[00:00] Deborah: And I remember smiling and even laughing out loud. And from that moment on, I recognized for myself that I always have that choice. And when I would look, we do that to ourselves. We poke a sore tooth with our tongue like we just can’t stop poking it. Or you know how you relive maybe a conversation that was conflict or an argument? You tend just play it over and over and again in your mind. You have a choice whether you do that or not.
[00:32] Bobbi: Welcome to UnYielded Thriving No Matter What, where we talk about how to make your next chapter in life your best chapter. I’m your host, Bobbi Kahler, and I believe that the best is yet to come. Part of being human is experiencing love, happiness, and joy. And at times, we all go through those times of grief, disappointment, or simply unmet expectations. When that happens, it’s what we do next that matters the most, because that determines if and how fast we find our way back to joy or if we continue to find more disappointment and more negativity. In this conversation, my guest Deborah Covell Fletcher, and I talk about how we can intentionally find joy, grace, and acceptance in life, how we can exercise choice even when it’s tough. And by the way, even when it is tough, it’s probably when it’s most important to exercise choice. We also talk about the power of humor to lift us up, and that when we put our attention on the negative. Unfortunately, that’s what we get more of. So a little bit about my guest before we meet her. Deborah is an adult educator, author, and speaker. She’s also the mom of twin daughters. She is the author of Finding Your Hay a Crash Course, embracing Grief and Embracing Joy. She is also an advocate for her daughter who lives with multiple disabilities. Deborah, welcome to the show.
[02:07] Deborah: Thanks for having me.
[02:09] Bobbi: I have to start with this because I know your book is called I want to make sure I get this right. Finding your hay a crash course in braving grief and embracing joy. And as soon as I saw that, I’m like, okay, what does that mean? Tell me about finding your hay. What’s your hay?
[02:25] Deborah: So we all experience grief, and our expectations aren’t met all those things in life. My sort of big catalyst in terms of the grief that I experienced was I had twin daughters almost 24 years ago, and one was born with severe disabilities. So she has cerebral palsy. She uses a wheelchair. She eats through a g tube. She’s nonverbal. She’s incontinent. And so that was really tough at the beginning, as I’m sure you could imagine.
[03:05] Bobbi: Absolutely.
[03:06] Deborah: And so that was my crash course. I mean, it was just suddenly, bam. Now, the Finding Your Hay comes from my father was my inspiration, so he had a heart attack and a stroke when he was 46 years old, and I was 21 at the time. So that was not only my first experience with grief, but also with myself feeling that emotion, really. But I also got to witness his own recovery and dealing with his own grief. He lived and he lived to be 82, but the stroke did damage to his mental processing, so he completely lost his speech at first. He got it back for the most part through two years of speech therapy. That’s awfully young for something that catastrophic to happen. And unfortunately, he was never able to work in his career again, so he was unable to work. So financially, socially, that feeling of accomplishment like all that was taken from him. And so I watched him deal with that with grace and positivity and he lived a wonderful life full of love and wonderful experiences. So when he was first, he had a heart attack and he was still in the hospital and he had a stroke nine days later. And when I learned of that, I remember I was at my mother’s house, my mom and dad’s house, and so I called the hospital and I quite literally couldn’t understand a word he was saying because he lost his speech. It was just this garbled and I was devastated. My ever articulate life of the party dad. And so the next morning when I went to visit him at the hospital, I was feeling this sense of dread and sadness and just horrible feelings. So I walk into the hospital, I’m walking down the corridor towards his room. I don’t know how he knew I was coming, but all of a sudden he just jumped out of his room into the hallway and just arms outstretched, just went, hey, like that to greet me. And honestly, that was the only word that I understood the whole visit that we had. And obviously he was saying, I’m okay, it’s okay, it’s going to be okay. My baby, right? You know what I mean? So he did that for me, but I always thought of it as a symbol of what he did for himself as well. As I said, he managed to come through his own grief and live this life full of intentionally finding the good in life and dealing with all his issues with, for the most part, grace and acceptance. And so then cut to many years later when I have my daughters and I’m experiencing this tremendous grief and loss of expectations and this isn’t what I thought my life would be like, and I’m so devastated for her and everything else, and I just thought, oh, I got to find my Hague. He was my sort of role model for dealing with challenges in life. And it’s not that you just go, oh, well, those don’t matter, I’m just going to carry on. It’s more complex than that, obviously.
