This Must Be The Silver Lining People Talk About

Silver Lining

Photo courtesy of

We Americans surely love our animals. Many American households include at least one pet. There is disagreement regarding the actual numbers, but here are the statistics for pet ownership in US households from four sources:

US Census 49%

Simmons National Consumer Study 53%

American Veterinary Medical Association 57%

American Pet Products Association 68%

Using the lowest percentage would mean about half of American household own pets. Per, there were about 128 million US households in 2018, so that’s 64 million owners of at least one pet.

We’re talking approximately 77 million dogs and 58 million cats. The rest of the pets in the surveys were fish, birds, small animals, reptiles, and horses.

With these high numbers, surely thousands of our creatures die every single day. So the death of a family pet has to be one of the most common life events we face. Certainly, on my pet therapy rounds at the hospital, patients often share stories about pets they’ve loved who have died.

But guess what? The acceptance of the knowledge that our pets will very likely die before us doesn’t make a difference when the pet actually dies. We feel devastated. We need hope. We need a silver lining.

My silver lining in the dark cloud of recently losing my dog Riley came in the form of the outpouring of kind responses to the sad news. Here’s how people reached out to me:

2 Remembrance gifts

2 E-cards

3 Visits

5 texts

6 phone calls

7 hugs

8 comments on my blog post Requiem for a Dog

12 sympathy cards

16 emails

34 responses and 46 comments on my Facebook post about Riley dying and then 24 responses to my Thank You note to the Facebook commenters and responders

I can’t begin to express how much all of that means to me. People are so genuinely kind.

Here is a sampling of the sentiments people offered:

Through your posts and photos, Riley became a part of our lives as well. I looked forward to the posts about Riley because they brightened up my day and had a positive meaning. Thank you for sharing him.

I like to think that God offers exceptional blessings throughout a person’s life, and I believe that having an extraordinary pet is one of those divine blessings. Riley was one of those blessings. Riley loved you…It was evident each time I visited you both and in every photo you ever posted.

Any time I saw you with Riley, your love for him was so apparent. I know if love could have cured him, he’d have lived forever. 

Riley reached into a lot of peoples’ hearts and pulled out a lot of love. He just had that effect.

One of the “sending forth” blessings at my church includes, “Be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”

Be the silver lining of kindness in someone’s life tomorrow.

Sisterly Love Like You Can’t Even Imagine

Sisterly love

LIFE magazine cover April 1996

On March 7, 2006 twins Abigail and Brittany Hensel celebrated their 16th birthdays by testing for and obtaining their Minnesota driver licenses.

Although that sounds perfectly ordinary, the girls made history: They are conjoined twins, sharing one body with two heads.

They drive together as one by coordinating control of the steering wheel, and Abby controls the gas/brake pedals while Brittany handles the left side controls such as the turn signal.

Conjoinment happens very early in a woman’s pregnancy. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Identical twins (monozygotic twins) occur when a single fertilized egg splits and develops into two individuals. Eight to 12 days after conception, the embryonic layers that will split to form monozygotic twins begin to develop into specific organs and structures.

It’s believed that when the embryo splits later than this — usually between 13 and 15 days after conception — separation stops before the process is complete, and the resulting twins are conjoined.”

I’ve seen a variance in the figures of having conjoined twins, but the most reputable sites put the odds at 1 in 200,000. Most conjoined twin babies are stillborn or survive less than 24 hours. About 75% of conjoined twins are female.

The Hensel twins were born into a seemingly ordinary household; Dad is a carpenter and landscaper and Mom is a registered nurse. But for the girls to have blossomed into the people they are tells me that the parents must be extraordinary. From day one they treated the girls as two separate people.

I enjoy watching videos of the girls. It’s amazing how indeed they are two individuals, yet they sometimes speak the same words at the same instant. If one wants to put her head in her hands as in an “I can’t believe this!” moment, the other twin moves her hand spontaneously to make that happen.

