By Sandy McPherson Carrubba Geary
I come from a family of communicators. Perhaps that’s why I became a writer. Telling stories is implanted in my genes.
Our family has always used various communication skills. My mother employed what I called “the look.” When aimed at me, I understood I had better change my behavior. Quickly, if not sooner.
After I became a mother, I perfected “the look.” My younger daughter would guiltily glance my way, see “the look” on my face, appear panic-stricken and modify her behavior. Not a word needed to be uttered.
My paternal grandmother spoke in a thick Irish brogue. Even her laugh had a lilt. She joked and told funny stories of life in Ireland.
When my father or I teased her, she gently punched us in the shoulder and said, “Oh, you,” in a soft, loving voice. I never heard her say the words, “I love you.” Instead she showed it by making a pineapple-upside-down cake or shortbread cookies when she knew I was coming. From my grandmother I learned that love speaks in many ways.
Children and pets respond well to non-verbal communication. I have always owned a dog or a cat. If I grabbed the spray bottle, my cat behaved. When I clap my hands, my dog sees my unhappiness with her misbehavior and goes to her bed. Children, too, respond to a loud clap or frown.
The most favorable response from children or adults is elicited by a warm smile. Usually it is answered by one in return and opens communication with strangers. Smiles say, “I accept you.”
Children’s pronouncements are often amusing. If a child says something funny about a serious issue to that child, I cannot laugh. When my husband and I took my granddaughter from San Diego to Santa Barbara, we played Beatles music so she could happily sing along.
At our motel, she met three children from England close to her age and frolicked in the pool with them. After the children’s father called them away, my granddaughter rushed over to us. With her hands on her hips she said in an astonished tone, “Can you believe it? Those people are from England and they don’t know the Beatles!” Then she extended her arms with her palms upward and said, “Come on, people!”
The English people were nowhere in sight, luckily. My husband and I didn’t laugh about her reaction until she fell asleep that night.
Now when we confront a seemingly unbelievable event, we do my granddaughter’s gestures and say, “Come on, people!” Imitating her behavior that day reminds us of the fun we had and her precious innocence. It has become a special language for us.
Spouses have both verbal and nonverbal ways of communicating, not just with hugs and kisses, but with countless ways of saying, “I love you.” During the last year of my first husband’s life, he grew uncharacteristically quiet. Even his nurse told him he wasn’t saying much.
“I used up all my words when I was younger,” he told her. Because of Alzheimer’s disease, words became difficult for him. We communicated by holding hands, hugging or smiling at one another, continuing to express our love. Words may go away but love does not.
My new husband and I tease one another. He often asks the words he asked me on our first date. They are a secret code with deep meaning for us.
When we drive in the car, I use hand signals to indicate where he should turn and in which direction to go. If I ever break my arm, we will have a problem. Perhaps I’ll have to use one of those huge pointing fingers sports fans carry. I know there are many ways in which to get my point across.