Loving in all five languages.

Last week I had a meeting with two charted accountants and a bookkeeper.(I’d rather stick needles in my eyes, but we do what we have to do). During the course of the conversation I mentioned Gary Chapman’s Five love languages. (I have no idea how we went from cost of sales items to that, but it is amazing what the ADHD mind can accomplish when unfocused). All three of them stared at me blankly.

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I looked at them and said slowly: “t-h-e five (hand gesture used) looooove languages”. Still not much comprehension. I said it again, and I think they understood “five”, but not the other words, so I explained further that the five love languages are:

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1.Acts of service
2.Words of affirmation
3.Quality time
4.Gifts
5.Physical touch

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These are the ways we all express and feel love. Some of us express in one language but like to receive in another. Some people have learnt the art of picking up how different people want to receive love and then adjust their own love language to suit the other person. Some people speak many languages; some people not so much. In the conversation with the accountants, I quickly surmised that one of them is both deaf and mute in all five languages. (Fortunately while he may be a love-language mute, he has a great sense of humour to compensate, so we laughed about it before crunching numbers again).

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We see the love languages play out with our guests and their loved ones. A young woman passed away recently at the lodge. She was diagnosed and three weeks later she passed away (beautifully I might add). She was incredibly popular and loved in a community of mostly single women. There was a small group of girls that came every day. They would simply show up empty handed and sit next to her bed or outside her room in the sun, making their presence and their love known. They reminded me of sentinels: fully present and giving their friend their undivided attention.

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When we collected the guest (she was too weak to be transported by her family or friends) we saw that her house looked like a florist shop. There were vases and pots of flowers everywhere – in fact, there were so many that the bouquets spilled over to the patio! This is the work of those who show love with gifts. (I admit that this is my language! I love unwrapping a gift or hearing that little Netflorist scooter coming round the corner!).

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We have a mother of three daughters staying with us at the moment and it is interesting to see how each of the three girls express their love for their mother differently. One daughter makes sure there are new flowers in her mom’s room weekly. The other daughter spends hours with her. She’ll often pop in before or after work and just sit with her mom and watch a Netflix movie or even have a nap with her mom in the bed. The other daughter talks! She phones and chats and chats and encourages and just lavishes her mother with words.

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You might know that my dad is in our care, and he expresses his love with affection. He has always valued physical touch and I notice this now more than ever. As his dementia steals more and more of his cognitive skills I see how he affirms us by touch. He will often start a sentence and midway stop and just purse his lips, ready for a kiss. Or his special carer, Gift, will walk past and then he’ll ask him to come sit with him and hold his hand. There is such a powerful connection for him emotionally when we touch him. It is a blessing too as this is by far the easiest form of expressing love to someone as frail as him.

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Acts of service is the love language most men in my life speak. Often women misinterpret this attempt to be loving as men just wanting to “fix things” as though we are damsels in distress, but in fact, they are just showing us that they value and  cherish us so much, that they want to make our lives easier. People with this love language often struggle to express their love in words or physical touch, so I find it helps to give them practical tasks: go and buy that O2 concentrator, go sort out the medical aid or go water your loved ones plants. Doing something practical is what feeds their souls.

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Sometimes in our line of work, we have to face the reality that there is nothing left to do. It is heart wrenching when the time comes and there is nothing practically left that will make any difference and no way you can make the suffering stop or take the pain away, and this is why we need to learn new ways of expressing ourselves.

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Amy Chua said about languages: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery!”

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So take my advice: learn some other love languages. Go buy that perfume, give a compliment, put some effort into a real big bear hug, open the door for someone and put time aside in your diary to be totally present with someone you care for. We can all only become braver and richer as we learn new languages for showing love.

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