Some weeks ago, I met with a friend who lost his young adult son to cancer. In reflecting on his son’s passing and memorial services, the friend shared how important it was at that time for his friends just to be present, express their care, and hold memories of the loved one together with the family. Those that cared most, he felt, cared with their quiet presence and not with many words.
More recently, I attended a memorial service for a young woman who had died suddenly and unexpectedly. She was part of a large, loving family, and her service was attended by hundreds who were there to support the family and remember the significant impact of her young life.
One of the woman’s cousins stood up to speak about her with poignant words. But while he spoke, his emotions and grief began to overcome him. As he paused, another male cousin stepped forward and placed his hand on his shoulder. There were no words, just his presence, solidarity and love. He had the wisdom to know this was no time for speaking; he just needed to be present. His reassuring touch was what was needed at that moment. After a few seconds, the cousin was able to compose himself and continue to share his words of remembrance and love for the young woman.
There are times, as well, when we as leaders are called just to be present with our partners, colleagues, family and friends. Sometimes being a servant leader is just that – being present – and no more.