Sunday, November 25, 2012

Voices of Experience: Sacred Presence, Silent Compassion

by Joyce Marie Sheldon

We have all experienced grief and loss during our journey on this earth. It isn't always about the death of a loved one, but can be the loss of a job, a relationship, financial security, our own health.

There's much written on how to be supportive to others during their time of grief and I contemplate the many good suggestions for being a friend and supporter during times of stress.

For me, however, the greatest gift, often brought by hospice or home care during my husband's illness, was Sacred Presence and Silent Compassion.

Let's talk about Sacred Presence and Silent Compassion as it relates specifically to the caregiver during the illness and subsequent death of a loved one. However, let's remember these simple guidelines can be incorporated into the setting where you are wondering how to show love and support for those suffering other types of loss.

I don't recall any of the advice received during my caregiving years; nor do I look back with fondness on the well-meaning friends who said, "Let me know if I can do anything." My response was always the same: "I'm fine."

It wasn't the truth, of course! Just as my husband was dying physically, I was dying on the inside, stressed and fatigued by the daily caregiving, the lack of sleep, the constant need for my love and support. My grieving process began long before he died and took a lasting toll on my body and heart.

The greatest gifts which I shall remember forever, were received from those special people, those beloved souls, who sat with me -- quietly -- and spoke no words.

I can re-visit those moments and linger in the warmth of sitting daughter or son with mother, friend with friend, nurse with caregiver, home care aide with tired wife. Their presence -- their sacred presence -- as I traveled the lonely road of caring for my dying husband, was a gift beyond compare.

They asked no questions. They offered no advice. Their hand on my shoulder was enough!

The tears in their eyes showed their silent compassion.

Those who visit a wake or attend a funeral service most often say, "I am sorry for your loss." And they mean well. Often that comment is based on the individual's own grief experiences -- resolved or unresolved. Perhaps they are uncomfortable with grief and loss.

If only they could realize their presence with you is all that is necessary. No fumbling for words. No awkward moments. Just silent compassion offered by an outstretched hand, a gentle look, a compassionate heart.

When you know that words will never be enough, say nothing -- offer your hand, your shoulder, your heart.

At a book-signing several years ago for From Fear to Faith, A Caregiver's Journey, a young woman in attendance asked what to say at such a moment. My answer was: "Say nothing." Let your heart shine through your spirit. Let your compassion be present in the moment. Please don't ask what you can do for me, but perhaps do something without asking. Indeed, silence is golden in more ways than one.

I have a wonderful friend who has been with me during some stressful times. He asks the question,"What is it you need from me right now?" Sometimes I don't have the answer. And he wisely just holds me and allows me the opportunity to be in the moment and feel his silent compassion -- a gift beyond compare.

From the viewpoint of a parent and grandparent, it isn't always necessary to explain death to children, to comfort them with words and stories. Remember the comfort of your presence is often all that is necessary. Sharing grief and loss doesn't always need words; however, I am not negating the benefit of talking about the experience, the feelings, the loss.

But please remember, sometimes I just want you to hold my hand!

This piece was written by author and inspirational speaker Joyce Marie Sheldon, who specializes in keynotes, conferences, retreats and workshops for hospices, home care agencies and related organizations, and is reprinted here with her permission. Contact her at her website, My Joy Today,  or by email at

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