The Many Faces of Silence


There are many faces to Silence.

The loud booming Silence of Loved Ones no longer here—their voice and presence deeply missed—can cause a reflective silence.

Post-holidays, there is also the Toxic Silence. A silence that may continue all year for some, or only rear its ugly head at the holidays. That is the silence that hides abuse, minimizes its impact, and holds the victim hostage. To speak out loud you can be accused of “ripping the family apart,” yet to hold onto the secret is to rip the individual apart.

There is the Silence of Mental Illness that says, Now is not the time to burden everyone with my thoughts. Now is not the time to share how my very mind is turning against me. Yet pretending the holidays are an episode of a Hallmark Christmas movie can just be too much and the temptation of self-harm or other behaviours can become overwhelming, almost compulsive to get through—not only the season, but moment by moment.

There is the busy Silence of Addiction. Usually an addict’s behaviour is erratic and just doesn’t quite fit into the social gathering of the holidays. You may think addicts at the holidays are actually loud or just out of place, so by default not quiet, but to sneak into another room to engage in dangerous behaviour is really the stuffing down of things that need to be said, worked out and discussed. Addiction in a thumbnail is the stuffing down of emotions, incidents, abuse, some form of trauma that has not been given words. So, while an addict’s behaviour may be loud, disruptive, disrespectful and maybe you’ve actually had to say to an addict, “I cannot be a part of your life anymore,” which is understandable. But the actual act of addiction is a silencing of what needs to be let out.

In my world I have beloveds fighting serious diseases that come with real questions like, Will you be here next Christmas? I was sitting in a chair looking at my beloved over the holidays and in that silence of just watching her be her, I prayed … (Maybe pray isn’t the right word. Maybe barter?)

That if God heals her and gives all of us one more year with her, I would _________. It didn’t really matter what the blank is; the blank is never going to work. Bartering isn’t prayer. Prayer is trust. Trust in God, in what I know him to be, which is a merciful God, a loving God, a provider. My God has a great sense of humor. He’s God and God loves my beloved more than I do, so I have to adjust my thinking to know and feel that, rather than meeting him in a place of fear that barters and bargains. I meet God in a place of trust and that trust has to also embody the truth that we are not guaranteed forever; we are not even guaranteed tomorrow. We have this moment, so love big, love quietly from a distance as you watch them, appreciate all you can about your person and the people you love, overlook the flaws, but have boundaries with the abusive. Foster relationships rooted in realness, so you can rock out front row at a concert or sit together silently while sipping tea and pursuing sloth photos.

Now is not the time for silence if you are left with things that happened over the holidays that harmed you, caused you distress, caused you to be uncomfortable or caused you to stifle negative emotions. If you ended the holidays feeling those or similar things, can you discuss it with the person? If that is healthy and safe, try it. If you can’t talk to the person, can you talk to someone else who was there? Not in a gossipy way, but rather a factual “this is how I felt, how did you feel” way. If that is not possible, please discuss it with a friend or a professional, if you have relationship with one.

Things not spoken, in silence, grow and morph into bigger uglier beasts than they originally started. Get them out!

There are also those Silences of the Heart that caused mine to grow and fill enough to sustain me for another year. Watching my kids figure something out together, seeing friends who are—as my friend Jess says “framily,” friends who are family. We bring out memories of loved ones no longer with us that are comforting and can be worn like a blanket surrounding us and keeping us warm. There are these moments where you just sink a bit deeper into your chair, breathe deeply and feel your heart grow.

Many of us have Ugly Silences over the holidays—big ones and little ones—and I think we all need to hear that. But I hope you had more Silences that Grew Your Heart, fed your soul and filled you for another year.