Several years ago, author and pastor, Gary Chapman, released his book and teaching series, The Five Love Languages. It was all the rage.
I took the quiz, read the book, and tried like crazy to fit myself into one or another category.
The closest I came was to finally throw my hands up and decide that there is a sixth language of love (and life) out there for us to know and speak fluently.
No gifts, no pretty words, or time spent together, or even doing something nice by mowing the lawn or enjoying a fahncee dinner out, or even just holding hands…none of that stacks up to…
Tell me I’m pretty, but look at all the other pretty girls (and boys) who walk by.
Show up once in a while to mow the lawn or take me out to dinner. But ghost when the oven goes out or the teenager runs away. Things that really need fixing take time.
Which leads to quality time. It’s actually about time. It’s not about, as the Air Force calls it, touch-and-go landing and take-off drills.
And don’t buy me off with gifts. That’s just poor form.
With complete respect and deference to Pastor Chapman, all five of the love languages are wonderful. However, if you really read his book and take his lessons to heart, you’d understand none of those languages are spoken in silos or in absence of the greater truth.
Love is a verb AND a noun.
We are not just in LOVE. We show up. Every day. Even when, or maybe especially when, the oven goes out and the teenager is AWOL.
A friend once said to me, “When words don’t match actions, that’s a lie.”
As a result, I’ve defined an “Actions” unspoken language. It’s active, dynamic. In fact, it’s always evolving and adapting. It hones by listening and looking at all situations and people to see them and understand them for…what. They. Are.
Not what we wish, or yearn for, or delude ourselves into thinking they are. Actions don’t bet on the come. They let things unfold and simply be. Actions respond and adapt to show (not tell) actual love for others as well as one’s self.
People who speak this language do laundry for a busy friend. They plant flowers or spread beauty bark or sit quietly beside a neighbor who just lost a beloved pet. They make sure a friend who underwent a medical procedure has something to eat. They also honor birthdays and other special days with a thoughtful remembrance, as well as time spent, together.
In short, those who are adept at this sixth language of love, know. They know how to adapt and speak the other five love languages, at the same time, to those they care about.
Reading actions is an essential skill to apply when interacting with people who can’t speak any love language because they are speaking the languages of grief, anger, fear, addiction, or mental illness. Abusive, hurtful people only hurt other people. If you don’t speak this sixth language of love you only enable them…and yourself.
I say that because the actions of hurting people speak for themselves. I’ve learned that one the hard way. If you speak the language of “Actions”, the kindest thing you can do is step out of their path.
Or, you will get run over.
The other five love languages are based on the assumption that one is fundamentally of sound mind (and heart) and not lugging around a lifetime of unresolved personal baggage. Take time to truly know yourself. Make peace, as much as possible, with your past.
In allowing actions to speak for themselves, it becomes fundamentally easier to see and appreciate people for who they really are. You see them, not for whom you hoped they would be nor are you seeing them for who you jumped to conclusions over. It’s an essential part of speaking this language, fluently. I’ve learned that one the hard way.
People who speak the Actions language…show up with clear minds and open hearts. A person fluent in this language is confident in his or her ability to both respect and maintain personal boundaries.
Actions people—they don’t bargain in things like shame, guilt or fear. They don’t offer ultimatums, whether to stand by, do something NOW, or to get or be something, for you, now. They play the long game. They are patient, kind, sometimes they are even frustrated, but they are love, personified.
Are you the guardian of your heart? Are you a steward of your dearest relationships?
If so, you speak this sixth language of love.
Actions are everything.
Words and gifts, or a car wash or a special meal now and then…those things are nothing without the consistency of the whole. It’s synergy. The sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the actual parts. It’s synergy because it takes all five love languages, working in tandem. Real love includes words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, gifts, and acts of service. Performed consistently. Over time.
The ability to speak this language, the language of actions, reflects an even greater truth.
You have worked your shit out. You are a grown up. You know you are enough. You are whole, complete. As. You. Are.
I don’t know any language that gives as much back to others as to yourself.
So, make a plan. If you’re not there yet, figure out how to speak this language. What’s your path to fluency? It’s usually not that hard once you say, out loud, you need to figure it out.
“Embrace it. Release it,” as another friend once suggested. I pass this nugget on because it’s pure gold.
