“What is needed more than our words is our presence, our sharing in the helplessness and our sharing in the waiting.”
When her six year old son died his mother was inconsolable. Friends neighbours brought food and comfort. But the mother grieved. One day a kindly neighbour said, “Don’t be so sad, Mary. You know you now have a little angel in heaven looking after you.” It was the last straw. “I don’t want an angel in heaven,” she cried. “I want my son here and now in my arms. God can keep his angels; but why had he to take my child?”
There is no answer, only the silence that carves a gaping hole in the heart. Words are almost useless in a time of grief, we are powerless in the face of great loss, especially the loss of a child. Those who understand this are prepared to sit around with those who mourn, sit and wait, accept their own helplessness with the bereft parents or spouse or friend. Their loving presence, their patient waiting is the best consolation. They communicate without words, by simply being there. Grasping that some sorrows are beyond words, beyond understanding, they keep vigil with the mourner, they hang around knowing that the angry outbursts, the rage against God, the storms of tears or the frozen silences are expressions of the unbearable pain of loss.
“What is needed more than our words is our presence, our sharing in the helplessness and our sharing in the waiting. In the first hours and days that follow a tragedy we don’t need to speak a lot, we need to touch a lot. We simply need to be there.” (Fr. Ronald Rolheiser)
We are up against our own poverty as we try to comfort those who mourn. Our need to do something, to give reasons for the senseless pain, to move from the awful apathy of loss to a place of energy and life demands great patience. In many older cultures the people know what it is to wait, sitting around in the home of the bereaved, eating and drinking, strumming an instrument, telling a story. Never pushing, never hurrying but knowing with an ancient wisdom that death must be given space; must be accepted, must be woven into the mother’s heart, into the family’s story.
We will know in our heart when it is the time to speak again those words of faith, to tell again the story of Jesus who brings healing, who wipes all our tears, who promised that “Not one of them shall be lost” (Jn 6). He is with us even in the valley and the shadow of death (Ps 23). There will come a time when these words can be spoken and heard. There will come a time when we can tell our friend that death is not the end at all.
“Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted” (Mt 5). Blessed too are the comforters, those who are gentle as they wait patiently, sharing the pain of loss but trusting in the great love of the Father who brings light and healing to the broken-hearted. May we be ready to comfort those who mourn.