Companioning Tenet Seven: the gifts of sacred silence

Companioning the bereaved means discovering the gifts of sacred silence; it does not mean filling up every moment with words.

“Do not speak unless you can improve upon silence.”
Buddhist teaching

In discovering the gifts of sacred silence, you cultivate what becomes an avenue for the mourner to open his heart up to wisdom surrounding the grief journey. As you quiet yourself, you sustain an open heart and a gentle spirit.

As you focus your every attention on the mourner, you are a source of nourishment. As you companion one person at a time, your compassionate concentration helps quiet the many other potential contenders for your undivided attention.

The Gift of Silence

The mystery of grief has taught me that it requires periods of solitude and silence. The griever may not have access to a cloistered monastery, a walk in the woods, or a stroll on the beach. But, she does have access to your quiet presence and loving spirit. Consciously hush yourself and place trust in the peace you help initiate. Become fully present to another human being who doesn’t really need yourCompanioning: Gift of Silence: AfterTalk Grief Support words but values your soulful presence.

Being silently present to someone in grief requires discernment as to where you channel your energy, your care, your compassion. As you sit with silence, you acknowledge that you value the need to suspend, slow down, and turn inward as part of the grief journey. Giving honor to the instinct to mourn from the inside out requires that we as caregivers come to cherish silence and respect how vital it is to the healing journey.

Silence also asks that we respect the role of hurt and pain in healing. If we do not understand this, we will not be capable of silencing our tongues. Instead, we will feel the urge to speak, thinking consciously or unconsciously that we must fix the griever. In so doing, we get in the way of the needed space to initiate the mending of a broken heart. What a gift to come to know the healing power of silence!

Grief Symptoms and Silence

I find it enlightening to explore how it is that many of the symptoms of grief are invitations to the need for silence and solitude. Perhaps the most isolating and frightening part of grief for many people is the sense of disorganization, confusion, searching and yearning that often comes with the loss. As one person noted, “I felt as if I were a lonely traveler with no companion and worse yet, no destination. I could not find myself or anybody else.” Yes, the mourner needs silence and solitude.

Another common symptom of grief is the onset of poor judgment-making capabilities. Good judgment is grounded in making choices that are in the best interest of yourself and those for whom you are responsible. Many mourners temporarily lose the capability to make sound judgments. Yes, the mourner needs silence and solitude.

Another common symptom is loss of perspective and a search for meaning. Life naturally seems darker right now than it did otherwise. Life feels distorted, out of perspective. There are sometimes a multitude of “why” questions to which there are no quick answers. “Why did the person I love have to die now?” “Why should I go on living?” Yes, the mourner needs silence and solitude.

Companioning: Gift of Silence: AfterTalk Grief SupportYet another symptom is the lethargy of grief. Fatigue tries to slow the mourner down and invites a need for privacy. The lethargy that accompanies grief is often more than simply being tired. It reflects that the body’s immune system is depleted and that the griever has lost the energy and capacity to respond. The body has such wisdom. Yes, the mourner needs silence and solitude.

The companionship of silence has the ingredients that can bring some peace in the midst of the wilderness. The forces of grief weigh heavy on the heart. Silence serves to lift up the mourner’s heart and create much-needed space to give attention to the grief. Being in silence helps restore energy and inspires courage to explore the many facets of transformational grief.

What Silence Can Teach

In choosing to companion instead of treating people in grief, you choose a way of being that values and gives honor to silence. You bring a sensitivity to the importance of listening first. You give attention to the mourner’s deepest needs. You acknowledge her uniqueness. You embrace her life force and marry hope to your quiet soul. You silence any instinct to make judgments in your head and you stay connected to your heart. You feel your own emotions as you sit in the stillness and stay in search of a desire to be taught by the mourner. When you do respond, you do it in a considerate and compassionate way that recognizes the vulnerable soul that you are ministering to.

As someone who sits with people in silence, you recognize that so much about grief is a mystery that doesn’t lend itself to words. You stand at the graveside with parents who have just experienced the death of their precious child and words are inadequate. You bend down to touch the child whose mother has just died in a tragic auto accident and words are inadequate. The sadness of loss hangs in a wistful silence. Once again you are humbled by an awareness that deep understanding of the ways of life and death cannot be expressed in words.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s book Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers, available at bookstores and at Dr. Wolfelt’s website, Dr. Wolfelt is an internationally  noted author, teacher and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is an educational consultant to funeral homes, hospices, hospitals, schools and a variety of community agencies across North America. If you’ve missed the previous Companioning Tenets, CLICK HERE

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