You can do it. Just take it one step at a time. Don’t Judge yourself or others along the way. Janey McJudgerson, as I call my inner critic, doesn’t speak ANY love language. Letting go of judgement allows you to just figure out what is right for you in order to feel good and whole, in this moment.
Once your feet are planted firmly on solid ground you will soon have this special language well, in hand. Do that.
Stay the course, because soon enough you will be fluent in this essential language of true love and life.
For me, my caregiver role at the time was wholly about my father, my young son, my golden retriever with multiple allergies and my full-and-a-half-time job! My dad came to live with my little crew after a heart episode made him unable to drive and care for himself. Along with congestive heart failure, he was also living with cancer. Those first few weeks with him at my home were like caring for a 250 pound toddler.
Over the time I cared for my father and juggled my other roles, I learned a few things. Certainly throughout this two-year period there was never a moment I didn’t know where I was supposed to be, what I was supposed to be doing and who I was to be caring for. While, for sure, I am a human BEING, at the time I was very focused on the “Do’s” in my life where my responsibilities as a caregiver were concerned. As a result, I became just as intentional regarding the things to DO to restore my soul, each and every day. Over time, I came to group those things into FIVE categories.
I made this the first thing for a reason. I was only eight months into being a single mom when he arrived. I was still working out what the “new normal” was and then he showed up. We all had to figure it out, me especially. In the weeks that followed, I had to be intentional about dedicating time to laugh and lose myself in the moment. I didn’t really know what “fun” was for me, at that point. So I started, here:
When I got my first cold after dad came to live with me, it became immediately obvious the vital importance of taking care of myself. Yet, OMG, how hard is it to take time out to do things like crawl into bed at 7:30 PM…on a Saturday night? I got real and got over my self-righteous, martyrdom-ridden self and figured out what kept me on my feet so I could fulfill my roles and be a whole, present human being instead of a shell and automaton.
Things that were important for me to take care of me included the basics, like time for sleep, preventative health appointments, eating regular meals and exercise. But other things came forward as important for me to do. These were things like getting a massage, bringing home a bouquet of grocery tulips, taking time for a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine) with friends—without children, dogs or dads present. It wasn’t any one thing, it was all those things that made up my definition of taking care of myself. Yours may look totally different and that’s okay. What’s important is that you figure it out.
After you’ve had some fun and taken care of yourself, you will have replenished your emotional reserves a bit. In the process you’ll figure out how-to set up additional help and caregiving resources. It’s an opportunity to determine the highest and best use of your time. It's important to note that after being in my home about a year, my father did so much better that his cancer went into remission for a bit. It became obvious he was lonely and bored while my son and I were out of the house during the day.
So, I moved my father moved into an assisted living facility that was two miles away from the house. Before that, I would have people check on him, but it just didn’t meet his needs for social engagement with his favorite thing: Other people. I also needed help with my son and the dog from time-to-time, in order to get out for fun and self-care. So I got busy and found the help I needed.
Here was an example of my typical day: In the morning, I woke early to fold laundry and get ready for the day. A couple days a week, I had a morning caregiver come in to help my son get off to the bus. Other days I’d drop him at the before-school care but this allowed him to sleep in. I'd leave the house to drop off laundry and have breakfast with my dad.
Some of my FAVORITE times were watching him and his buddy, Bob, hold court at the breakfast table checking out the ladies as they made their way to their tables. Oh, it was funny. After work, I stopped by dad’s to pick up any dirty clothes, went home, made dinner and washed clothes. Went back to say hi with my son, check meds again and we brought fresh clothes with us.
It was a balancing act between the things I kept and the things I shed: I did laundry. I got help with Samuel in the morning. I laid out medications and helped stay on top of those because it kept me close to him and helped his physicians. I got someone else to clean my house and another person to mow the lawn. I also asked friends to stop by and see my dad or be his “date” at functions that I couldn’t attend. It was good for us, all.
Okay, this seems like a simple thing to do, however, as caregivers we’re B-U-S-Y. Being present, to listen, engage in conversation and be responsive takes conscious effort. When I was rested and my soul restored, being present was a LOT easier to do and I’m so grateful for it. I learned that my dad’s best times to visit were:
Early morning and also right at/after meal-time. He could sit at the table or we’d move to the sofa and he would talk to me about what happened during the day and then wander off to regale my son with memories of his life that were both funny and inspiring. I will always remember my father telling my son the story of when he shot a cobra’s head off while overseas in the Marines. It was hilarious and I’ll always remember him saying, “Son, I shot that sucker’s head off!” I will also always remember how it sparked a long conversation about wildlife during war.