Together the girls have shown the world that there’s not much they can’t do: they play piano, dance, participate in sports, ride a bike, and drive a car. They have traveled to Europe. They made history again by graduating from high school and college. They are jointly employed as elementary school teachers. The link below is an interview with the principal who hired them.

In a world where we often hear about cruelties inflicted by middle school and high school kids, it was so refreshing to see the protective social network the girls had. They seemed to fit in so seamlessly.

When they were around six, they were on Oprah and on the cover of Life Magazine. In order to educate the world, to help people with understanding that conjoined twins are not freaks, they did a reality show when they were teens.

The love they have for each other is so obvious. It seems to seep out of their very pores.

I’m willing to bet they are amazing teachers in addition to being extraordinary human beings.


The twins as elementary teachers

Requiem For A Dog


Riley Thatcher, 2016

Before I ever started blogging, I did my homework. One of the rules from the experts was this: It doesn’t matter how often you write; it can be daily, once a week, twice a week, once a month, whatever. But pick a schedule and keep to it. Most bloggers fail because they can’t keep up with the schedule; once a week may turn into once a month which fades to every now and then.

Since I started writing nearly three years ago, I have been pretty darn faithful about writing every Tuesday and Saturday. But you may have noticed you haven’t heard from me since January 12. Since I consider my readers as my friends, I wanted to share why I have missed writing.

My canine best buddy Riley Cramer Thatcher, who had been mistakenly diagnosed with an upper palate injury in the fall, actually had an aggressive oral mast cell tumor. He went downhill very quickly in mid-December and the tumor diagnosis was finally confirmed just after Christmas.

Although we tried to beat the cancer with chemotherapy treatment by a caring oncologist, we lost the fight and had Riley put to sleep on Saturday night, January 19.

For the last week of his life, I stayed by Riley’s side nearly all the time, sleeping downstairs with him so the frequent middle-of-the-night trips outside were easier. I hand-fed him scrambled eggs when it seemed difficult for him to eat from a bowl. There were some dark  January days and a few days when he seemed to rally a bit, even enough to walk in the park.

But if you’ve ever had a beloved pet who has been seriously injured or come down with a usually-fatal illness, you know the gut-wrenching decision that is part of being a responsible master. It’s not about keeping them alive because you can’t bear to let them go; it’s about doing what’s best for them.

In 1890, Robert Louis Stevenson penned the poem Requiem. From the Latin, requiem means to rest from labors.  The word now refers to a religious ceremony performed for the dead. The poem is as follows:

Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill.

Riley, the fearless and tireless squirrel hunter, has come home from the hill.


“Pie Jesu” (Requiem). Taken from the DVD André Rieu – Under The Stars



A Cutest Pet, By Any Other Name

Cutest Pet

Riley Thatcher, October 2018

If we’re personal Facebook friends, you saw my posts in early December soliciting votes to elect my dog Riley as Warrenton’s Cutest Pet. Sadly, he did not win.

I misrepresented him. He’s not actually cute. Cute dogs snuggle up, lick your face, nestle their heads in your lap to be petted, hog the bed, and curl up in front of the fireplace while you read a book.

Riley does none of that. Having had basically no physical contact during his formative first eighteen months of life, he’s pretty much a loner. He stays very much glued to my side at the dog park, and he’ll actually get up and move to the floor with a huff if you try to snuggle with him in the bed. I’ve gotten exactly two kisses from him in the five years he’s been part of our family, and they both occurred on an Easter Sunday. I’m not sure what that means.

So no, “cute” is not the right word to describe Riley. But he is the most handsome boy dog ever. “Tall, dark, and handsome” sums him up nicely. Or “gentle giant” is a good fit as well. And the “oldest soul” in a middle-aged dog would work too.

At the park today was a family with a passel of kids running and playing. When Riley and I passed three of them, they stared wide-eyed at my dog. One of the little girls asked, “What’s wrong with his face?”

