Silent presence. It's one of the hardest practices of spiritual care. Only the most loving caregivers understand the need of those who suffer that we provide them with presence that speaks through quiet respect. I have not always known to offer this gift. Yet I have certainly known when I wanted to receive it.
So often, I've witnessed the noisy intrusion of a well-meaning, beleaguered, but clumsy nurse into the room of a sleeping patient. Without so much as a knock, some will barge into the room at their own convenience with no regard to the patient's fragile condition...
It requires training and a certain sweet consciousness to know when to choose quiet over intrusive questioning. Job's three friends are often maligned for not doing enough to ease his suffering. Yet, the image of their wisdom in sitting with him without speaking demonstrated their respect for the depth of his suffering.
Job's friends teach us a beautiful lesson over the span of more than three thousand years. Words can feel terribly intrusive to a patient suffering from a migraine or a friend suffering humiliation. The best words are often none at all.
I saw this when my aged father, unable to continue walking through the streets of Boston one evening with our family, sat down on a bench and began to cry. As his wife, my younger sister and I, and his grandson, stood paralyzed, my daughter choose Love. She sat down next to him and draped her arm around his shoulder. With this action, she said everything that needed to be said. It was a beautiful act of kindness.
I try to remember this action whenever I find myself wanting to deliver a speech to some grieving friend. It is silent presence that often counts most.