What Is Your Face Saying?

Sarcasm

Photo courtesy of Michelle Phillips on Unsplash

I like to think that I have saved some marriages while teaching my public speaking classes.

Well, not through my own words of wisdom, per se, but by the sharing of the wondrous works of Dr. Paul Ekman which in turn led me to those of Dr. John Gottman.

Not familiar with Dr. Ekman? Do you recall the television drama Lie to Me that aired from 2009-2011? The show was loosely based on Dr. Ekman’s work; he actually served as an advisor on the show.

Dr. Ekman was named one of the world’s most influential people by TIME Magazine in 2009. He’s the psychologist credited with proving that the facial expressions of fear, anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt are universal.

Along with three other psychologists, he co-discovered micro expressions. According to Dr. Ekman’s website, micro expressions are  “facial expressions that occur within 1/25th of a second. They are involuntary and expose a person’s true emotions.”

So while we may be faking an emotion with our words, our truth is displayed on our faces if someone is watching closely and has studied how to read faces.

Dr. Gottman is an expert in couples’ relational work. He’s been nicknamed “the divorce guy” because, with astonishing accuracy, he predicts divorces.

According to his website, he identified four main negative communication patterns that lead to divorce. They are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

But contempt is the worst. It’s disrespectful and destructive since when we are contemptuous of another person, we’re purposefully attempting to make that person feel worthless and despised.

Sarcasm is a form of contempt. I detest sarcasm. I don’t think it’s funny; it’s just plain mean. Sarcasm is used when someone says something mean in an indirect way. If the receiver of sarcasm expresses feelings of displeasure, the sarcastic person’s comeback is typically something like, “Chill out; I was just kidding.”  “What’s the matter with you; can’t you take a joke?” “Why do you always overreact?”

That makes the sarcasm even worse, since the receiver is now supposed to figuratively wear a sign that says, “I’m just too sensitive.”

Rolling our eyes at another person is a form of sarcasm as is the one word response of “whatever.” (Persons who combine those two double the sarcasm.) I’m upset to know there is an eye roll emoji. 🙄 What, we don’t get enough eye-rolling sarcasm verbally that we now have to have an emoji? Oh wait, I’m being sarcastic. Can’t you take a joke?

Here’s some great advice from the Huffington Post piece noted below:

“Make it your goal to become aware of what contempt is….When you feel the urge to go there, take a deep breath, and say ‘stop’ quietly to yourself. Find another way to make your point. Contempt is a bad habit like smoking or nail biting. With work, you can break it.” — Bonnie Ray Kennan, a psychotherapist based in Torrance, California

Just remember the next time we speak face-to-face, know that I’m going to be watching you. And now you’ll be watching me too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Links to articles noted above:

The television show Lie to Me

Dr. Ekman’s micro expressions

Dr. Gottman’s opinion of contempt

Huffington Post’s take on sarcasm

A Pebble in a Pond

pond

Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash

A great teacher once challenged me to consider the effect caused by tossing a pebble into a pond.

While it’s calming to watch the ripples in the water gently moving outward from where the pebble entered the pond, most of us watch for a while, and then move on.

But think about those tiny surges we set in motion by that one action. The rings move outward and onward until they touch the shore on the other side with an almost silent splash.

The teacher suggested that we are the pebble and the pond represents our life.

We show up (enter the pond) and the initial ripples we create, the strongest ones, are the people whose lives we touch the most.

Those would be our immediate family, our close friends, the people we strongly interact with every day at home or school or work or the neighborhood.

The next outward-bound ripples are the people we still interact with but not as frequently or closely as the first set. These would include casual friends, our child’s teacher, or extended family we don’t see or talk to regularly.

The third set is still part of our universe but even further removed such as people we know to speak to (a clerk in the grocery story, the mailman) but who do not play an active role in our life.

We have an effect on all of these people by how well we treat them. Regardless of which set they’re in, when we interact with people, we have an influence on them.

But there are many more rings still extending across that pond.

They represent the people who are influenced by the people from our rings.

Think about that: You have an effect on people you don’t even know.

When I taught this lesson to middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club, I used my husband as an example.

Spending twenty years as a volunteer paramedic in our town meant that my husband interacted briefly with many people he didn’t know and never saw again after the emergency.

I told the kids a story of his saving the life of a teenager who had been trapped inside a crashed car. The boy recovered and went on to live his life. Think of the people in the boy’s circles who were influenced by my husband because without him, the boy likely would have died.

Every single person that boy (now grown up) ever impacts the rest of his life goes back to the moment when he appeared in a ripple in a certain pond.