[06:56] Bobbi: Way more.
[06:58] Deborah: Yeah. So as I went through everything and my daughter, by the way, is just pure joy and she leads a very happy, fulfilling life. She is not able to participate in the working world. She went to school and was in special education programs, and she now attends a day program that a bunch of parents. We got together and created this recreation day program for our kids that are in similar situations, and it’s run by recreation therapists who it’s just fun and games all day. So she leads a very happy life. But I had to learn to come to terms with my loss of expectations. When they were about 1819 years old, I started thinking about how I had come through it and how I was choosing to live this life, of finding the joy and embracing all of the happy moments in life and so on. And I thought about my dad. And so I sat down and thought, I’m going to write a book. And to structure it, I interviewed four friends of mine who all experienced, as we all do, different grief stories, completely different from mine, and I recorded their stories and then how they’ve come through on the other side. You never get over things. You just learn how to carry them between their stories. My story, my dad’s story, I was able to sort of pull together some almost strategies and tactics, in a sense, that came through from all of our stories and sort of weave these stories together and in the end talk about that intentional way of choosing positivity and choosing happiness, even in circumstances that don’t provide that.
[09:16] Bobbi: Yeah, I love that.
[09:19] Deborah: That was a very long answer to your question.
[09:21] Bobbi: No, there’s so much in there, though, Deborah. You painted such a great visual. I could just kind of see your dad like, hey, but here’s something that stood out to me. You said he was 46 when he had the heart attack and stroke, right?
[09:33] Deborah: Yeah.
[09:34] Bobbi: And he lived to be 82.
[09:36] Deborah: Yes.
[09:37] Bobbi: So not quite half of his life, but a good portion of his life. Can you imagine, had he not found his way to accepting that and think about it?
[09:50] Deborah: There’s probably lots of people that don’t. And this was just in him because, of course, that was a long time ago. He passed away in 2020, so you’re talking 40 years ago. And there was no grief counseling for him or anything? No. So no support in terms of his emotional state. He just kind of this is just who he is. And he’s a very smart man. So he recognized that this could spiral into something really dark. He got up every day, showered, shaved, got dressed, and he had nowhere to go. He wasn’t going to work physically. He was not impacted in a negative way from the stroke, and he recovered from his heart attack because he was so young. So he golfed, and he actually golfed right up until about three months before his death. And he ended up dying of congestive heart failure. Because his heart had sustained a lot of damage at that age of 46. And so it sort of was that accumulated damage that ended up just being too much for his heart and his body. So he made that decision, and probably a lot of it was for us, his wife and his children, but he also would have recognized that it was for himself. And it’s funny because I talked to him when he was 69, he shot a hole in one. No way. Yeah. And then, get this, six weeks later, he shot another hole in one. And so I said to him, it makes sense that you did it again because you were in this state of thinking, anything is possible. That’s right. He said, that’s exactly it. And he said when he putts every time he putts, he expects the ball to go in the hole, and it usually does. So that’s the kind of attitude that he lived his life, because really, when it comes down to it, we can all choose how we feel by what our thoughts are telling us, and we can control that. I had a real sort of AHA moment when my daughters were young. So they are twins, as I said, and so I would be taking them in a double stroller, walking down the street, and if I happen to pass another double stroller coming my way. So this is on sort of a busy street with shops and restaurants and that kind of thing, which is right near where I live. And I would always look in that stroller. And if there was a healthy set of twins in there, I would just stick a knife in my chest, right? And if it was little girl twins, I would just plunge that knife right in and I always had to look. And most of the time it was maybe a one year old and a three year old and a double stroller, you know, and that’s what I did. So this is you know, my girls were fairly young at the time. And then one day, I’m walking down the street, pushing my little stroller, and a double stroller is coming towards me from the other direction, and a voice in my head said, Just don’t look. And I mean, it was my voice, obviously, but so I didn’t look. I didn’t look in the stroller. So I don’t know if it was siblings or little friends or twins, and it just didn’t matter. And the stroller passed me and I remember smiling and even laughing out loud. And from that moment on, I recognized for myself that I always have that choice. And when I would look, we do that to ourselves. We poke a sore tooth with our tongue, like we just can’t stop poking it. And we tend to seek out right, and we tend to seek out things or, you know, how you relive.
