Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Silence is not always golden January 10, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

Powering into a new year, symbolism in a locomotive photographed along US Highway 14 between Owatonna and Janesville.

A NEW YEAR BRINGS introspection, the opportunity to start anew, to face challenges head on, to build up rather than tear down.

That can be applied on a personal level and on a community level. In Faribault, my home for more than 30 years, I’ve never felt a stronger sense of caring for one another. That message of “you are not in this alone” has repeated itself in words and actions following two murder-suicides here in December. My community is choosing to be there for one another. That uplifts and empowers.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

When life throws us a curve, we need to be there for another, linked by the commonalities of care and compassion.

Yet, it takes more than a community reacting to tragedy to effect real and long-lasting change. And that starts with each of us. But we get busy. And we forget about the individuals in our circle of family and friends who are grieving, battling illnesses, struggling financially, facing unimaginable challenges. I try to be cognizant of the needs of others, especially those closest to me. Sometimes I fail, though, to extend much-needed care. There is no excuse. I have enough time to pick up the phone, send an email, jot a note in a card and/or simply ask, “How are you doing?” I can listen and encourage without injecting my opinion, my advice, myself.

We can

In a harvested cornfield, we choose to walk around the stubble to avoid physical pain. In life, we need to acknowledge the painful stubble in others’ lives and not avoid it.

By ignoring an issue, by failing to address the difficulty a friend or family member is facing, we add to the pain. Silence is not always golden.

Sometimes we must intentionally choose to keep at arm’s length those who fail to support us. That failure can come via omission or via hurtful words and behavior. We are all adult enough to realize when words encourage and when words hurt.

So many times I’ve observed people shift a conversation to themselves, as if that’s going to help whomever is struggling. This is not about ourselves; this is about the person sharing his/her concern.

A strong visual that we can help one another. Photographed near New Ulm.

This strong visual shows that we can help one another. Photographed recently near New Ulm.

Bottom line: We need to hone our listening skills, to show genuine compassion, to be here for each other.

TELL ME: How do you help family and friends who are struggling with challenges in life? What do you find helpful and hurtful when you are dealing with a difficulty? Please be specific. We can all learn from one another.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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20 Responses to “Silence is not always golden”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I have always felt that the most important thing is to just be present for someone that is in crisis. You don’t always have to speak—sometimes it is just the being there, the listening and the hug that matter the most in times of stress. I often find myself saying “i just don’t have the words to say that will make things better” and that often helps the other person in some way. But yes, it is important to be aware that others have things going on that we have no idea about and to be compassionate. I never say “I know exactly how you feel” because there is no way I can know the exact experiences that someone else is going through. Thoughtful post today, Audrey. Thank you.

  2. Valerie Says:

    Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.
    I agree with you Audrey, listening, not talking, is key.
    Thanks for the considerate post.

  3. Cheryl Nagel Says:

    Audrey, you hit it out of the park on this one… Many of us who suffer great loss do not “appear” to be ill, but looks are definitely deceiving. It’s easy to see when someone, let’s say, has a broken leg, but not so easy to see when they have a broken heart. Thanks for your insight!

    • You are right. It’s easy to see and offer sympathy and/or encouragement to those with visible physical issues. But it’s the hidden challenges of grief, emotional and mental issues (whatever we can’t see) that we tend to avoid (or not see) in others, when they most need us. I know you’ve suffered immeasurable grief in the loss of your beloved daughter, Lindsey. I am so sorry. I think we all need to make a concerted effort to see the unseen hurt in others and then take the time to really listen and show compassion and care.

  4. A very thought provoking post today – stopped me in my tracks and made me think. I know I interject myself into the conversation at times because I am uncomfortable or nervous or just do not know what to say. However, I am practicing and learning to be there and listen more. Be kind, caring and supportive. Do not judge. Spend quality time with your greatest someones. Be neighborly. Etc. Thanks for putting it out there today – I know I needed to read this. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  5. Don Says:

    Helpful = listening and not judging, hurtful = not listening and judging.

  6. Jackie Says:

    acknowledge, validate and pray.

  7. Love this post, Audrey. When I’m having trouble, I talk to my husband or my friend Luann or my son; not my daughter, usually, because she is in the throes of college and at a life stage where she cannot yet put down what she’s already worrying about. The flip side of that is that I try to listen to my daughter – and others I know who are struggling with various things – and let them know I’m here for whatever they need. I probably err on the side of giving people space rather than asking a lot of questions about how they are and I’m never sure whether I’ve hit the right balance. My friend Luann, who is a nurse, often reminds me that we cannot always see what others might be struggling with (which others have mentioned here in the comments) and I love those reminders which make me slow down and think. My own daughter has type 1 diabetes and one of the things we tried really hard to teach her was that everyone has something they have to manage that others don’t know much about. We did this so she wouldn’t feel alone and would consider that managing challenges is a life skill that everyone must learn. But you’re right that silence is not always golden because all we really learn from silence is that feelings get hurt and never mended. Talk to each other with kindness and compassion and then the stories come tumbling out. Listen with genuine interest rather then thinking about what you are going to say in response while the other person is still talking. Yep, that can be hard when you’ve got your own stuff going on but it’s worth practicing. Human beings all want to be happy and safe and cared for. We all have that in common.

  8. Littlesundog Says:

    What a timely post. My siblings and I are still reaching out daily to help my sister Lisa, who recently lost a son. I’ve been texting her other two children, and either attempting to call or text my sister. She doesn’t answer much – I know she’s in pain and grieving in her own manner, but I feel it’s important to stop and make the time to call or send some kind of loving support.
    I loved the “roadside mechanic” photo. How many times have I seen this or been the person to stop and help? It’s a wonderful thing to lend a hand however we can. I often find myself helping the elderly at Walmart, or those in a motorized cart reach something up high. It’s such a simple thing to ask people if they need help. And it feels wonderful to be able to do something to brighten another’s day!

    • You are doing all of the right things by continuing to reach out to your grieving sister even if she doesn’t respond. I hold to the “don’t give up” theory. Your sister knows via your contact that you are there for her, that you care and that she can reach out to you when she is ready. Ditto for her other two children. I am so sorry for this loss in your family.

      Likewise, your helping others with something as simple as getting an item from a shelf shows your compassion and care. I do the same. You are truly a loving and giving person, Lori.

  9. Gunny Says:

    Sometimes being there with the right stuff at the right time, listening, sometimes being able to act. Being there with the “right stuff” is sometimes coincidental. The lessons one learns in Minnesota, such as filling up the gas tank on one’s car just before an impending snow/sleet or cold front storm hits has proven to be invaluable over time. I carry some tools, extra coolant, motor oil, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, blanket (varies). Like the Boy Scouts, Be Prepared!


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