Monday, March 8, 2010

What a Stroke Victim Taught Me about Life

Sometimes a single experience, lasting but a few moments, can alter your perspective for the rest of your life.

While visiting my mother-in-law in her nursing home, my husband and I met two of her best friends, a couple married 63 years who share a room near hers. Mrs. Thompson had a stroke five years ago that has paralyzed almost every part of her body.

Except her eyes.

I was struck by the way she communicated with them. As I spoke with her and her husband, I could tell she understood everything we said. Just by the expressions she conveyed with her eyes.

Mr. Thompson has lived with his wife in the nursing home all five years so he could be by her side and tend to her needs. The love he expressed when speaking to or about his wife touched my heart, and her eyes shined brightly in response to his words.

I realized how much we miss in communication when we don’t watch a person’s eyes. Whether we’re talking or listening, the other person’s eyes reveal a lot to us if we’re paying attention. But we’re often so busy speaking about ourselves or waiting for our turn to talk that we don’t even notice these valuable cues.

As I was leaving their room, I took Mrs. Thompson’s hand in mine and held it closely for a few minutes. She smiled with her eyes and grasped my own hand tightly.

Later, I realized that I was able to pay attention to her eyes and instinctively reach for her hand because of wisdom I absorbed from Jill Bolte Taylor’s break-through book, My Stroke of Insight.

Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist who experienced her own life-altering stroke at age 37. Her book describes her journey from the day of her stroke and the following ten years of her recovery. I was spell-bound reading about the thoughts and emotions she had during this process. Her book is an incredibly valuable resource if you know someone who’s had a stroke or brain injury. She explains what these individuals need most from others, even though they’re often unable to articulate those needs.

Starting today, pay more attention to what’s being communicated through a person’s eyes. Use your eyes to reinforce your own words, and watch the eyes of others when they’re speaking in order to perceive the total message. If you do this, you’ll connect on a deeper level with your customers, coworkers, friends, and family members. And your relationships will grow stronger as a result.


  1. Meredith, this is such an important article. Paying attention to what's being communicated through the eyes is key to comprehending the whole meaning. Great reminder-Thanks!

  2. I think everyone should read Jill Bolte Taylor's book. First, it's an unprecedented perspective - a BRAIN SCIENTIST telling us what it was like for her to have a stroke! Also, there's more - the profound life lessons the experience taught her.

  3. Meredith, once again our esp nation wide takes me by surprise. I just finished "My Stroke of Insight," and I was moved by Taylor's emphasis on acknowledging and keying in to our right brain's capacity to calm and quiet the "monkey mind" or brain chatter of the left brain. Buddhism has much to teach us about tapping that rich source of peace and calm by exercising our gift of rightbrained-ness. I loved Dr. Taylor's book! Thank you for writing this article.

  4. Thank you for your additional insights and comments about my post and this amazing book. I agree that this is a must-read book for everyone, and it's especially critical for family and friends of stroke and brain-injury victims.

  5. Thanks so much for the post Meredith. I have found myself consciously focusing on people's eyes lately and it's harder than it sounds. An overwhelming shyness often overtakes me - perhaps it's the invasion of looking into someones soul. If connecting is the goal, the eyes are definitely the right focal point.

  6. Thanks for this! I need to apply this in my business to connect to prospective clients & partners.

    I did not realize Dr Taylor had written a book about this, I only saw her TED talk. Here's the link if you're interested:

  7. J'han, I was first introduced to Jill through that same TED talk. Thanks for providing the link. I was motivated to buy her book after that and am so glad I did! I believe that the insights you'll gain can be applied to every relationship in your life, including clients and partners.

  8. The eyes are the windows to your soul.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing this. It means a great deal to me because I communicate like this with my grandfather, but also because it shows just how much much that can be communicated without words. This generation may be losing this ability.

  10. Alex, thank you for letting me know what this post meant to you. If more people like you and I learn how to do this and spread the word, maybe we can impact the younger folks who tend to rely on technology and avoid face-to-face interactions.


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