[14:19] Bobbi: Maybe.
[14:19] Deborah: A conversation that was conflict or an argument, you tend to just play it over and over and again in your mind. You have a choice whether you do that or not. And so in this moment, it really came to light for me that I have a choice whether to look in that stroller or not. And in fact, I have a choice as I go through my life, what I focus on, am I focusing on the negative? Am I focusing on the positive? And that’s exactly what my dad did. He chose to not focus on what he could no longer do. He couldn’t go to work. He couldn’t hang out with his friends and colleagues and couldn’t earn money. He couldn’t experience life the way he had been used to doing. And so he focused on those aspects of his life that he still had. He still had the love of his wife and his children and he could still experience things. And it’s funny, when his friends retired almost 20 years later at age 65, then the playing field was kind of leveled. Then they were all out golfing together and it was a different experience for him. But it’s all about choice. That’s going to be a little tool that you can put in your tool book for tool belt, rather for managing challenging situations as you encounter them throughout your life.
[15:45] Bobbi: Yeah, I’m really big on choice because choices, it really is everything. And you’re exactly right. When we have that sore tooth, our tongue cannot leave it alone. We’ve got 30 some other good teeth or however many we have, but we’re going to poke on that one. I think that we put our attention on the negative. We are doing that to ourselves.
[16:15] Deborah: We are. And it’s actually partly biological. We have this part of our brain called the amygdala, and that’s the fight, flight, or freeze portion of our brain. And it’s always scanning and it’s always looking for something that’s going to threaten us. And so, unfortunately, it’s the part of the brain that responds first before our actual thinking brain can respond. And it’s got this negativity bias. It’s always thinking, what’s out to get me? And so that’s why we just focus on the negative, because we’re just trying to protect ourselves, I guess. So it takes a lot of effort to look for the good and look for the positive. Everybody’s talking about gratitude and power of gratitude and how it can shift your mental focus and your emotional state and so on. And I was having a coffee with a girlfriend about a month ago, and she said, everybody says, oh, write down three things at the end of the day that you’re grateful for. And so she says, oh, I’m grateful. I’ve been doing this every day. I’m grateful for having a roof over my head and my dog is wonderful and my daughter’s doing really well. And she said, It doesn’t mean anything. And I said, that can happen. And I said, So what if you chose because this is what I do. What if you chose three different things every day? And it could be something like, oh, I’m so happy my jeans fit today, or I got a great parking spot, right?
[17:54] Bobbi: That’s right.
[17:55] Deborah: Flower come up in my garden. Like, it doesn’t have to be big.
[18:00] Bobbi: Yeah.
[18:01] Deborah: So in terms of that, I just find that so helpful. Yeah.
[18:05] Bobbi: The three good things. Another thing, he was a friend of mine. He’s been on my podcast a few times, and we just recorded another episode a couple of weeks ago. He’s the type of person that every time you talk to him, you’re like, oh, boom. Insight. Boom. I just love it. But he talked about for his gratitude practice, he includes at least one thing that he is grateful to himself for.
[18:29] Deborah: I love that. Isn’t that great?
[18:33] Bobbi: Okay.
[18:35] Deborah: That is a game changer.
[18:37] Bobbi: Yeah. Michael, as soon as he said it, I’m like, because I’m grateful I did my weights today, or I’m grateful, whatever it might be, I’m grateful for the way I handled that or whatever. I just loved that.
[18:51] Deborah: I love it, too. That’s awesome.
[18:53] Bobbi: Yeah. I just thought that one bared repeating it does awesome.
[18:58] Deborah: Yes. That is that’s huge.
[19:00] Bobbi: Yeah. And you’re totally right, too, because you said it takes work to see the positive, because it’s not our natural response. And I know that for myself, it’s been a journey. Right. I’m a very positive person, and it still takes work. You can spend a lot of time looking at whether it’s relationships or whatever it might be. Oh, so and so. Why doesn’t so and so like me? And over here on the other side, you have ten people waiting to give you hugs or who support you, but we obsess about the one.
[19:35] Deborah: That’s right. We absolutely do.
