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The present of presence

By Diane Gow

‘To sit with’ is an act of presence, of being with someone in companionable silence.

In my childhood I remember hearing this phrase used by my parents.

We grew up in a village in Norfolk, England on a small farm, my parents being Methodist.

My Dad had a friend Charlie who was dying at home of cancer.

In those days most people chose to stay at home. For several months he would go and ‘sit with him’ one night a week.

I don’t know if they talked much, but if they did it would have been about the weather, crops and family.

I doubt they ever spoke about the cancer or death.

The second example relates to my grandmother.

She had dementia and lived for a number of years with my Aunt and her family.

She was generally happy in her dementia, knitting endless dishcloths with large needles and string wool.

On one afternoon each week the same chapel visitor came to ‘sit with’ my grandmother.

He would make her a cup of tea, would talk about people she might remember or just sit in comfortable silence.

He didn’t tell her that her husband was dead, that she was confused or wrong, but just agreed with her sane or rambling thoughts. And when he left she would smile and continue her knitting.

Being able to ‘sit with’ is probably a dying art, we need to be proactive when we face dementia or the dying, we need to tidy them away in hospices and nursing homes, and not be confronted by our fears and mortality.

We are too busy ‘to sit with’ them, we have mobile phones, social media, responsibilities and our time is precious.

When my Dad was dying several years ago I went home and spent time with him watching the last harvest he would see gathered in, he never mentioned his cancer and I felt no need to talk about it either.

We sat in the sun and talked about the village, the old days, the war, all that had changed and all that stayed the same.

Those days are some of my best memories of my father.

So sometimes remember those who might need someone to ‘sit with’ them in their grief, illness or dark night of the soul, because one day it will be us too who may need it.

Diane Gow is a member of Tecoma Uniting Church

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