Because my sweet dog, who was misdiagnosed for two months as having an upper palate injury affecting his eye, is fighting an aggressive oral mast cell tumor. The tumor pushes out as an egg shape on the right side of his face, causing that side to be swollen. The swelling has forced his third eyelid to stick out, rolling his eye back in his head.

I understand how a child might be frightened by his looks. It breaks my heart.

While mast cell tumors are one of the most common tumors in dogs, to have one inside the mouth is uncommon. Most canine mast cell tumors are found on the trunk or the limbs and are usually easier to treat. Riley is on two types of chemotherapy treatment with an excellent oncologist in a nearby city. He is not a candidate for either radiation or surgery due to the size as well as the location of the tumor. Frankly, there is just a tiny bit of hope that he can beat this.

We live on that tiny bit of hope.

My good friend Patti had also entered her little dog London in the cutest pet contest, and we had a friendly “big dog/little dog” rivalry going on. When I called Patti the other day to update her on Riley, I remembered to inquire if London had won the contest. She said no, but then she gave me a gift. She shared that when I told her about Riley’s diagnosis, she decided that moment that if London were to win, they would relinquish the title to Riley.

Really, with friends like that, bad times can be made a little more bearable.

Riley’s good looks as the world views him may be gone, but he still is and always will be my sweet handsome dog.

“Believe me, if all those endearing young charms…”


My original post about the “Endearing Young Charms” song


I’ll Love You No Matter What. Boom!


Photo courtesy of cocoparisienne on

My Grandma Elizabeth kept a couple dozen vintage songbooks stored in her piano bench. I’ve always been a sappy sentimentalist, and so as a young girl and through my teen years, I loved playing and singing those old sad love songs.

One of my favorites was “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,” by Irish poet Thomas Moore. Supposedly written in 1808 for his wife who had been scarred by smallpox, the poem professed his love for her whether or not she was still beautiful by the world’s standards.

The poem was set to an old Irish melody that also is the tune to Harvard’s alma mater, Fair Harvard.

If you listen to the beautiful instrumental version (link below) by violinist Jenny Oaks Baker, you can scroll the comments and see phrases such as BOOMMMM!!! Or Where’s the explosion?!  Those are random comments, right?

Well, as it turns out, not really.

For whatever reason (and really I can’t think of a single plausible one), the melody has been used in numerous Warner Brothers cartoons with one character trying to blow up another by rigging a piano or xylophone with explosives. The note for the words “young charms” has the TNT attached to it.

According to Wikipedia, “The gag is so well known that it is often called “The Xylophone Gag”.

You can watch several of the cartoons via the link below.

This is crazy. I have to wonder: Did someone at Warner Brothers hate this song so much they wanted to make a punch line of it? And why did they use the gag over and over?

And what’s crazier is that this isn’t even what I was going to write about tonight. So stay tuned for Saturday’s part two of “endearing young charms.”


Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,

Which I gaze on so fondly to-day,

were to change by to-morrow, and flee from my arms

Like fairy-gifts, fading away!

Thou wouldst still be ador’d as this moment thou art,

Let thy loveliness fade as it will;

And, around the dear ruin, each wish of my heart

Would entwine itself verdantly still!

It is not while beauty and youth are thine own,

And thy cheeks unprofan’d by a tear,

That the fervour and faith of a love can be known,

To which time will but make thee more dear!

No! the heart that has truly lov’d, never forgets,

But as truly loves on to the close;

As the sun-flower turns on her god, when he sets,

The same look which she turn’d when he rose!

  • Thomas Moore

Beautiful instrumental version by Jenny Oaks Baker

Four Looney Toon cartoons all with the same premise




I Promise to Love, Honor, and Follow


Photo courtesy of Jens Johnsson on

Taken out of context, the 16th verse of the book of Ruth is often used as a scripture reading at weddings.

Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. —  Ruth 1:16 NLT

But surprise! These are not words of love between two people being married. Rather, it’s what a young woman named Ruth told her mother-in-law Naomi at a crucial point in their relationship.

