mind, body, and spirit.


I invite you to join me at the Healing Angels Organization Spring Wellness Summit (register through that zoom link; I’ll be speaking Thursday April 14th at 7pm) where I will explore spring cleaning our body temples.


I am excited to share your journey with you; wherever you are on it is the perfect place to be.


Please reach out if I can support you.

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