Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

If you would like to be notified whenever I post something new, please enter your email here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Cantus: the Silence of Grief

In Arvo Part’s Cantus, a composition for orchestra and Orthodox bells, silence is written into the work. There are times when no musicians are playing, yet in this silence we hear reverberations of the notes recently played. We hear them even though no one is playing.

So it is in grief after the death of a loved one. There is a great deal of silence in our lives now. Silence at home when we are cooking. Silence in the places they used to sit. Silence where we are used to hearing their voices talking about the inconsequentials of the day. We hear echoes of their laughter in the silence.

In Cantus, and in grief, we are waiting in the silence for something to happen. And we are not waiting, because something is happening. We are listening. In the space between what we’ve known and what is not yet here, we are listening for the unknown. We are listening to the silence of grief, and the tension is exquisite, like salt and lime on the lips before the tequila.

The bells in Cantus also bring in the meaning of bells for the Orthodox people — remembrance and honoring of the past, and calling them to set aside what they are doing and be attentive to what the Spirit is doing in this moment. Pay attention, they say. Listen. Bells also call the faithful in Episcopal and Catholic churches to open themselves to whatever this moment is.

Many of us put wind chimes outside. When they move in the breeze, their chromatic scales play, and some of us hear the voices of our dead saying hello.

When two people gather over coffee to talk about grief, there comes a time of silence between them. After the carefully prepared words have been spoken, and they are unsure of what to say next, they listen to the silence, to what is moving deeper in their hearts, to what has not been said. This listening is holy.

We are not used to silence. Some of us find it uncomfortable not to say anything when other people are around, especially if we have gathered for the purpose of talking. So we talk constantly to cover our nervousness that we don’t have anything important to say. Some of us are naturally slower to speak than others, and choose our words carefully. Silence is part of our cadence. As we listen in the silence, we hear words rise from our hearts and we speak their compassion.

When we are with the grieving, our purpose in talking is not to say the right words that will take the pain away, because words cannot do this. Our purpose is to be present to each other, to listen and discern what we both dimly hear.

Silence is speaking without using words.


  1. Such a beautiful piece. Thank you Mark, your writing always touches my soul. I find such peace in silence.