And everyone in the boy’s life goes on to influence their own set of people, and so on and so on.

We each have a tremendous responsibility to be the best person we can be to the world at large. The pond is depending on us. Love is the only answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regrets Only? Please, No

Dying

Photo courtesy of JJ Thompson on Unsplash

For eight years Australian Bronnie Ware worked for a company that supplied people to provide personal care of the terminally ill. Her job description as a palliative caregiver included items such as manage medications, assist with showering and toilet needs, ensure patient’s meal needs are met.

She was quite competent in the work but she was even better at something else: listening.

In an interview she said that around the end of the first year in that line of work, she realized that most dying people—those who know they have three days to three months left to live—have deep regrets.

Bronnie began keeping a journal about her talks with those she attended to. She felt called to write about these last conversations in the hope of providing some guidance to the rest of us who still have time to change our lives. In a TED talk, she said that even though she was witnessing the heartache of regret, she felt blessed with these lessons and knew she must pass them along.

From her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, here they are:

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This most common regret is lack of courage in making dreams a reality.
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Ware said that nearly every man she cared for expressed this regret of losing time with their family and friends. The women had been of an age where most of them were not a primary bread-winner, so it wasn’t as common then with women. That likely has now changed.
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” They had settled for a life of mediocrity and never reached a level of being the best they could be.
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Getting caught up in the busyness of their own lives, they let relationships fade away.
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Like me, Ware believes that happiness is a choice. Many of those with this regret just settled for pretending they were content and lived lives without joy.

We’re each going to die; there’s no getting around that fact.

The question is, in our last few days, do we want to look back at our life with regret or with overwhelming joy of how we chose to live?

 

 

 

 

Is There A Dog In The House?

dog hug

Photo courtesy of Mattheus Bertelli / Pexels

Today was the best day yet in my volunteer role as a pet therapy representative at our local hospital. Of course, the dog Rosie gets 100% of the credit; I’m just a tag-along with Rosie and her owner.

When I knock on a patient’s door and ask, “Would you like a visit from a pet therapy dog?” usually a patient’s face instantly brightens as he/she responds affirmatively.

The majority of patients tell us how much they miss their own cat or dog while staying in the hospital. As they love on Rosie, the dog owners particularly will weave the story of their dog: name, breed, age, personality traits, eating habits, and how the dog came to be theirs.

Sharing stories of beloved pets seems to make the patients feel better.

What made today special was the variety of patient interactions.

One aged frail woman thanked us over and over again for stopping in. She said, “I don’t get many visitors,” as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Thank you for visiting me, Rosie,” she called out as were leaving her room.

Another room held a patient, her husband, and a grown daughter. As she stroked Rosie, the patient asked us if it’s OK to give a dog table food. Meanwhile, the daughter was looking sheepish. It turns out she likes to supplement the family dog’s food with bacon, hot dogs, and cheese.

We found ourselves caught up in an obviously familiar family disagreement over feeding their dog. But it was one full of gentle teasing back and forth. (“I’m just saying…would YOU want to eat the same thing every day? Dogs like variety too!”)

Laughter filled the room and it felt good to leave the family in better spirits than when we found them.

Due to their medical conditions, understandably not everyone wants to visit with Rosie. But this morning one man was sitting up in a chair facing the door, and even before I voiced my question, he yelled, “I don’t want a visit from a dog! I don’t like dogs. They remind me of my ex-wife!” We smiled, nodded, and kept on walking.

My favorite patient today was an older woman who was waiting on us. Her visitors had seen the “Rosie’s on duty” sign in the lobby on their way to her room and had promised her a visit from a dog. Her face broke into a mega-watt smile as we entered her room.

Rosie has a calm demeanor so (with the patient’s approval) we lowered the side rail, and Rosie laid her head on the bed as the woman stroked her and talked to her.

Petting a dog, hugging a dog, talking to a dog is truly a healing experience for these patients.

The pet therapy program is the best “get well soon” card ever devised.

 

 

 

Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Loves Me

Photo courtesy of Susanne Karl of Unsplash

The wall plaque on display in the store produced a spontaneous laugh so loud that several other shoppers turned to stare at me. I just pointed at the sign that read, “Jesus loves you. But he loves me more.”

A beautiful message followed by an arrogant zinger…hmm, I have to now question why that struck me as funny.

I’m guessing it reminded me of sibling rivalry where we compete for mom’s or dad’s time, attention, and gifts because, surely, whichever one of us gets the most means we are loved the best. Right?

