“What Do I Say?” – How To Speak (Or Not Speak) To Mourners

 

In memory of my congregant and friend, Brian Sigal z"l and in honor of his beautiful strong family

In memory of my congregant and friend, Brian Sigal z”l, and in honor of his beautiful family

“What do I say to them Rabbi?” This is a question I have heard so many times this week as we rally around one of our families that has suffered a tragic loss. We want to offer comforting words. We want to be able to make some sense out of this horrible situation. We want to be able to use our words to explain why this tragedy occurred not just to console the family, but to console ourselves.

The wise and powerful King Solomon teaches us that “closing one’s lips makes a person wise.” (Proverbs 10:19). There are no words at this time. There are no answers. Trying to make sense of it all is futile. In times of grief, the one who is wise sits with the mourner in silence, holding their hand, wiping their tears, simply being there with the mourner. For so many of us, it is so hard not to fill the silence with words. Silence feels so empty, especially in the home of mourners. It makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable. But, the rabbis teach us that “the vehicle for wisdom is silence” (Pirke Avot 3:13). When we are present but silent with someone experiencing an inexplicable loss, we give the mourner space – space to feel, space to breathe, space to appreciate that they are not alone and, most importantly, space to eventually begin speaking and filling the silence with their thoughts and feelings. The words of the mourners – these contain the wisdom we need at this time. These words contain the memories and stories that will give us all the strength to move forward. May we all find the courage to embrace the power of silence, giving those we love and care for the power to speak and share precious wisdom.

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