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The Comfort of Silence March 31, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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When my Grandmother was facing her last days from breast cancer she was being cared for in the hospital. Her children had passed away before her (my mother was one) and her husband had passed away when they were young. I went to visit her one day and she was in that nebulous state which I don’t know whether to call a coma or just an internal world in which it is easier to rest and gradually withdraw while the outer world passes by.

The TV was on in the room and a golf tournament was playing. A golf tournament! I don’t think my grandmother played a stroke of golf in her life and I was certain she had no interest. I suppose the thought someone had behind turning on golf might have been that the commentators talk quietly but at the same time provide a way to fill the silence in the room; still, it just seemed so odd.  I couldn’t help think about how often people show discomfort with silence and how it would be easy to assume someone dying has the same discomfort.  Anyway, I doubt the golf tournament was providing much entertainment for grandma.

I noticed with K that as she got weaker she would spend a lot of time in a semi sleeping state. One afternoon she had been lying on the bed for 3 or 4 hours. I asked her how she was doing and she responded positively; she was in fact awake.  I thought she might want some entertainment, but she didn’t. She was content to lie there; no radio, no TV, no book, no music. I respected this and felt I understood it as well.

K and I had spent many years practicing going within (what some people may want to call meditation) which we learned from the same teacher.  Through that practice we both had become aware of a quiet, very fulfilling place within ourselves – and we treasured it.  I know that in an age where we can pretty much stay plugged into some form of entertainment every waking hour, it probably sounds strange, but it’s amazing how true it is that you can sit in absolute silence not doing anything, for maybe an hour or more, and emerge feeling more happy and content than most any other activity.

As K continued to wind down and withdraw into herself I could see there was no agitation or sense that something was missing, she appeared just fine.  I watched this process continue right through to the final days where the only disturbances were either me administering medication or the caregivers moving her around to provide physical hygiene. Even when aroused like this she watched as if from a far off place and often flashed a smile that could melt even the toughest heart.

There’s a sweet beauty to the silence. I felt that in the silence we had a powerful camaraderie and communication. That isn’t to say I never spoke to her during that period, but what I saw was that the dying process was not unnatural or boring. Nor was it unkind. It turned out to be a very gentle withdrawal from our world to an inner world where she ultimately disappeared from my sight. There’s a lot more going on in the silence than meets the eye, and it would be a shame to project our own discomfort and not consider that it may be perfectly okay.


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