[19:39] Bobbi: We totally do. So what is your experience? Or what have you learned about how do we, I don’t know, do the work on the positivity so that we’re, I guess, I don’t know, maybe more mindful with the choices we’re making that way, if that makes sense.
[19:54] Deborah: Yeah. I find that it’s a habit because you are actually changing those neuropathways, and so it takes more work at first, but it’s like any other habit, and apparently habits take longer than 21 days to form. And so what’s interesting is if you can link the habit with something that you already do as a habit yeah. So whether it’s when you’re brushing your teeth every day, you think about what your intention for the day is going to be, focus on what positive things you’re going to accomplish or do or experience. So it’s like if you link it that way because it has to become a habit, and then you eventually do get better at being able to focus on the positive aspects, and you get better at looking for the positive because it just does become a habit as you go through your day, so habit stacking. It really is about the stacking. Yeah.
[21:17] Bobbi: It’s a powerful mechanism.
[21:19] Deborah: It is. This is probably sharing too much, but I do a particular exercise when I’m blow drying my hair and I do like, what are they called? Like squats or pliers. And so looks weird if anybody happens to be passing by the bathroom. But I linked that years ago, and now I cannot stand just still upright and dry my hair. They are so permanently linked.
[21:59] Bobbi: That’s right. But that’s a great thing, right? Why not take advantage of that time? My hair was longer. I just recently cut my hair. It used to be like down to, I don’t know, a little bit past my shoulders. And I have really thick hair. It was at least 25 minutes with the blow dryer just to get that mop.
[22:17] Deborah: No, until you cut your hair.
[22:19] Bobbi: I was like, Good Lord. And it’s so thick. Even when I was washing it, it would take 15 minutes just to get the soap that the shampoo and the conditioner in and then rinse all the way. I’m like, I have too much other stuff I want to be doing. But what a great use of time.
[22:35] Deborah: I love that. Yeah. It’s a silly little thing. And those kinds of actions work. And I mean, that’s a physical thing, but you could do a mental thing as well, or mental emotional habit thing.
[22:54] Bobbi: Yeah, I love that. One thing I read recently, it was one of Wayne Dyer’s books he was talking about a simple thing, too, is to just check in with yourself and say, is what I’m thinking about? Is it making me feel good or bad? I’m like, that is such a simple tool.
[23:13] Deborah: It is, absolutely. It’s sometimes hard to recognize when we’re feeling something negative, but you can almost see the signs in your body, like if your heart’s beating fast or you’ve got fists and you’re all sweaty. It’s almost like your body can tell you before your brain can tell you that, oh, you’re feeling you know, you’re you’re you’re feeling anxious or you’re feeling whatever that negative emotion is. Right.
[23:46] Bobbi: And then that’s our opportunity to make the choice and to shift that’s.
[23:51] Deborah: Right.
[23:52] Bobbi: That’s not always easy. I’m the first to say it’s not easy.
[23:57] Deborah: It’s not. And you really have to find a practice almost that works for you. So whether it’s petting your dog or stepping outside for a moment or whatever it is, you have to just kind of break that negativity physically and mentally.
[24:21] Bobbi: Yeah. It’s funny you mentioned the dog, because it’s so funny the way life works. I was listening to something today. I love headspace. I don’t know. It’s a meditation app and I love headspace. And they were interviewing people on what are their best mental health practices. And the one gal was saying when she feels stressed, like, she’s like, I’ve learned to recognize when I’m feeling stressed. And she works from home and she said and like me, her dog’s always at her feet apparently. She’s like, I take that moment to get down and pet my dog and really look in his eyes. Yes, for anyone who has a dog. When you look at your dog, what do you see? You see love. And she’s like it shifts me right back into a positive state.
[25:05] Deborah: 100% acceptance. Love adoration, right?
[25:09] Bobbi: Yes, absolutely. I wanted to ask you this too. So in watching your dad and your own experience and plus interviewing your friends for the book, what were some of the big takeaways or ahaj you had from that?
