When Life Takes Your Smile


Have you ever had a time when you physically couldn’t smile?

I came across this old picture of my dad from a celebration dinner we had after a mission trip I went on in college, and it made me miss him and his smile so much.

This week I read a post by Rachel Macy Stafford, otherwise known as Hands Free Mama. In the post she shared how her mother was recently diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. Rachel writes of her mom,  “Of all the losses she suddenly faced, the loss of her smile was the one that made her cry.”

I have an acquaintance who was involved in a softball accident a few years ago. She had to have her jaw wired shut for an extended period of time. Her sister-in-law shared with me at the time that in the midst of not being able to eat, the pain, and the surgeries, what bothered this sweet lady most was the loss of her smile. Some people are blessed with a particularly fetching smile, and Betsy was one of those people.

I experienced this phenomenon more personally through my dad. Due to his Parkinson’s, he experienced what is known as “facial masking.” His face had a grim, set look. He could no longer convey body language as he once could. People could incorrectly think he was grumpy. It’s a frustrating part of the disease (among many others).

The ironic thing is, my dad wasn’t one to smile much before his diagnosis. He had a serious and reserved personality. Yet, I think his missing smile is one of the things I regretted most about his disease. Even though he was quiet and somewhat reticent, he was a happy and positive person. He wasn’t “ha-ha” funny, but had a dry sense of humor. He told the WORST jokes, and totally cracked himself up when he did. I miss those jokes that I used to roll my eyes over.

This is what I learned, though. Life can steal your smile, but it is your choice if it steals your light. 

Now, there are exceptions. Brain tumors, mental illness, and various diseases can irreparably change your personality and turn you into a version of yourself you have no control over. But with most things, we have a choice to react with joy or sorrow.

In my dad’s last days, we celebrated Thanksgiving. He was on a feeding tube at the time and couldn’t join us for dinner, so we took turns eating upstairs so we wouldn’t eat in front of him and he wouldn’t be alone. One of my boys happened to come downstairs with a cookie. My dad jokingly said, “Can I have a bite?” This simple question was both profoundly sad and uplifting at the same time. Not able to put one solid bite in his mouth, he was still able to make an attempt at levity. Instead of bemoaning his circumstances, he chose to be lighthearted.

Friends, there are many ways life may try to steal your smile, and it might sometimes even succeed. Don’t let it steal your light, though. There are more significant things in the world than a beautiful smile. What matters is what radiates from within your heart.


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