Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When silence is golden (because it's not always)

Recently, I've been around a lot of grieving people. Last week, I was in North Carolina to be with my family after an uncle committed suicide. I have another friend whose best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident last weekend. Then there is the couple I know who are separating after several years together.

In each of these situations, I've listened to or sat with those who were grieving. In some cases, we sit and talk about mundane things. At some points, we talk about the sadness of the situation. And, for some time, there is just nothing to say- so we sit in silence.

I've had many people tell me that they don't know what to say to someone who is grieving, angry or distraught. Often they would like to show that they care or demonstrate some support, but they remain distant or silent for fear of making a mistake.

The thing is, most people just want someone to be there for them. They aren't going to ask hard questions, they won't expect you to have answers, they just want and need someone to be with them- to keep them company, to remind them that they are not alone.

When Rob was in Iraq, I was most appreciative of the people who got in touch with me, asked how I was and told me about their lives. I didn't need anything special. I didn't need to be told anything- I just appreciated the support and knowing these people were thinking of me.

That's what most people need in a time of grief and especially beyond the immediate incident. Don't be afraid to call in a month, when you get up your nerve or when you just have more time. You might say something silly, but everyone does at some time or another. It's far more likely that the person you've contacted will just be grateful for the call or the card or the visit. They'll remember the presence far more than any words.

Silence is golden when it comes with the gift of presence, support and grace. It can be the greatest gift you can give someone at those times when you don't know what to do.

1 comment:

Anne E-A said...

This is so true. Julie Faith Parker told us that the best thing Job's friends did for him was sit with him in silence for 7 days; they just messed it up when they started talking!
When my cousin committed suicide last June, I was very grateful for the ministry of silent presence. I was also very glad for the people who spoke up much as Job's friends did: with unhelpful cliches (the stuff we're taught never to say to grieving folks.) That was a ministry of presence, too--preferable, to me anyway, to being isolated in grief! I like the way you acknowledge this by encouraging contact with grieving people, overcoming the worry of saying something silly.
I'm sorry to hear about the suicide in your family--it is such a hard time. Blessings on your care-giving and care-receiving.