Any place that his walker could be stowed away. We had the best conversations on a long drive or over dinner at a restaurant. I also learned the law of attraction by asking him to keep his eyes peeled for a parking spot and laughing, out loud, because we ALWAYS found rock-star parking.
Watching football. My dad’s famous saying was “Two times of the year!” He was the ultimate scholarship boy, playing football for the infamous Chuck Taylor at Stanford University. We’d sit down for a game and talk football strategy the whole game. He loved that time and so did my son and I.
If you spend time together, time that you are really present, you’ll find those things that help engage and honor your loved one. You won’t regret anything when the time comes, and I promise you that time will come sooner than you think.
Worry is a wasted emotion. If you can change the outcome then focus your energy on doing that. If not, the worry and regret won’t help you deal with it. This is where faith comes to the rescue. My faith tradition is that I am a Christian. In my faith, my God promises he will never leave me or forsake me. Whether religion or natural laws of the universe, faith in the outcome, whatever the outcome.
The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote: “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” Let go of worry, regret, the past, doubt, whatever is weighing you down. The gift you give yourself and others ripples through the generations.
As part of that, I need to do my part by doing things that fill my emotional and intellectual reserves. For me, along with fun, self-care, asking for help and being present with my loved ones, it also included quiet, contemplative time to hear that still small voice within me.
Some hurts, some worries are big. Without delving into each of our personal lives and family histories, some things must be worked out with the help of a professional therapist or counselor. But be active, take time to face it, deal with it, and make peace with it.
My dad came to me sick and broke. But the miracle was that his employer continued to pay him. I was a single mom with a six-year old boy, a golden retriever and a full-and-a-half-time job. When my dad came to me it was after my parents divorced at 35 years of marriage. There were decades of unresolved issues in our less-than-functional family. But we made time to enjoy each other. We both let go.
Once upon a time, a man woke to find himself in a dark and squalid place. It was a dreadful prison. How he got there and what happened before, the man did not know. When sorrowful wailing from the other prisoners quelled, sometimes he dreamt of blue skies and fair, salty sea breezes on his face. All too soon, the gloom would return—hauling him back to his fecund, dank cell.
During one of his endless dark days, the man received a visitor. Her blazing, calculating presence descended into his cell. It was an Envoy to the Emperor who ruled this kingdom and its prison. She was escorted by a small entourage of black shadows and had a proposition for the condemned man.
“The Emperor recently created a new game,” the Envoy explained. Her violet breath left ice daggers hanging in the air, almost stabbing the prisoner’s face.
“You get to choose your part,” she offered. “But be warned, neither is good and you will most likely die.”
“What if I don’t die?”
“You will be set free.”
So the man accepted. Surely, it would be better than languishing in his prison cell—not ever knowing why he got there in the first place and without hope of escape.
The man was taken to a Magician’s Lair. He was cleaned, fed, and readied for his entrance into the Emperor’s coliseum.
“You are fortunate,” the Magician said, holding two black vials of potion. Vapors rose from each bottle and twined into what seemed like a nose around the prisoner’s neck. “The Emperor allows you to choose your part in this game. Which do you want to be, the Matador or the Bull?”
Not knowing what the game was, he chose the only thing he knew, to be the Bull. The Magician handed the prisoner one of the vials and nodded for him to drink it down.
Immediately, he was transformed into the Bull. He felt a savage strength as it unleashed from within as he circled his holding pen. A gate opened and for one brief moment, the Bull stood still. He considered that, for a moment, he actually didn’t need to charge into the ring. Hearing a roar from the crowd in the coliseum beyond, the Bull made up his mind and ran toward the sounds that beckoned him.
He knew he was immense and powerful. However, he also knew that the odds were against the Bull. His giant size and reckless power were soon hobbled by a half-dozen of the Matador’s guards, called picadors. They hurled spears, stabbing the Bull. At the same time another group, called banderillos, waved flags to distract and confuse him.
And then the Matador entered the coliseum. An opulent, well-dressed showman, he was the ring master, flipping his red cape to taunt the injured Bull. In a desperate grab, the Bull surprised the Matador. He tore through the fiery fabric, coming dangerously close to his adversary. A gate magically opened for the Bull to find an escape from the fighting ring.
