A few of us walked the body down the elevator, along the long hallways, and out to the van waiting to drive to the funeral home. Once the gurney was loaded and the car doors closed, we just stood there, very still, watching the car slowly pulled away, like a ship leaving its moorings. The man who was seeing off his deceased beloved began to sob again. Just then someone stepped forward, placed a hand on his shoulder, and said that he’d “remember this moment for a long time.”
I reacted with discomfort and annoyance; in my opinon (!) nothing needed to be said. My preference was to remain stumm, to let the moment be, to allow thoughts and emotions arise without consoling commentary. To console, says Webster’s dictionary, “to cheer in distress or depression; to alleviate the grief and raise the spirits of; to relieve; to comfort; to soothe.” Standing there at the edge of the road, seeing his sweetheart’s body being taken away, who could possibly grasp his grief, what words would be of use to him at that moment?
Reacting with judgement to a well-intentioned comment brought my attention to the many ways I use words, give advice, try to make light. In moments of uncertainty, awkwardness, or sudden intimacy, I often speak too soon … when all I really wish is to remain silent and stay open to listen. Speak only to improve on the silence, is the central rule when Quakers gather in worship. No clergy, no sermon, no ritual. An entire meeting can go by without anyone saying a word: Holy Silence.
Parker Palmer offers a startling observation–
The shadow behind the “fixes” we offer for issues we cannot fix is, ironically, the desrie to hold each other at bay. It is a strategy of abandoning each other while appearing to be concerned. Perhaps this explains why one of the most common laments ouf our time is that “no one really sees me, hears me, or understands me.” How can we understand another when instead of listening deeply, we rush to repair that person in order to escape further involvement? The sense of isolation and invisibility that marks so many lives … is due in part to a mode of “helping” that allows us to dismiss each other.
source: Palmer, P.J. (2004). A hidden wholeness: the journey toward an undivided life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 117.