Have you ever been speechless? Have you ever been so deeply moved that you no words would form? When we hear of a diagnosis, a death, a loss, and find words are simply inadequate?
It happens to me a lot. I get a call and someone I care about has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. What do you say? I want to be encouraging, but not sure I feel encouraged. I feel awful and find that no words are powerful enough to express my sadness for them or my helplessness in relation to their illness. I sometimes say "That really sucks!!" But, those words are no sooner out of my mouth when I feel foolish. Nothing is strong enough.
So, what do you do? I find that it helps to realize that nothing will be adequate. The conversation will be awkward because both parties do not have words to express their feelings. It sometimes helps to ask some questions like, "When did they find out? or What kind of treatment are they going to do? or Who else have you shared this with? or What do you think you are going to do." But, we will run out of questions and silence will swallow any other word we might try to utter.
Now, the fact is, most of us will feel awkward and inadequate. There may be long periods of silence. And silence often scares us. When no one says anything we fill in the blanks with the anxiety we are feeling. We project our feelings on to others. Silence has a certain emptiness to it.
But, remember, you are making contact. You are reaching out. You are trying to speak a language that is unfamiliar to both you and the person you love. Neither of you has been here before. This is a foreign country with a foreign language.
Remember that we can't solve other's problems, but our silence communicates our respect for the depth of life with which another is struggling. And we can accompany another as they seek to work out their fear and their future. And the awareness that another person cares to be silent with us can sometimes be the strength we need to take the next step on an unwanted pilgrimage.
Silence in respect for the depth of another's experience can be a sacred space where some healing can happen.