The Bull’s nose billowed out large plumes of steam as his sides heaved with torturous exertion. The Magician and the Envoy appeared and at the same time, the Bull changed back into a man. Those wretched spears clattered to the ground and he was free of his painful lot, though still injured.
“Tend him,” the Envoy ordered.
The prisoner was given a night’s reprieve and returned to his dark and squalid cell. The Magician gave him a blanket and, along with dressing his wounds, offered the man another magical vial. This time it was full of a healing potion. Little did the prisoner know it was also a bringer of dreams.
As he slept, the man became the Bull again and saw the many times he charged those who he felt threatened or frightened him, including those he loved. Even when he was in the wrong.
In his dream, it was almost as if he stabbed himself. He kept driving the spears in further by fighting imaginary opponents of his own creation. He woke in the night and thought deeply about his dream.
The next day, the prisoner returned to the Magician’s lair. Again, the Envoy’s icy countenance gave little away. The man stood before her awaiting whatever came, next.
“You fought valiantly and pleased the Emperor,” she said. “Again, you can choose. Who do you want to be in today’s bullfight?
“The Matador,” he answered, inwardly congratulating himself. Certainly, being the Matador had to be a wise choice in the bullfighter’s ring.
As the Matador, he stepped into the coliseum and was immediately afraid.
The enraged Bull charged and the Matador directed his picadors and banderillos to distract and stab him. They weakened the Bull, both by injuring his body and his spirit. As the Matador, he was grateful. Otherwise, he knew the Bull would surely kill him. Yet, that didn’t feel right. This painful advantage removed all the joy of an honest victory.
It felt like a lie.
The Matador positioned himself at the open gateway to the bullpen, waving his red cape. The Bull charged in an angry rage, tearing the Matador’s cape while running safely out of the ring. He realized it was the same fight as the day before, though this time from the Matador’s perspective.
Again, he was transformed back into a prisoner, standing in dirty rags before the Envoy and the Magician. The man was certain they would punish him for showing mercy to the Bull.
“Why did you let the Bull run through the gate?” The Envoy demanded an answer. She seemed only dismayed, not angry.
“It felt unfair,” he simply replied.
“You have pleased the Emperor, immensely, for your good sport. We look forward to what you choose tomorrow in the ring,” and with that the prisoner returned to his cell. This time, he was uninjured anywhere in his body. Still, the magician gave him a potion to drink.
For his part, the man was grateful because he felt injured inside his soul.
That night the potion again did its work. His dreams were of the times throughout his life when he had taken advantage of customers, or been unfaithful to friends, lovers, and family. He saw how he damaged those he should have held dear but he now understood how he also harmed himself.
The man woke in the night and thought about both Matador and Bull for a long, long time.
By the next morning the prisoner puzzled it all through and remembered. He knew exactly why he ended up in the prisoner’s cell.
He put himself there.
And he found himself in the bullfighter’s ring for a third time.
A booming voice called out over the coliseum, “Choose.”
He became two beings—both the Matador AND the Bull. When gazing across the arena to a magical mirror that encircled the fighting ring, it showed just the man in both reflections. There was no Bull. There was no Matador. It was just him.
Then he became himself, as one whole person. The man looked high into the far reaches of the stands, shielding his eyes and searching for the Emperor.
“It doesn’t matter whether I am the Matador or the Bull. I’ve tortured myself, regardless.”
Before him now stood the Emperor, the Envoy, and the Magician. They waited for the man to say more.
“I don’t need to charge headlong into every encounter. Not everyone is an adversary. Not every situation is a fight,” and he stood, thoughtfully for a moment. “Nor do I need to gain unfair advantage and harm or betray others in order to win.”
Immediately, the trio before him were transformed into three great arch angels. The man knew they were his special guardians and teachers.
“You were sent to rescue me.”
“No,” they answered in unison. “You did that for yourself.”
“Where do I go, now?” the man asked.
The angel who played the Emperor stepped forward, as he seemed to be the leader.
“Wherever you want,” he said. “You dreamed of blue skies and fresh salty breezes. Maybe start there.”
Whatever he decided to do or wherever he meant to go didn’t matter as much as the fact that the man was now free to live and love as he chose—with an open, faithful heart.
While I was growing up, my father was completely at a loss of how to handle my more-than-a-little crazy mother. So, when I was five years old, he dropped us at mom’s childhood home along the shore of Dyes Inlet in Puget Sound. Then he became a super commuter.
