When words just do not seem to suffice


"There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under heaven.

a time to be silent and a time to speak." Ecclesiastics 3:1, 7 (NIV)


Most of us have had the experience of not knowing what to say when a loved one experiences sorrow. Frequently, we resort to timeworn platitudes designed to comfort but they are usually of little or no real comfort to the mourner.


An experience I had as a young boy alerted me to a method of giving comfort to the bereaved. I vividly recall the passing away of my maternal grandmother and my mother sitting on a large rock alongside of our home bitterly mourning her loss. My father, who was never really too effective in expressing feelings, tried to comfort her saying, "Brace up, Alma. Brace up! You have to brace up!" Even as a child I sensed the inadequacy of his well meant words and while I certainly didn't have the adequate words either, but I did sense what I should do. I went to her and put my arms around her and we mourned together. I believe that this event awakened me to a method of giving comfort when words seem of a little value.


However this lesson was blunted by later interactions in our society, I learned through subtle and unsubtle messages that strict limits are placed on touching in our culture. For example, if we happen to touch someone while standing in line, we should immediately apologize and assume a greater distance from him. We soon learn that touching is limited to certain places and situations especially those involved in the public arena. While warmly embracing a friend or family member after an absence or on a departure is acceptable, otherwise such behavior is frowned upon. Unfortunately adhering to these strictures often lead us not to effectively communicate our sense of caring. Touch is one of the most effective ways to communicate to others that we care for them and share a connection. Even casual touching as a handshake or pat on the back conveys a sense of warmth.


Yet unless we have been sensory deprived, we know the value of touching and being touched and that we often trust this channel of communication more than we do verbal responses. While it is true that we can convey caring just by our presence or with a compassionate look, we should keep in mind that touching is a powerful tool and we should use it when words just do not seem to suffice to communicate our empathy.