[25:25] Deborah: Well, some of the strategies that and I mean, you’ve heard this as well, but that a couple of my friends have used is journaling and how powerful that is to get the emotions out. So that’s not so much a strategy as a tactic. Like you can actually practice doing that and that is going to really help to get those feelings out and also to process it. Apparently as humans we process by talking to other people, but you can do that for yourself by writing it down as well because it is similar to saying the words out loud and that’s something that I think can be really helpful for other people as well. The other strategy that has always worked for me, and this was something that might very much help my father as well, is finding the humor in situations and even situations that aren’t funny in the moment. Maybe you can look back and it’s almost like you can turn a situation into a funny story or into you can imagine it happening to a character on a sitcom or something. And my ex husband and I, the father of my children, could find those funny moments and it’s something that is also a practice that can be learned, which there’s different ways to find that in the moment. Turning to something that you know will make you laugh is also so the humor isn’t coming from you or your situation, but you can watch a funny YouTube video or there’s so many ways to experience comedy or humor now, so that’s a different tactic is watching something from outside yourself. So there’s finding the humor in your own situation, watching something. I actually once participated in laughter yoga. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried it.
[28:03] Bobbi: I’ve never heard of that.
[28:05] Deborah: It is bizarre. So it’s a room full of people and you’re all together and the instructor took us through, I guess breathing exercises at first and then through these laughing exercises. And it’s all your fake laughing like they say, okay, just do this, you just start. But by the end you are genuinely laughing like tears streaming down your face, knee slapping. And what’s interesting is that you’re looking at all the other people doing this and you’re almost bonding with them and it just lifts all of those good hormones and chemicals that we want to bring into our brains and our bodies. Because when you’re stressed or experiencing something negative, you’ve got cortisol and the adrenaline and everything, but this brings in the dopamine and all serotonin, all those good chemicals, and it leaves you feeling happier, more positive, more in control. So if that can happen through literally nothing funny going on, just fake laughing, turning into laughing, imagine how you can do that for yourself.
[29:31] Bobbi: That’s right.
[29:32] Deborah: So you can bring that humor in and finding that funny story again, it might have to happen after the fact, and you look back on it, because things aren’t always funny in the moment. I remember that when my daughter had surgery, she had surgery on her spine, and we were in Sick Kids Hospital, which is pretty renowned children’s hospital, we’re fortunate to have it here in Toronto. And the surgery was so long, I don’t know, it was ten or 12 hours. Her dad and I were the only parents left in the surgical waiting room, and they were starting to turn the lights down in the hospital, and they started cleaning the floors outside. Like, literally, we were still there alone and out of a room full of 100 parents. So finally our surgeon came in and it was over. So it was not a particularly funny experience. And yet so many funny things happened in the hospital during our stay. And we would laugh about just the little moments that would happen. We took turns sleeping in her room, and there was just this sort of pull out chair thing that for parents to sleep on. It was hard as a rock. And so we would just tell each other the story of our night, which was just always horrific, and laugh about it. It’s like all you can do. And so she has these metal rods in her back, and one is made out of titanium, and so, of course, doesn’t play as often now, but that song Titanium David Getta with SIA. Every time that came on the radio, I’d say, Quinn, it’s your song. And we’d laugh and cheer and I mean, just stupid stuff. Right. When we told the stories of that hospital stay to our friends, there was always an element of humor mixed in, because if we didn’t, then it’s just really depressing.
[31:55] Bobbi: It’s terribly depressing.
[31:57] Deborah: Yeah. And so we’re just able to do that. It’s kind of who we are. But it can also be a learned behavior that you take yourself lightly.
[32:14] Bobbi: Yeah. Even just acknowledging the sometimes when my dad was in the hospital, he passed away in November, and my little sister and I were there for the weekly oh, thank you. Leading up for that week. And there was nothing that was funny about that. He was 89. There were times where he had vast delirium. So in the moment, it’s like, this is horrible. It’s horrible. We had bruises from wrestling with them because he was trying to pull out his catheter. But even then, as we tell each other, she’d be coming in because she spent the nights and I’d be there during the day, I’d be like, you’re not going to believe this. And he’d say the most random, bizarre stuff. And then when I’m repeating it back to her, we’re both laughing so hard, and it even occurred to us we’re laughing about this. But I think that’s how it’s a coping it is.
[33:13] Deborah: It is a coping mechanism. And just recognizing that it’s not being disrespectful and honoring it and then looking for it, because I call it finding the funny, because sometimes you have to search for it. It’s just not going to happen automatically.