To-and-from Chicago, Illinois. In the 1970’s.
He proudly announced to all and hung a plaque on the wall when he became a charter member of the United Airline’s Mileage Plus Club. Of course he did.
As if she would only ever focus her crazy-pants-ness on him. Never her young children. Nope. Never. Not here. Not us, no way. Okay, so then each year starting around Thanksgiving, the holidays were this eclectic fusion of a Hallmark romance movie crossed with Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. The best of times and the worst of times, all rolled into one. Hot. Mess. Dad would arrive home for more than just a weekend and, well, mom proclaimed, “let the games begin.”
I always knew that if I could just live with my Dad, without mom, everything would be simply, wonderful.
Let’s completely ignore that back then a man was not typically the sole, custodial, divorced parent of young children, especially daughters. Especially when trying to assure himself a place in the workaholics’ hall of fame. You see, he was running from his own fears of rejection and abandonment and working himself beyond exhaustion in his business, every day.
He did the best he could at the time. Even though he wasn’t physically there, he gave me what I needed to grow my ass up and get out of that house as soon as possible.
Despite his physical absence, I innately knew that man loved me and my sister.
Years later, I found out. I was right.
Everyone has a rite of passage in life. I will always mark a “before” and “after” through caring for my father as he declined, went into a brief remission, relapsed, and died of cancer over a two-year period. He lived in my home and then during his brief remission, I placed him in an assisted living community. When his cancer returned, I just didn’t want my young son to witness his death.
While I was my father’s caregiver and Samuel’s mama, it was all-consuming but I pretended it was nothing. That last six months, my life was completely regimented. I woke around 430 AM to fold laundry, pack my son’s gear for school and welcome the morning babysitter a little after 6 AM. Then I left for my dad’s place to drop off laundry and sometimes have breakfast with him and his buddy, Bob.
With just minutes to spare, I’d leave for work. Yes, actual work. I worked as a marketing communication professional and helped open our community hospital that same year my father died.
I unwound a similar routine, each evening. I’d pick my son up from after school care, drop by dad’s to get laundry, get home, make dinner, do more laundry, and sometimes go back to visit dad for a little bit with my son and the dog. Did I mention I also owned a fur baby?
Oh, yeah, forgot that bit. Can you blame me?
So, needless to say, life with a son, a father, a golden retriever, and a full-and-a-half-time job made for never a dull moment. My days were FULL with loving, working and keeping the clan motating in the right direction.
After the hospital opened, I was particularly close to the ER staff. They welcomed my dad, often. He was what they called “a frequent flyer” to the ER and the irony was not lost on me. Every. Minute. Of every day. I knew where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing in order to fulfill all the promises I needed to keep to all those I loved.
With Dad’s presence, my holidays became happy for the first time, ever. I could say “Merry Christmas” and really mean it. We enjoyed two Thanksgivings, two Christmases, and celebrated two birthdays, together—since ours were just a day apart, they were always a big deal.
The hospital ER staff welcomed my father for the last time right after our second birthday celebration. He went in on a Friday with a cold and died on a Monday.
In the end, it’s just the beginning
My life was blessed with the arrival of my father when he joined our little family—just me, my son and the dog. We ‘skooched’ over to welcome him and we lived and laughed and lengthened our days, together.
There was nothing left unsaid. There was nothing left undone.
The end of his life was the beginning of my grief and my recovery from absolute exhaustion. Over time, I finally acknowledged my role as the ultimate caregiver. In the end, I finally began my transformation and ultimately, my metamorphosis.
After all those years, I trusted my gut. And, I was right.
Life with my Dad was simply, wonderful. Hard, exhausting, exhilarating and wonderful.
Dad would say, “Honey, it just bothers the shit outta me that you always have to do my laundry.” And, I replied, “The day I no longer do your laundry will be a very sad day for me.”
And, in fact, it was…but just for me. As my father breathed his last I assured him that he would once again be on the field—standing in the huddle then on the scrimmage line to hear the QB call audibles.
I still miss my dad. I feel him near me, often, yet know he is in a far better place. To this day, his imperfect-but-perfect love and his positive influence remains my constant companion. I am a better, inspired person for all that he taught me in life. I pray the same for you.
If you are living with illness, whether yourself or as a caregiver, I hope you live life fully and that those you love say the same of you.