Archive for Relationships

Death Sneers at Schedules

RumiA long time ago, friends asked my wife and me for support during the birth of their child. Such a privilege! We set aside a day for the wondrous event. Everyone was ready: parents, nurses, doctors, and yours truly. But the baby hadn’t gotten the memo. Hours went by. Labor continued. A sunset eventually became a sunrise. Labor lurched into a second day.

Though we may think birth is predictable, it’s not. You’ll ask the friendly obstetrician for the birth date and she’ll provide a day or range of days. The expectant parents mark it on the calendar. They are ready with answers for the inevitable question: hey, when is your baby due?

Except that labor can sometimes seem to lead to birth in less time than it takes to read this sentence.

Except it can also feel like giving birth lasts longer than the winter snow melting in Wisconsin. Read More →

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Hospice and the Love Hormone

It was her voice I first heard as a child learning my way in the world. [Photo – London Scout/Unsplash.com]

On a thousand and more Saturday mornings, I called Mom.

We talked about nothing. We talked about everything.

Saturday early morning was our weekly date. There were times—I’ll be honest—that it smacked of an obligation. I should call Mom. There were also weekends where the call was interrupted by her schedule or mine. But over the course of those years, the calls were a fixture, a way for us, living in different zip and area codes, to connect for a few moments.

The last call was in the summer of 2013, a few weeks before she died. I miss her voice.

How much do voices matter?

Not long ago, I read about research conducted in 2010 by University of Wisconsin’s Leslie Seltzer. A biological anthropologist, here’s what Seltzer and his team of researchers found when they:

. . . tested a group of seven-to-12-year-old girls with an impromptu speech and series of math problems in front of a panel of strangers, sending their hearts racing and levels of cortisol—a hormone associated with stress—soaring.

Once stressed, one-third of the girls were comforted in person by their mothers—specifically with hugs, an arm around the shoulders and the like. One-third were left to watch an emotion-neutral 75-minute video. The rest were handed a telephone. It was mom on the line, and the effect was dramatic.

“The children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone,” Seltzer says.

The girls’ levels of oxytocin, often called the “love hormone” and strongly associated with emotional bonding, rose significantly and the stress-marking cortisol washed away.

Wow! . . . was how I felt when first running across this research. My quick glance at other like-minded studies confirmed Seltzer’s simple, powerful insights about the impact of the human voice. Read More →

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Entering a Home in the Wee Small Hours

Had it been that long since they were able to take a walk?

The phone rang at one in the morning.

I sleep deeply and wake fast. Moments after the call, I was dressed. In less than fifteen minutes, I arrived at their home and stood beside their bed.

The husband wept. I’d never seen him cry before.

She lay beneath the sheets. In repose, eyes closed, and you could (almost) pretend she was blissfully slumbering through the night. But she was dead.

Later I’d recall Charles Dickens’ familiar opening in his Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” Aren’t those extremes how you react to the after-midnight calls? Why else would the phone ring in the wee small hours, except to convey the best news about a child’s birth or a beloved’s safe arrival from a far-flung war zone?

Or to share the worst news.

The odds of a jangling phone conveying the “worst” message was high. Back then, I was the on-call chaplain for a hospice. Most nights remained calm, but all could be disrupted.

And death always seems a disruption. Read More →

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