Site icon Liesl Garner

The Beauty of a Strong, Silent Shoulder of Solace


And just like that, the other shoe drops. Sometimes right in the midst of a personal joy, we are encountered by a friend’s sorrow, and what do we do? Yesterday I called a friend to tell her my big exciting news. I was actually bouncing around a little with enthusiasm for my big deal. She answered in a whisper, which right away told me this may not be a good time. She was in the I.C.U. with her sister-in-law who had been in a terrible car accident and may not make it through the night.

Of course, my exciting news evaporated as I tried to reach through the phone cord to wrap my arms around her.

Because I always write about Beauty from perspectives that we wouldn’t normally associate with Beauty, I thought today I would write about beauty in the face of tragedy. What is the most beautiful expression of concern you have ever experienced? Who stands out to you as a pillar of strength when your whole world was falling into pieces?

For me, it is my former roommate Gail, who sat with me one afternoon in silence as I cried to tragic sounding classical music played over and over again because that music spoke my heart in ways I couldn’t muster words to speak. The music seemed to be giving me permission to feel the weight of my sorrow, and it wept along with me.

I was dealing with a loss of enormous proportions; the kind of loss that doesn’t just heal up real quick and become easily forgotten. No. This was the kind of fragile situation that would be with me for the rest of my life, to varying degrees. Over time, the hurt maybe lessens, but it’s always right there under the surface. All it takes is a look in that direction, and all sorts of feelings come up again. I was in the midst of that kind of hurt.

There was nothing anyone could say to make it better. No one could say, “Oh I know just how you feel,” because it’s not true. No one can know exactly how another person feels when that person is devastated.

Gail sat with me. She never said a thing. She didn’t pat my head and say, “There, there,” she didn’t try to help me snap out of it or think of something happy. She didn’t do anything at all to try to console me, and in not doing a thing, she gave me the greatest comfort anyone could have given me. She participated in my sorrow. I knew she heard me. I knew she felt along with me. And she gave me all the time I needed to cry until I couldn’t cry anymore, and I was ready to go do something else. I will never forget what a gift she gave me.

My father is a minister and he has been with people in hospitals going through excruciating pain and loss. I remember the story he told me about when he was a young minister and he got a call that a family had just lost their young child. He rushed to the hospital to be with them, and before he entered their room, he prayed for words of comfort. Once he was there, he wrestled with what he felt was an appalling failure as their pastor, because no words whatsoever came to his mind. He struggled to come up with anything, just one comforting word. And the harder he tried to think of something, the more his mind was blank.

He sat with them for an hour and a half in silence. The entire time, he was waging battle in his heart to find what he felt they needed to hear from him. Finally, as he stood to leave, feeling like he had let them down tremendously, he reached for the mother’s hand. She held onto him and through tears thanked him profusely. “For what?” he said incredulously. “For not sayinganything,” she responded. She told him that well-intentioned people had come to say that we are to be joyful in all circumstances (a scriptural reference) and that God always has a plan. She said that deep in her heart, she knew that, but at this moment she just didn’t want to hear it. It was the furthest thing from comfort.

My father said that this was the greatest lesson he could have received about being a good pastor and being with someone in a time of sorrow. Over and over again he has been with people in catastrophic situations where their worlds have suddenly been turned upside down. He has witnessed the well-intentioned, but cruel messages of hope people try to deliver. He has stood or sat beside people for hours on end as they wept, and been told repeatedly that he did more for them than anyone else, because he didn’t try to say anything to make it better.

I think of my Dad, and I think of my roommate Gail and the enormous gift she gave me of being my strong friend, who silently sat with me, enveloping me in great swaths of solace without saying a word.

I think of my friend in Los Angeles, whom I just learned yesterday has cancer and is waiting for a liver transplant. I think of my girlfriend who sat beside her sister-in-law in the I.C.U. last night hoping against hope that she would make it through the night.

And I just want to say, “I’m with you. I’m here.

“And that’s all.”

(This story is a Reader’s Choice Favorite on

Photo from here.

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