It can be a hard world to be soft in — to remove the Teflon we wear amid all the impatience and cynicism around us just to be there for someone who needs our love and support. Qualities like gentleness, patience, warmth and empathy can be so undervalued in this day and age that when we need to sit down with someone devastated by a loss or turbulent change in their lives, we often feel unsure about what to say or do.
Given how uncomfortable the act of comforting can feel, many people completely avoid getting close to a distressed or grieving person. They either barely acknowledge or say nothing at all about what the person is going through. Others offer cheerful remarks or uplifting platitudes such as "Something good will come out of this" or "God will show you the way." Still others drop off food, flowers or gifts, only to disappear after a week or two. Yet the person in pain can feel as isolated by the smiling well-wishers as by the avoidant ones. Sometimes grieving people find it easier to just hide, thinking that, at least this way, they won't make others feel bad.
But highly comforting people still prevail, albeit quietly in the background and without much fanfare. And they have much to teach those of us who wish to restore the lost art of comforting into our lives.
Reprinted from The Art of Comforting by Val Walker by arrangement with Tarcher, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2010 by Val Walker. Read an interview with Val Walker.