I don’t have a single friend who, as a parent, holds that mindset. We love our children as individuals, treasuring the extraordinarily different gifts they bring to the world.

At my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party, my husband paid tribute to his mom by saying, “You treated each one of the six of us as though we were the one who was most dearly loved.”

There was a moment of my daughter’s childhood that I vividly recall. She was standing on her bed as I helped her to get dressed. As a five-year-old, she took faith quite seriously, and we were talking about how much God loves us.

With confidence she said, “But God loves good people more, right, Mommy?”

The “does not compute” look of puzzlement spread across her little face as I shook my head no. “No, he loves everyone just the same. He loves people who do bad things and aren’t sorry, people who are mean, and even the people who don’t love him.”

I think up to that point she may have felt that God was like Santa, keeping a list of who’s naughty or nice. And who wants to purposely end up on that naughty list?

In his meditation of January 11, Richard Rohr notes that one of the ways we can awaken our core identity is by “fully recognizing God’s image in all creatures, without exception.” Wow.     

Too often we want to write off people by labeling them as something distasteful or unappealing. I know that I have commented more than once that I prefer not to be around negative people. What if, instead of focusing on the negativity, I looked for God’s image in the person? What will I find?

Loves me, loves me not, loves me, loves me, loves me. And loves you too.

 

 

 

The Faces of Christmas

Photo courtesy of RawPixel.com on Unsplash

About half a dozen years before my mother-in-law Rosalie died, I interviewed her to preserve her life story not just for those of us in this generation who loved her, but also for the future ones who would never have the opportunity to be part of her life.

One of my interview questions was, “Tell me about your favorite Christmas.”

It didn’t take but a few seconds for her to reply, “The last Warrenton Christmas when Honey was still alive.”

Honey was her beloved husband of 67 years when he died in 1995.

And a Warrenton Christmas referred to Christmas at my home. My husband and I had the youngest grandchildren in the family as well as the roomiest house, so it made sense for everyone to meet at our home. And the tradition was cast.

In Christmas of 1994 Laura would have been eleven and Tim was eight; just the right ages for their faces to show joyous anticipation of all things Christmas .

Around the table many faces portrayed happiness at seeing one another. Some faces were tired from having worked busy schedules right up to the big day. A face or two showed the strain of trying to do too much in the week leading up to December 25.

The faces of the matriarch and patriarch of the family showed overwhelming love for each one of us, and there was something else there too.

I call it thoughtful appreciation. It was as if Rosalie and Carroll realized how deeply they were blessed, and they didn’t want a single joy to go unnoticed.

You know, I’m a proactive hostess, doing as much ahead of time that I can. I think each year that THIS Christmas I’ll have time to sit and visit with each person before dinner, but then the day arrives and there seems to be a constant flow of “one more thing” to do.

This year, really…I mean it. I want to be like Rosalie and Carroll were on that day from my past and be thoughtfully appreciative of every single blessing that surrounds me.

I am wishing the same for you.

 

 

 

 

I Feel Like I’m Falling

falling leaves

Photo Courtesy of Dennis Buchner on Unsplash

I experienced a captivating moment today. I stood in my backyard while Riley was sleuthing for chipmunks. As I lifted my face to the sun, the wind chose that moment to gust slightly. Leaves from seemingly every tree were released. They swirled around and around as they floated gently to the ground.

It reminded me of being ten and playing alone outside just as the initial snowflakes of the season fell from the sky. I recall feeling it was a privilege to be there in that moment as the dance of winter took its first tentative steps.

A single mom friend of mine has been going through a rough patch for a while. Most recently a job didn’t work out as planned. She and her child had relocated for that job so it was a double hit. Now they’re moving for a new opportunity and it’s still a time of change for them.

She’s a terrific mom and the kid is a vivid portrait of her good parenting. Like most of the rest of us, she can be hard on herself when things don’t work out as originally planned.

Her post on Facebook about feeling like a failure brought a flood of responses. They were so varied it caught my attention.

Some were supportive, as in, “You’ve GOT this!” Others were logical, pointing out the myriad of ways her child has benefitted from having her as Mom. One sounded like sage advice from a psychologist as the person encouraged her to trust her inner knowing.

But the one I most appreciated was an honest-to-the-core reply from a single father who is having his own life challenges. He didn’t write from the viewpoint of, “Child, you think YOU’VE got problems—well, just listen to mine!”  This type of “helping” is not helpful. At all. So please don’t do it.

No, he just bared his soul by telling us about his life with his son. He said that he had cried more in the past year than any other. The empathy he felt for our mutual friend was evident and soothing. And then he talked about sacrifice, opportunity, and moving forward.

