Archive for Relationships

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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What If Greed is More Important than Grief?

When a young pastor, I recall leaving a graveside service. Outwardly, I seemed calm and serious. Inwardly, I was berating myself for forgetting parts of the Lord’s Prayer.

I hardly knew the son and daughter of the recently deceased. They’d called my church, searching for a minister to help them in their “hour of need.” Now, with the simple service finished, the two siblings walked behind me. Without glancing back, I slowed to eavesdrop on their conversation. Were they exchanging snide criticisms about the stupid pastor who didn’t know the words to Christianity’s most famous prayer?

No. They were not.

They were arguing about their mother’s will and her possessions.

I had forgotten the Lord’s Prayer’s final sentences. How embarrassing! At the open grave of a stranger, with a handful of her family that I’d only met in one meeting prior to the service, I’d shut my Book of Worship, and then invited the mourners to pray with me. It was just the Lord’s Prayer. They were words I’d memorized as a kid in Sunday school and had recited every Sunday (and more) throughout my life. But it was one of my first graveside services. I was nervous. I blanked. Faking a few final mumbled words, I hurried to the “Amen.”

The family didn’t know me. They also likely didn’t know any formal prayers, including the “one Jesus taught his disciples to say.” Like most pastors, I occasionally received calls from “strangers” asking for help with a funeral or wedding. I met twice with this family: once to plan the service (“Mother just wanted a few words and a prayer, pastor.”) and once at the grave.

I learned a couple of things that day. Read More →

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