“When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey
Nouwen hits upon an important insight that was very applicable to our families’ process of grieving the loss of Melissa. My daughter Melissa died in 2012 and her absence remains a painful and ongoing reminder of the dark moments of life. We found that of the many well-wishers often the most dependable and reliable comforter was our bulldog Ellie, showing that nature has much to teach us about communication. As a pastor friend said tongue in cheek, “my dogs are the best Job’s comforters because they listen and can’t tell me things that dig the wound deeper”. While we have had some wounded moments from those who truly want to help, there have been numerous people who provided the hugs, and care keeping us afloat during these last two years. The quote above reminds me of three gifts we learned from Ellie to give those grieving: silence, sharing, and presence.
Not every person grieving a loss wants people to stop talking to them because each person grieves differently, yet at some point the need for silence becomes paramount. Especially close to the time of the person’s departure either before or after. I overheard guys on my soccer team trying to talk to a guy who was in process of losing his mother. They were valiantly trying to express in words the inexpressible and I could see they weren’t getting through to the man because right in front of him is the stark reality of losing his mother. Nothing they could say was any balm to his wounds he just needed maybe a hug and the gift of silence.
When people responded to our need what amazed us was the sharing of resources – setting up accounts, fruit baskets and suppers. One thoughtful person took charge and began recommending gift cards so that the many meals being made wouldn’t go to waste after the freezers were overflowing. Their thinking was for the months past when all the people were milling in the house, when needs were still there and the gift card bypassed having to make a meal when getting out of bed in the morning was a major task.
Maybe more than silence, and sharing, presence stands out as the long term need for those in grief process, maybe for anyone who suffers. While silence is golden many times along the way, more than just no words spoken, I found a need for people who are a presence in my life – reminding me of normal day to day happenings, and offering just to sit and be with me and discuss other things or even play hockey or soccer weekly. My hockey team the Blue Streak was instrumental in giving me something to focus on during the days when darkness was surrounding my heart. The friendly jostling from Jordan and Chris were sometimes as timely and encouraging as the regular counseling sessions I received from an excellent counselor. Notice that the advice here is not complicated or requiring a degree rather these acts are what Bono from U2 calls “Ordinary Love”. We can’t fall any further. If we can’t feel ordinary love. And we cannot reach any higher. If we can’t deal with ordinary love.