The Sound of Caring

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Feb 06, 2016

“Kindness can transform someone’s dark moment with a blaze of light. You’ll never know how much your caring matters.”
Amy Leigh Mercree

For nearly two hours Evie and I sat reverently and quietly in the Falk Funeral Home in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, listening to the sound of caring for my dear friend and our university attorney, Jim Maza, and his family. None of us ever could have anticipated the occasion for our being together in that place on that warm Saturday afternoon in early December.

About one week earlier on the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, Beth Maza, Jim’s dear wife, did not wake up. She was only 59 years of age. I still can hardly fathom the reality of that phone call from Lisa in his office when I first heard the news.

Before the visitation began we had the privilege of meeting with Jim and other family members including their two sons, Will and his wife Caroline, and Alex and his wife Halley. And though Jack, Paige and Natalie, their three grandchildren, were not there, we did learn that they too were the joy of Beth’s life.

Whenever our friends or family face such loss, we all struggle to know what to do or say. Our hearts break with theirs. And though we are grateful for eternal hope, we still sorrow deeply for those who sorrow deeply. Even this morning before I wrote these words, Evie and I were talking again about the depth of Jim’s loss as our hearts ached for him and his family. 

But as we sat there in that funeral home we experienced something very special. I will call it the sound of caring. After we spent our time with the family, we walked to the back of the room and sat in the back row of approximately 100 folding chairs. The doors were opened and a single line of people formed behind us and along the right wall. One by one, individuals, couples and some families came to share their deep sympathy with Jim and his family. 

I wish you could have heard what Evie and I heard. There was a soft sound of voices in the room. It really was the sound of caring. That day everyone set aside what they otherwise could have been doing to enter Jim’s pain with a message of personal care.

Every now and then we heard people introducing themselves to each other. “This is my neighbor Larry.” Someone said, “We’re getting through it together.” There were lots of hugs and tears and whispering and even an occasional laugh.

The most moving sounds of all were those expressed directly to Jim and his family. We only knew a few people in the line but it was obvious they were all very important to the Maza family. We did talk to one couple and learned that they were lifelong friends of Jim and Beth. As they reminisced on a host of social and business interactions with their dear friends, we could sense the depth of their pain too. 

As I sat there I remembered something I learned from my mother when her young husband died (my father) and the way she went through that loss. She often spoke of the power of presence in times like that. We may not know what to say but our own sound of caring may not make any noise at all. Those hundreds of people who stood in line and waited to be with Jim and his family obviously understood that. When we left, the people who stood in the line that still extended outside the building understood that too.

As Lou Buscaglia said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring. All of which have the potential to turn a life around.” 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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