We have experienced two deaths in my extended family in the past few months with another two beloved family members on death's cusp. Yesterday I sat at the internment of cremains for a husband, father, brother and son who was taken too soon. I have been to many funerals and graveside services but never to one like this. It occurred almost two months after the death and celebration of life service and it involved an urn rather than a casket. Only immediate family members were present. After a few comforting words by a family friend, we sat in silence--nothing was said, we were just present with this great and overwhelming loss.
At times, I felt a bit uncomfortable--shouldn't we DO something? Shouldn't someone SAY something? Should we really just sit in silence? Three kids and a young widow had to process the enormity of what we were there to do and those of us who love them sat and offered the best gift of all: the gift of silent presence. There are no words to explain or make right this loss; there never is. Silencing our need to somehow make sense of the senseless by filling the air with lots of words is incredibly difficult. But the gift of silent presence says more than all of the words in the world could possibly convey; it communicates solidarity, safety and connection. It exudes love.
There are other priceless gifts that when offered subsequent to loss, tragedy or betrayal comfort immensely: the gifts of a listening ear, empathy or tears. These gifts require that we set aside our own pain and enter into that of another. They require us to deal with the discomfort we feel at the pain of someone we love and demand an ability to "see" or "feel" the experience through the eyes and heart of another. It is far easier to offer advice, evaluation or analysis of the loss than it is to sit still in silence and simply listen to and feel the pain of another.
A family member sent me a picture this afternoon that perfectly illustrates this wonderful gift of presence. Her aged mother is near the end of the dying process; the family has spent a grueling few days providing round-the-clock care and comfort and saying their goodbyes. Pain and dementia have complicated the care-giving. Last night her son curled up on the narrow hospital bed, wrapped his arms around his mother and offered her the priceless gift of presence. There is nothing more to be said, no unfinished business, just the opportunity to be present with another as they transition from this life to the next. I have never seen a more perfect depiction of love empathy and presence than this.
Life breaks and falls apart for all of us at one time or another. It may be through death, divorce or betrayal. We are indeed fortunate if during these pain-filled times we have individuals who will come along side us and simply and profoundly offer these grace-filled gifts. This is what brings solace and comfort to those of us living in the shadow of the Fall.