Nothing to say

This week has been a difficult one. My daughter and her husband are faced with a difficult decision. A child in our city was killed in a traffic accident. People I know have lost loved ones. And I feel impotent- unable to provide the right answer, the right words. And who should know what to say? Surely a family therapist, an “expert” in human interactions, a person who should know how to phrase things properly, how to say exactly the right thing, surely I should be able to respond in a meaningful, thoughtful, helpful way.

But I can’t.

Because, there is nothing to say. There is nothing that makes a difficult decision easier other than expressing one’s confidence that whatever people choose to do will be the right choice for them. There is nothing to say that removes grief. No one else can feel the pain of the bereft. No one can know what that family member meant to them. No one can know what words might heal and what words might hurt.

A long time ago I worked in the intensive care unit at a hospital. My supervisor, a chaplain, had talked to us about “a ministry of presence.” He told us that just being there and being with was in itself, a ministry. There was one very old woman (I think she was 92) who was in a coma. Each day I went and stood by her bed. I would take her hand. I would sometimes talk to her, although I knew she most likely wouldn’t hear me. I would stay there for 5 or 10 minutes and then I would wish her well and leave. One day I came to the unit and she was gone. I thought she had died. I was about to leave the unit after visiting some other people when one of the nurses came to me and told me that the woman had awakened. She told me that the family had asked her to thank me for being with their mother and for having been so kind. I never thought to ask how they knew. Did she hear me? feel me? Had the nurses told them? I don’t know.

But after that I understood that sometimes, when there is nothing to say, being there, being with is the best thing we can do.

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