We’ve all been there – stunned by news, by life, and in that place where we simply have no words. – no words to comfort, to analyze or understand, to heal or just make it all go away. Those are the times we need to let our stillness speak: to send a blessing to convey our love quietly across space into someone else’s heart. I knew my friend was feeling too tired and depressed, too angry and confused to find the energy to put one foot in front of the other, let alone reach out to others. The loss was still fresh. We sit across from one another. It’s uncomfortable, at first, for both of us. I had to remind myself that in the midst of profound loss, “normal” communication shifts and changes, and even though we’re friends, neither of us knows quite what to expect in this situation. She sits quietly, tears beginning to shimmer in her eyes, waiting for me to do or say what she expects I’ve come to say or do and then leave her in quiet. I’ve thought about how I could begin this tender conversation, and so I do. Our time together that day is private, but I can share what I didn’t say and maybe that’s the message I’m meant to give.
When those we care about face unbelievable loss most of us want to be available, to somehow help, to let him/her know how much their pain touches us. Generally we try to do that in the same ways we’ve always interacted with them – after all, we know them! We’ve watched them respond to a variety of changes; we’ve been around when they’ve addressed very tough problems; we’ve shared laughter and tears with them in situations throughout the years. Is now so different? Yes, it is. We can feel the difference; it’s raw and uncomfortable. But still, we care and want to help.
What many of us don’t get is that the person we’ve come to know and care about, the one we are about to hug or talk with, is no longer the same person they were the minute before they entered into this chaos of profound change and loss. Life has shifted irrevocably for our friend, our neighbor, our loved one, our colleague, and old messages no longer fit. Just lately, as I was beginning this post, a lovely, older woman dropped by to return something borrowed. She told me she had just finished reading my book, Letters for Grace. She looked at me, touched my arm and said, “Well, honey, have you gotten over it yet?” I smiled and gently replied that “getting over it” never really applies to some situations. We get through it; we move our life in different directions; we learn to open to happiness, to recognize grace and love again, we allow forgiveness in its many forms to enter us, but we don’t “get over” profound grief. Choosing to interact with those who are and have been in profound grief is a commitment we make to walking into their sacred space. It demands we leave clichés, platitudes and easy answers behind. It requires us to stop and think, to prepare to enter the space of the one we care about on his/her terms because what we say in this space is elemental, significant, and often, remembered.
Someone in grief may long to be alone but each, in time, needs the loving, often quiet, company of others. The parent of a disabled child once shared that “There is peace in the presence of others even in the absence of answers.” A caring community can enfold a mourner in love, even when there are no answers for the pain. There are books, organizations and support entities ready with the lists of how to best help others in grief. As you use them, think about being that listening, supporting presence who can accept silence, who will stay in touch while not probing for details, who won’t presume to know and describe how the griever “must be feeling;” and who will allow grief’s emotions into the conversation without intellectualizing the pain. We’ve all lived as grievers but these new, tenuous encounters are not about us. Every grief situation is unique and though we can never always have just the right language for each, we can let our stillness speak for us; we can watch and listen for cues; we can be a gentle presence – always standing by.