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At a Loss for Words

Recently, two very good friends of mine received some very sad news. In light of their situations, I found myself in a strange position. These are two men with whom I have deep relationships, relationships that both deserve much more than a simple “I’m sorry” or other murmured condolences.

But what do you say to a brother who has been passed over for a position he felt sure was his...again?

What do you say to another who, along with his wife, is dealing with the loss of a child through miscarriage...again?

Aside from the confusion, the anger, the sadness on behalf of my hurting friends, it seemed there was nothing to say. There were not any words that could convey the depth of the emotions, much less that could soothe the pain my friends were experiencing.

I have always had an interesting relationship with words. On the one hand, I am a writer and a speaker and teacher, with a keen appreciation for words and the power they have. On the other hand, as an introvert, I tend to use those words sparingly, especially out loud. But in these particular moments, it felt as if I should have words to say, things to offer. And yet no words came to mind to speak life into my friends in those moments.

How do you tell a man of a similar age to yourself that you want to cradle him up like a baby and rock him back into a pacified state of bliss? How do you tell him that at the same time, it feels like the most you can do is sit in silence on a couch, shoulder to shoulder, and just be? How do you express the fear that by offering any sort of commiseration you are simply repeating the efforts of every lesser acquaintance to offer sympathy, and forcing your friend to encounter their grief over and over again while simultaneously mustering smiles and gratitude for the attempt?

I am aware that I am more careful with my words than most people, and sometimes that reticence can actually cause trouble for myself and those around me. My wife and I are something of opposites in that way, so she is a good check on my speech (or lack thereof!). I was particularly struck that her response to both of these situations was also to be at a loss for words. If she couldn’t find fitting words, surely I must be right in not having found them myself?

The good news is that I get to continue doing life with these men. My sympathies do not need to be expressed in a singular moment but can be offered in an ongoing and evolving manner as they walk through figuring out what comes next. I can offer an extra-long hug the next time we see each other. I can shoot out a random text to check in a week from now. I can be there in a tangible way that words alone can not.

I can love them and show them they are not alone, not just tell them. Even though I may not be able to truthfully say that I know what they are feeling, I can be with them as they are feeling it.

Sometimes words hit us just right, and stick with us forever. A favorite quote or the encouragement of a parent or mentor. But other times we just need a comforting presence. As another buddy reminded me this week, “You can fake caring, but you can’t fake showing up.”

So, brothers, I love you. I am here for you. Even if I don’t have the words.

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