Silent Embrace


         I was one of the guilty ones.
           I avoided approaching people who had suffered losses. I could handle making condolence calls, safe in the knowledge that my mere presence said I cared. But walk up to someone and tell them I was sorry for their loss? Not on your life! I didn’t know what to say. Didn’t want to remind them. Didn’t want to acknowledge my own vulnerability. Didn’t want to seem inarticulate. Didn’t, didn’t, didn’t.
            Then I found myself on the other side of that silence.
            On an April day barely two months after my daughter died, I kept a commitment made months before–before–to help out with an event for an organization to which I belonged. It was on my calendar, so I went. Reluctantly, I entered a lobby that swarmed with women, too many women, smiling as if happiness still existed in this world-turned-inside-out. Too much noise. Too much chatter.          
            I inched my way through the crowd, unable to fake a smile. Did not one of these women recognize me?  Perhaps I looked as different as I felt. Surely they knew! It had been front page news: a drunk driver plowing into a group of pedestrians at a youth group convention, Ruth’s coma, my 12-day vigil at her bedside in a distant hospital. Yet not one soul spoke to me as I dragged myself down the corridor toward the auditorium. 
            If anyone had uttered a greeting, it would have bounced off my rigid face. Still, I wanted someone to touch the abyss where my heart used to be. Yearning for Ruth and for life as it was before I desperately needed someone to rescue me before I collapsed into my own hollowness.
            An acquaintance, Gert Wieder, answered my silent plea.  I had come to know Gert, 15 or 20 years my senior, during my five years in Rochester. We usually sat near each other at Temple Beth El. We always exchanged a warm “Shabbat Shalom” (“good Sabbath”) and a few congenial words. I admired her lively mind and dancing eyes, envied her slim build, liked her no-nonsense approach to life.
            As soon as Gert spotted me, she broke away from her conversation to give me a gentle hug. Not a word. Just a silent embrace. Her loving gesture penetrated and soothed my frozen body. Her hug gave me the strength to survive that afternoon, my first time in a crowd since…before. 
           I’m no longer one of the guilty ones. Gert taught me that a heartfelt hug says it all.

7 Responses to Silent Embrace

  1. Thank you for sharing this memory with us. It is a teaching story, a hard memory, but oh, so true about all of us – until we know. Even after experiencing what we have, I still have to strengthen myself for braving that person-to-person encounter with those I don’t know well. If it is a close friend, then it comes naturally, but with acquaintances, it takes presence of mind and heart. Beautifully written.

    • Yes, Karen, I still find it hard, but at least I don’t avoid the issue anymore. We both know the unintentionally hurtful things people say or ask when a simple “I’m sorry” or hug would suffice.

        • So, so true! Back in the days when I attended Compassionate Friends meetings, one bereaved mother of a very young child said that she put notices in all the mailboxes in her neighborhood. The message was to please not avoid talking about her child. With the best of intentions, no doubt, they acted as if the child had never existed.

  2. Sending a hug your way. I find that conversation about my son is helpful. I love saying his name, Bret. It has been six years since he died on a tennis court surrounded by friends, doing what he loved. I will miss him forever.

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