That, dear readers, is helpful.

The variety of feedback reminded me of the fallen leaves. Some are still fresh while others have turned brown. Large and small, symmetrical or torn and ragged, they meld into a beautiful tableau of shapes and colors.

Likewise, we offer up in friendship what gifts we possess. Our answers may be as varied as the leaves, but together they create an amazing gathering of love and hope.

And who wouldn’t want to jump into a big pile of that?

Photo courtesy of Cris Dinoto of Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ashes of Roses

Memory pillow

Photo by Norma Thatcher

When my husband and I were newlyweds, we both worked in Washington, DC. My office was on the way to my husband’s, so we took the subway together, he’d walk me to my building, then go on his way. The process was reversed at close of day.

My husband has always possessed spectacular taste in clothing. He passed a Talbot’s store between his office and mine, and every so often he’d show up at my work with a Talbot’s gift bag. The other women were so jealous as I pulled out something lovely.

My all-time favorite dress from him was light beige with pale pink roses. A pink satin ribbon hung down from the collar. I called the dress my “ashes of roses” dress. That color name came from a television mini-series that ran in 1983 based on Colleen McCullough’s book The Thorn Birds. Maggie, one of the lead characters, made an entrance at a party wearing her own “ashes of roses” dress.

Even after my dress aged and the material pilled a bit, I couldn’t bear to throw it out. The dress hung in my closet for years after I stopped wearing it.

When Tim died at the age of 22, we had him cremated. His ashes sat in his room next to baby photos and boyhood memorabilia.

A couple of years later, out of the blue, my beloved and nearly 100 year old mother-in-law Rosalie called me and announced she had an important request of me: Would I be willing to place Tim’s ashes in her arms when she died so they could be buried together?

Even after all these years, I can’t write that sentence without crying.

My own mom was frail with Parkinson’s disease from the time my children were young. She died when they were just 10 and 13, so Rosalie was the grandmother my children knew. And I loved Rosalie as though she were my own mother.

So her request to hold my boy’s last earthly remains in her arms for eternity was received in love, the same way in which it had been asked.

I wanted something special to hold Tim’s cremains when the time came to place them beside Rosalie. My memory bear-maker Nancy Caldwell (see post from Oct 17) made a pillow from my ashes of roses dress and attached the satin ribbon. She embroidered Tim’s name and lifespan on top.

On November 7, 2012, Rosalie took her last breath as our family encircled her. The evening before her funeral home viewing, I set about lovingly moving Tim’s ashes into the ashes of roses pillow.

It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever done.

Those ashes were not my son. The beautifully spiritual boy with his light-up-the-room smile was not in that dust. I positively knew he was safe from his demons and in our Heavenly Father’s arms, so it was not a lack of faith that overtook me.

Even though Tim had been dead for four years by that moment, this task of love brought everything rushing back and it seemed like not a single moment had passed since he had been found dead. No parent should ever have to bury a child. And yet life, real life that can be incredibly short, happens.

Some days there will be vibrantly colored roses. And some days there will be ashes of roses.

Take no moment for granted. Cherish life.

Tim Thatcher…forever missed. Oct 6, 1986 – Oct 20, 2008

 

 

Teddy Bear Memories

Memory Bears

Photo by Norma Thatcher

The first bear was created not to mark a memory but rather in joyous anticipation of a baby.

 Always the thoughtful one, seamstress extraordinaire Nancy Caldwell made custom crib sheets and a teddy bear in matching print as a gift for a friend who was adopting a baby.

 Later, someone asked Nancy if she could make a teddy bear using clothing from a loved one who had recently died. Since Nancy already had the bear pattern from making the baby gift, it was easy to say yes.

 And that is how Nancy’s Memory Bear project, still going strong, was launched.

 Although Nancy occasionally takes orders from paying clients, the majority of her bears are done free of charge for surviving family members of a local hospice patient.

 The most unusual bear order request produced her most colorful creation. A person wanted each part of the bear made from a separate piece of clothing. So while some might have questioned a bear with such a hodge-podge of prints and colors, the end result was deeply meaningful.

 Since January 2013, Nancy has created over 1100 bears for a Pennsylvania hospice. But that’s not a true total since she simply hadn’t kept count before then.

 For the hospice work, Nancy usually has no connection to the person who has passed away or to the family. She receives the material and request from a Hospice contact.

 Nancy says as she begins a new bear, she lays out the material, smoothing it with her hands, and considers what the person may have been like and what memories this clothing may represent to those left behind. It’s a spiritual moment as Nancy makes a connection to the life that’s no longer on earth. 

