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When There Are No Words

Sometimes there are no words.

            No words to say to a wife whose husband drank his morning coffee and took his last breath a few hours later.  No words to a friend who didn’t expect a diagnosis of cancer.

            No words to encourage someone who continues to be in pain after surgery.  No words to comfort the parents of a teenager who collapsed and unexpectedly passed away.

            No words to express distress and grief for the people of Ukraine.

            One early morning last week I sat with pen and journal in hand and thought, ‘There are no words.’ Yet, I wrote names and hardships and grief, and I shared with a few college girlfriends who live miles away. They responded.  They, too, have friends and family members who suffer and my friends also hurt for the Ukrainian people.

            What can we do?

            I was taken back to a day many years ago when I visited my Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh who were then only a few years older than I am now.  We talked about what we’d done during the past week.  Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh had been to funerals and she had taken food to the families of those who had passed away, as well as taken a meal to a sick friend.  I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” 

            I have never forgotten Aunt Doris’s words. “It’s okay.  It’s where we are.”   I’m sure I frowned and I know Aunt Doris explained, “It’s where we are in life and it’s okay.”   She talked about the fun that she and Uncle Hugh had enjoyed with friends: playing competitive Rook card games, celebrating a new year, taking weekend trips.  Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh laughed as they reminisced about happy times with a friend whose funeral they had attended a few days earlier.  And through their conversation, I took in their happiness of times past that made accepting sadness easier.

            Last week I reminded myself that even though I don’t like what’s happening, I know life cycles. Calm. Jubilation. Sadness. Anger. Celebration. Grief.  Happiness.  And through those times people walk beside each other.

            Being raised in a small rural southern town, where everyone knew everyone’s business, I watched my parents and my extended family take care of each other and their friends.  They showed up.  They took food.  They hugged.  They listened. They prayed.

            I know that pain, distress, grief, and heartache are part of life, and I can follow my family’s examples.  Sit beside someone in emotional or physical pain.  A pot of homemade vegetable soup or a take-out meal speaks more than words said.  When I put my arms around the parents who mourned their teenager, there were no words.  Nothing to say.             

There’s hope that a touch and a hug speak love and caring.  There’s hope that showing up and listening show sympathy and concern.  There’s hope that prayers are heard, even unspoken prayers.

What carried you thru 2020?

One day during the first week of March, 2020, I stood beside my friend at her kitchen sink while we talked.  A tornado had struck Putnam County and many people were grieving the loss of loved ones and homes.  The spread and seriousness of the corona virus had become real.  My friend added her family news of the past two days.  Her dentist had discovered that she needed major dental work.  A close family member was scheduled for a diagnostic medical procedure the next day, and her husband, and others in management positions at his workplace, had been told to work long hours on assembly lines until a strike was settled with employees who normally did those jobs.

            With exasperation, my friend said, “Okay, 2020! What else you got?”  My friend and I hugged and assured each other that somehow all would work out.  Somehow.

            During the past ten months, I have often thought back to that day.  Our physical health, our endurance, our emotions, our faith, even our sense of humor have all been tested.  Last week, I read a question: what carried you through 2020?  My quick one-word answer was HOPE.

            Hope is defined as believing that something good may happen and feelings of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  What gave me hope?  Quiet morning devotion time, including listing blessings.  Meeting with Sunday School class members using Zoom.  Knowing that health care workers gave their best to care for patients. Reports of vaccines to prevent COVID. FaceTime visits with Grands who live far away.  Playing card and board games with Grands who live across town. Text messages to and from friends and family. Jokes – anything that made me laugh.  

            When my normal routines of life, i.e., grocery shopping and club meetings and face-to-face visits with friends, came to a halt I began walking for exercise more often and it occurred to me that the big picture life remains the same.  Daily sunrises and sunsets. Changing seasons.  White blossoms burst open on dogwood tree branches in the spring, leaves in the summer, red berries in the fall, and now the branches are bare.  Mother Nature gives hope.

            There was hope and celebration when my young cousin and his wife welcomed their baby daughter into their family.  When friends married.  When a few family members came together.  When the COVID vaccinations began last week. 

            Some take-aways of 2020 give hope.  A young woman who lost her mother to COVID learned that she’s much stronger than she thought she was or could ever be.  Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and all health care workers are heroes.  Teachers gained more respect as they taught using unprecedented methods.  I’ve become more patient, waiting for deliveries, waiting for quarantines to pass, waiting for vaccines to be available, just waiting.             As 2021 opens its first week, I ask, “Okay, 2021.  What have you got?”  Whatever comes, even amid chaos and pain, there is hope.