Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be validated. Each of our lives matters, as do our wishes and dreams. This includes every parent, caregiver, and child on the receiving end of care. Yet often, listening gets canceled out by our own talking and advising.
Attentive silence can uncover the real needs of another, needs that we might miss in our efforts to share our opinions or instruction. This was the case when I visited an elderly woman who had just received a cancer diagnosis. Though she requested a chaplain visit, she greeted me with stony silence. My efforts to start a conversation went nowhere. Finally, knowing that she lived on a farm, I thought just maybe she had a vegetable garden. So, I simply asked her if she canned.
That unadorned question and my waiting for an answer, revealed her real concern, one that she hadn’t even shared with her doctor or nursing staff. Not only did she can and preserve fruits and vegetables for her family, she packed lunches every day for all five of her children, then walked them to the school bus stop. Afterall, it wasn’t her illness she wanted to talk about. Her need was to tell me of her commitment to lovingly caring for her children.
That brief encounter has served as a reminder that it is impossible to listen until we stop talking. I would even suggest that we caregivers learn to never miss an opportunity to keep our mouths shut. Whether it’s a nurse who places a cool cloth on the forehead of a mother who has miscarried her baby, or a friend who makes room in her busy day for another whose marriage has failed listening offers us a powerful healing tool.