Last week I had the arduous task of tackling a stack of items inside my “file it later” drawer at work. As I was filing, I came across several items, photos, and articles that had me taking a long walk down memory lane. Among them was an email I printed from a friend who, several years ago, had lost her husband to a rare form of brain cancer, Glioblastoma Multi-forma (GBM for short). My friend Melinda* had moved to Milwaukee from California in order to be with her new husband, John*, and after 10 years of marriage, her love and soulmate passed on. I remembered the many messages we’d exchanged and updates she’d given on John’s progress through Chemotherapy.
When she’d finally lost her beloved after suffering for well over a year, I didn’t know what to say. I did know for certain, however, that a message was not enough and I needed to talk with her over the phone. Being so many miles apart in her grieving hours, I felt somewhat inept and had no idea how to comfort her. Fortunately, she had already done a lot of her crying in silence. When her voice came over the phone we talked about John, and about her life with John. I was not physically in her presence, but I offered her what I could through my attentive ear and listening heart. I “stayed” with Melinda for a good two hours on the phone. I realized on that night I spoke with Melinda, that I gave her something that my words could not possibly done to comfort her – I gave her my presence.
Over the years, I have done the same for others who needed my presence. These past two years specifically, I gave more of my presence to my dad who suffered two heart attacks and the rejection of part of our family. When my dad had his first heart attack and no one could be at the hospital with him on Mother’s Day, I traveled for well over an hour to be with him at UCLA Harbor Medical Center. My dad was weak, unable to speak with all the tubes and catheters connected to him, but what he was able to do was hold my hand. In turn, I also held and squeezed his hand. The only words I knew to speak were, “Dad, I’m here.” I was there. The gift of my presence spoke volumes to my dad, especially since I chose to see him on the day meant for my own family to celebrate me as a mother. My words failed me, but my presence to my dad told him what he needed to know – that he is loved by his daughter and he is not alone in his healing.
One might wonder if words are necessary in times when physical presence alone is needed for comforting or consoling an individual. In these two examples alone, I am convinced that (for me) being there and sitting with a person sometimes says all you need to say. Helpguide.org’s number one tip on assisting a grieving person is to listen with compassion, which in itself means to sit with them, or be present to them (see full article at https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/supporting-a-grieving-person.htm). My favorite piece of advice is to be willing to sit in silence.
When a grieving person doesn’t feel like talking, it is not advised for us to push, especially if they don’t know what to say. Often, comfort for them comes from simply being in your company, your presence. Just as important is offering eye contact, squeezing their hand, or giving a reassuring hug. Physical, and emotional presence, and human contact with another is consoling to one who is still in shock in their grief or mourning. The same is true for those who have just had a major illness strike them, leaving them unable to care for themselves. Such was the case for my dad. Again… when words fail us, our presence is powerful.
In my book series, The Last Prophet, having another’s presence, with or without the use of words, is a powerful tool in comforting, consoling, and reassuring souls that may be hurting. It is true for our main character, the prophetess, and for each of the characters she encounters as part of their healing process. One does not have to be eloquent and have an extensive vocabulary when they eventually do use words. As stated earlier, sometimes simply stating that you are “there” is more than enough. No other words need to be conveyed to show that you are there. Your touch, your voice, your presence… these are enough.
Who do you need to be present for today? Who will you be “there” for when words fail? Comment in the space provided.
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* Names have been changed to protect identity