Naomi and her husband had two sons, and they had lived happily in Bethlehem until a time of famine. Then, attempting to find better conditions, they crossed the Jordan River to a country called Moab. Unfortunately Naomi’s husband died an early death.

The boys grew up and married women from Moab. One son married Ruth and the other married a woman named Orpah. (Note: Spellcheck wants me to change that to Oprah, but it’s actually Orpah. Besides which, Oprah isn’t that old.)

We don’t learn why, but the two sons also died at an early age.

So the three widows were left together.

Naomi made the decision to go back to the family she had left in Bethlehem and entreated her two daughters-in-law to return to their own families there in Moab.

Orpah did so. But apparently, Ruth loved Naomi so much that she made a case of staying with Naomi. And that’s where the verse comes up:  And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. — King James Bible

I get to teach this lesson in Sunday School tomorrow, and I’m so happy. This story resonates with me especially at the beginning of November which is the anniversary date of when my own mother-in-law Rosalie left this earth.

I loved Rosalie every bit as much as Ruth loved Naomi. And without a doubt, I was loved back that much.

Naomi and Ruth, Norma and Rosalie.

I actually had the opportunity to present a tribute to Rosalie on the Mother’s Day the year before she died. I retold this lesson of Ruth and Naomi as I began speaking, “From my lips to your ears, Rosalie, whither thou goest, I will go…”



Remembering Peaches


Peaches and Tim

Peaches. Not the sweet fruit, mind you, but the sweet woman who blessed our family’s life for nearly ten years.

Her real name was Teresa Sharp, but everybody called her Peaches. Our paths crossed when she was working in the nursery of St. James’ Episcopal Preschool. Peaches had been hired to watch over the teachers’ children in the church’s nursery.

We were relative newcomers to Warrenton and when I enrolled my daughter in the preschool, I was ecstatic to learn I could add one-year-old Tim to Miss Peaches’ nursery class.

The following year the nursery class option was discontinued due to insurance reasons. One door closes, another one opens. Peaches became Tim’s daycare provider when I went back to work and Laura started full-day kindergarten.

It was a relationship made in Heaven. She stayed on with our family for years, transitioning from full-time daycare to after-school care.

We all loved Peaches. She was gentle in spirit and strong in her convictions. That sweet smile could melt butter. She was a hard-working, courageous, Christian woman whom I trusted completely.

My favorite story about her is this: Tim had a favorite blankie that he took everywhere. Peaches wasn’t aware that Tim had set his blankie on top of the pile of old sheets and towels that she was cutting up into window-washing cloths. Yep, blankie was suddenly several mini-blankies. Peaches was more upset than any of us was, including Tim. A piece of that blankie rests in my writing room, so that story is never far from my mind.

Peaches’ life ended abruptly on December 13, 1998, when her ex-boyfriend shot her five times as she sat in a car with her children. He shot her teenage daughter and grown son several times as well, but both of them recovered physically.

My husband, a paramedic on duty at the time, responded to the 911 call, but our beloved Peaches was beyond any life-saving help.

The ex-boyfriend fled the scene as well as the state. Of course, the children could identify him as the person who killed their mother, so we were all hoping he would be quickly captured. America’s Most Wanted included his photo and the story in a show that month.

But it wasn’t until mid-February 2001 that Michael Reese was arrested in Daytona, Florida, on another charge and his fingerprints tied him to the Virginia charge.

At the trial, the jury found him guilty and Reese was sentenced to life imprisonment in the charge of Peaches’ murder and an additional 23 years for shooting and wounding the children.

The twenty-year mark of Peaches’ death will roll around in two months. She was one of the most remarkably kind and compassionate people I have ever known. I will never forget her.

People live on in the stories that we tell about them. We have a responsibility to be good storytellers.