[33:33] Bobbi: Yeah. And when you were saying the thing about the laughter yoga, I just heard this or read this recently, I don’t know where now, but it was about when we force ourselves to smile.
[33:44] Deborah: Yes.
[33:45] Bobbi: If we do that enough, our brains don’t know the difference between genuine. So if we smile enough, it can literally shift our brains.
[33:52] Deborah: I know.
[33:53] Bobbi: That’s why watching a sitcom can be good for you.
[33:57] Deborah: Yes, it can. We are that simple. I mean, our brains are so complex.
[34:03] Bobbi: Oh, my goodness.
[34:04] Deborah: But we’re also that simple. That’s kind of funny when you think about it. That is, we can so easily change our mood and we have that control. And I think that once we recognize that, that we aren’t just victims of our circumstances, our environment, or what’s happening outside of ourselves, we always have that control. On that response right there’s, that saying that it’s not the rain that ruined your picnic, it’s how you responded to the rain. It’s how you felt about it and how you complained about it and how you felt. It’s all about that power that we have to intentionally respond in a positive way or not.
[34:54] Bobbi: It is so powerful if we learn to harness the full power of our minds, it that’s the key. It’s the way to happiness. And it’s not about being perfect either. I mean, are we always going to make the best choice or the best response? No, we’re not. But we can do our best to learn and to grow and not to repeat it.
[35:16] Deborah: No, you absolutely can. And to learn from those and to be aware of when you’re learning. Right. And to recognize that lesson that, oh, I’ve just learned something there, and it’s really about training your mind to do that again. It’s forming that habit and forming the habit of looking for the joy. I was out on Saturday night with a friend, within a group of friends, and I happened to be in this place where we were going to see this band play who. They do cover songs like they do songs like Sweet Caroline and all those songs, which is so fun, right? Yeah. But it also happened to be the night of our talking team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing a playoff game, the first round of the playoffs, and our team won. So we won the game and won our first round of the hockey playoffs, which for Torontonians, that is a huge thing.
[36:23] Bobbi: It’s big.
[36:24] Deborah: It’s ridiculous, right? So the whole bar just erupted. Everybody is like, no one could stop smiling. Then a band comes on that starts playing songs that you know all the words to, and we were singing and screaming and dancing, so I just stepped outside myself and I went, wow, this is a moment of pure joy. So no matter what is going on in my life, bills to pay and whatever, it doesn’t matter. And it’s not that it doesn’t matter, of course it does. But in this moment, I am going to experience this moment of pure, ridiculous joy and just allow that to wash over you and then hold on to it and remember it and recall it and feel it again after the fact.
[37:23] Bobbi: I love that. It took me right back to I was at a bar with some friends. It was a client thing and they’d been friends of mine for years. This was way back. I think it was 2016 and the Cubs finally won the game to go to the World Series, right? And it was that. Like, I couldn’t stop shaking. People were like, you’re vibrating. I’m like, I think I am, because I’ve been a Cubs fan, like, my whole life. It was so I totally get what that feels like. Oh, my God, this has been amazing. Deborah, so why don’t you tell people a little bit about your book and how they can find you and all that kind of stuff.
[37:58] Deborah: Okay, so the name of the book is, as you said, finding Your Hay a Crash Course and Grieving Grief and Embracing Joy. And it is email@example.com. You can find it there. I also have a stash in my dining room, but it’s a long trip to come to Toronto, so you might as well order it from Amazon. And my website is Deborahcovell.com perfect.
[38:24] Bobbi: I hope that you all love that conversation as much as I did. I just love Deborah’s energy and the message that she shares, and I hope that you all found that helpful and inspirational, as well as some real tools and tactics that you can take away and put to work for you to find more joy and more happiness in this life. So that wraps up this episode. Thank you so much for tuning in and for listening and for subscribing. If you haven’t subscribed yet, now is a great time to hit that subscribe or Follow button so that you never miss another episode. And by the way, don’t forget that on my website when you sign up for my newsletter. There is a free five day email course called Find Your Forward Fundamentals and so check that out. Let me know how it goes and give me some feedback on it. I’d love to hear from you. So with that, I hope you have a terrific week and that you continue to thrive no matter what.