SEQUIM — No matter how careful you are, no matter how sensible, surprises arise. And there you are, “in a state of total disarray,” as Craig W. Andrews put it recently.
Retired from a long career as a counselor and social worker, Craig, 76, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. A couple of years earlier his wife Tara, now 65, had faced colon cancer.
Yet the couple, together 26 years, cared for each other. Their health stabilized, and they returned to their passions: writing poetry and short stories for Craig and sand-tray therapy for Tara. Money was still tight, with meager Social Security benefits, but they were, as he described it, “tiptoeing through” the rough patches.
Next up, in the middle of 2019, was news from their mechanic: The car needed a brake job.
“We simply did not have the money,” said Craig, “nor any idea of where to procure it.”
Then he looked back over his years as a caseworker for Serenity House and other agencies. When people came to him in financial crises — rent increases, steep heating bills, vehicle breakdowns — he’d discovered Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) and the Peninsula Home Fund.
The 31-year-old Home Fund is one of the resources available to local people who need a hand up as they regain their footing. Administered by the staff at OlyCAP, it’s a fund stoked entirely by donations from the people of Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Craig realized the time had come around for him to seek that help. He called OlyCAP’s Port Angeles office, “and these people were with us from the very beginning,” he said.
Craig and Tara’s income qualified them for an emergency Home Fund voucher, which they provided to their mechanic. Brakes were replaced. Safe transportation was restored, as was their peace of mind.
The pair welcomed the new year in their snug home in Dungeness, where Tara has her busy therapy practice. Since the 1990s she has worked with clients in the sand-tray modality, also known as sandplay therapy.
The client — who can be a young child, a teenager or an adult — sits beside Tara at a deep tray filled with fine sand. The surface is smooth at first; Tara invites the client to walk around the room, which is lined with shelves full of toy figures. There are hundreds of them, from animals and people to miniature houses, bridges and cars.
Pick out whichever figures you want, Tara says. She gently encourages her client to create a scene, even a world, with the figures arranged in the sand tray.
The tableau, as it unfolds, can reflect the person’s experiences, ideas and dreams.
Tara sees eight to 10 clients per week, including some who found her on the Psychology Today web directory. In its description of sand tray therapy, the site notes that the modality is often used with people who’ve experienced some sort of trauma or neglect; it can help an individual express her or himself without having to search for the “right” words.
Clients take their time building a scene in sand. Then, if they choose, they can talk with Tara about the figures they selected and what they’re doing in the scene. The clients might then take another step and move things around or away.
Psychologists Margaret Lowenfeld and Dora Kalff developed sand-tray therapy some 70 years ago. Lowenfeld, an English pediatrician, invented the technique for children; Kalff, a Swiss Jungian analyst, studied with Lowenfeld and introduced sandplay to therapists across Europe and the United States.
“Clients, guided by the therapist, begin to understand the connection between the world they created in sand and their own inner world. By making changes in their make-believe world, clients are often empowered to make similar changes in their real world,” according to PsychologyToday.com.
“It’s very powerful,” Craig said of his wife’s work.
In addition to helping building her sand trays, he has facilitated yoga and meditation here and in Port Townsend, where he and Tara first met in the mid-1990s.
They look forward to continuing to see clients in their home office in 2020. And, philosophical couple that they are, Tara and Craig will cope with the surprises, financial and otherwise, that the year brings.
Tara also helps care for her 88-year-old father, who still lives in her home town of Portland, Ore., along with her extended family. To visit them she takes Clallam Transit’s Strait Shot bus to Bainbridge Island, rides the Washington State Ferry to Seattle, hikes to the International District and catches the Bolt Bus to Oregon.
Craig, for his part, will keep up his writing practice. He’s been a steadfast participant in the Fourth Friday Readings at The Lodge at Sherwood Village in Sequim, and is featured in the 2019 anthology “In the Words of Olympic Peninsula Authors, Volume 3.”
“Life,” he said, “is an incredible adventure. I’m just constantly amazed at what I’ve been able to do.”
He also expressed gratitude to his neighbors on the North Olympic Peninsula.
“Thank you,” Craig said, to both OlyCAP and the Peninsula Home Fund “for being there for your community.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.