You Can Never Have Too Much Heart


a shell heart…photo by Norma Thatcher

Hearts…they’re everywhere. A stock photo site I use brings up nearly 5000 possible choices. Facebook attaches a heart to a post you say you love. Over a million heart shapes are used online every day.

We see hearts in cloud configurations and in rock shapes.


Heart in a rock by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Baristas may add a foam heart as a finishing touch to your latte.  And sometimes we even find a heart-shaped donut hole!


Heart in a donut hole, courtesy of Charles (Duck) Unitas

There are 122 million sites for heart emojis. That’s where I learned that there are heart emojis for

❥a bullet point as I’m doing here

❥a breaking heart

❥a revolving heart

❥a sparkling heart

❥a smiling cat face with heart-shaped eyes, etc., etc., etc.

But hearts are serious too.

When I cannot physically be with someone who is hurting—whether they’re feeling down, ill, immersed in grief, lonely, or otherwise distressed, I tell them, “I’m holding you close in heart.”

These aren’t idle words; I really mean them. I have my own physical object that represents holding someone close in heart.

The picture at the top of this post shows one side of a shell that looks like half a heart. Below is the opposite side. To me, it’s a perfect replica of a heart which has gathered someone in an embrace and is holding them close.

a shell heart embrace

photo by Norma Thatcher

Life is no simple deal. It’s not always easy. People we love get sick. They disappoint us with their actions. Sometimes they stop loving us back. And people we love die.

Right now someone you know is hurting. They need to hear you say that you’re holding them close in your heart.

Speak up; don’t wait for tomorrow. Make the call, send the card, go for the visit.

And now you know when you hear me say, “I’m holding you close in my heart,” that I really mean it.

An aside: You have my permission to copy and paste or print any of my personal photos used in today’s post for any kind purpose.


Starbuck’s “how to”

Interesting article on the plural of “emoji”  

Everything you wanted to know about heart emojis but were afraid to ask


Loneliness Isn’t Just About Being Alone


Photo courtesy of Sam Austin on Unsplash

My mother-in-law Rosalie once told me, “I wish I had learned how to drive. That way I could go visit the lonely people at the nursing home.”

She was around 90 when she made that statement.

Until she took her last breath, Rosalie had a full life with plenty of loving family nearby, neighbors she cherished, and a church family to support her. But she recognized that many people, especially as they grow older, do not have that supportive circle.

Loneliness isn’t just an aging problem though. It affects us at any age and any stage of life. Researchers now consider loneliness a disease and warn that we are smack dab in the middle of a loneliness epidemic.

Loneliness can creep up on us slowly or be brought about more swiftly by a life change such as divorce, the death of a loved one, a move, a change of jobs, unemployment, retirement, a different school, or an alteration of a relationship (such as drifting away from a spouse or a breakup of a friendship).

A common misconception is that loneliness happens just because we’re alone…living in isolation. While being alone can be lonely, new research studies have demonstrated that a feeling of rejection or disconnection that we internalize is the core of the problem. So we can be lonely even when we’re with other people.

What’s so bad about loneliness that we should talk about it? Because the silence is killing us. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, loneliness is directly connected with:

  • A high-risk factor of premature death from many causes. It’s a higher risk of early death than obesity is.
  • A higher susceptibility to viruses
  • Depression
  • Increased risk for Alzheimer’s, dementia, and depression
  • More frequent bouts of stress, anger, and anxiety
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Inflammation
  • Suicide

That is a scary list.

In a world overrun by social media where it often seems like everybody is connected to everyone else, we need to consider what that means really. Loving someone’s post on Facebook does not replace sitting down with that friend just to talk. An emoji does not feel like a hug or a high five. Ten tweets a day about where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing is not a solid basis for a real connection with another person.

I worry about our world…our lack of empathy, our seeming inability to really talk to each other, our focus on shallow issues when we do talk.

I’m asking myself tonight, “I wonder how many people with whom I’ve had brief contact this past week were lonely?”

And if they were lonely, I wonder if they would have told me.



What Is Your Face Saying?


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