 When Nancy made a bear for a widow, the only information provided was that the widow’s husband had been a “spiffy” dresser. Nancy made that bear wearing a tie with a matching pocket square. The widow was delighted.

 I didn’t stumble across Nancy by accident; she’s the best friend of my sister Beverly. When my son Tim died, Bev asked me for some of his clothing so she could have a Tim-bear made for herself. She suggested maybe I wanted one too.

 Nancy ended up making ten Tim-bears for our family. I chose the clothing from among  his favorite tie-dye shirt from his boyhood,   a skateboarding shirt,  his comfy stay-at-home pants that had been falling apart and been held together (literally) with staples, safety pins, and duct tape, and a Superman cape that once was attached to a set of toddler pajamas

 The offset for some of the Tim-bear ears or paws were swatches from a favorite but worn-out dress of mine. When you read Saturday’s post called Ashes of Roses, you’ll understand why.

 Nancy is grateful to know her bears hold such deep meaning to those in the midst of grief. She enjoys reading the thank you notes that the families send, but she is oh-so-humble about her work. She couldn’t fathom why I wanted to write about her.

 I assured her my readers would love knowing about the on-going dedication to her gift of presenting one last tangible memory to those left behind.

 Two adult sisters had been estranged for years. When their mother died, one sister had two matching bears made and presented one to her sister. It was a healing moment and brought them back together.

 Who says a teddy bear can’t work miracles? 

What About A Name? Part Two

Norman W. Fox 1907 – 1931

My Aunt Winona says that my parents chose her as my baptismal sponsor and my mother let her choose my name. Lynne Elizabeth is the name she came up with, Elizabeth being my paternal grandmother’s first name.

At my baptism when the minister asked, “What name is given to this child?” my mother piped up, “Norma Lynn.”  Aunt Winona, in her own words, was speechless.

I disliked my name for the first third of my life until I learned its significance.

My grandmother Elizabeth was just a young teen in the early 1900s when a male relative came and stayed with the family for a period of time. When Elizabeth’s parents were away at a funeral, the man raped Elizabeth. She told no one, likely not even understanding what had happened.

The relative had already returned to Virginia by the time the pregnancy was obvious. Her family made the best of the ordeal.

Norman W. Fox was born in 1907. His grandmother Emma raised him as her own son. This is why my father and his siblings grew up believing he was “Uncle Norman.”

The summer he was 24, Norman was dating a girl who had recently broken up with someone I’ll call Bob.

On the night of August 8, 1931, Norman had walked the girl home and was making his way back to his own house. Bob, in his car with a buddy, caught up to Norman. He beat Norman to death, and then he and the friend drove the body to a bridge. They threw him onto the railroad tracks below.

A newspaper article states, “Fox’s mangled body was found on the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. The theory on which the officers are working is that he was murdered, with the motive not yet established, and the body put on the tracks to give the impression he had been crushed by a train.”

Grandmother Elizabeth had a nervous breakdown over Norman’s death. My grandfather had to hire a housekeeper for several years as, at the time, my grandparents had seven children between the ages of 4 and 18.

No one was ever charged with the murder. But the story does not end here.

In 1958 Elizabeth was summoned to hear a bedside confession from the woman who had run a local boarding house in the 1930s. Bob had been one of her boarders, and the night of Norman’s death, he had come home late covered in blood. He made her burn his clothes and threatened to kill her and her family if she ever told anyone about the incident. We believe he may have told her what he’d done, as she also knew the name of the buddy who had been with Bob.

After hearing the confession, my grandmother sent for my father so he could hear the story. Then they called the State Police to handle the case.

Bob was already deceased by this time, but the friend was now a model citizen. In very different times, the police left it up to my grandmother as to whether or not to press charges against the friend.

After careful consideration, my grandmother decided to let it go. No one was certain how large a part the man had played in Norman’s actual death. Certainly he was complicit to some extent. Elizabeth’s capacity for forgiveness shows the kind of woman she was.

My sisters and I aren’t sure of when our dad learned that Norman was not his uncle, but a half-brother. Norman had been dead nearly twenty years when I was born.

I like to think that naming me after Norman was my mom’s gift to her mother-in-law. Mom married into the family at the tender age of 17 and the two women didn’t always get along.

Aunt Winona says she and her sisters feared it would “kill our mother” to have a grandchild named after him. But it did not.

As one of many much-loved grandchildren, I was likely a daily reminder that life goes on, that it’s possible to reclaim a life of joy after the death of a child, and indeed, that the greatest experience in life is love.