Lord Timothée

Grief and the balance of silence and speech

This is written in the aftermath of an unforeseen tragedy that no one expected and certainly no one asked for. I don’t write from the standpoint of seasoned grief but from a sense of duty I feel obligated to as an individual who understands the importance of delicacy and compassion in difficult times. My few years on this planet have not provided me with the perfect algorithm of the right words to say to those in deep grief or suffering, nor have they given me complete insight into why such tragedies occur. What I do possess, albeit limited, is an understanding of heartbreak because I, too, have felt it in small and significant ways. My intention is not to point fingers but to honestly assess the roles we all play in our deeply ingrained tendencies to speak when silence might be more appropriate.

The majority of the human population thrives on the promise of instant information whenever it is needed. Popular search engines like Google have fostered a culture that discourages patience and encourages immediate action at all times. We rarely exercise discretion about what is important to be known and what is best left unsaid—a sad and complex dynamic whose true implications are best observed in times of grief.

Perhaps all of us have encountered the truly horrifying tweet or WhatsApp status posted by someone desperate to say something about a matter they know very little about. Sometimes it is a deliberate act of seeking attention: casting out insecure, lonely bait in hopes that someone will engage them in the conversation they yearn for. However, for most people, this is not the case. Many genuinely believe that a lengthy paragraph detailing how the death of a beautiful young woman has led them to ponder the finiteness of life is a fitting tribute to the life that person led. Others think that incessant questioning and an eagerness to uncover every detail demonstrate virtuous concern. They often overlook the fact that others are also processing and healing, and that answers to difficult questions are rarely available amidst grief.

The worst kinds of reactions, which I was equally shocked and repelled to see on my timeline, are from those who feel compelled to assign blame and reason to everything. They refuse to accept that some tragedies are just that—tragedies—and that not every story allows for an “aha” moment confirming their prior knowledge.

I believe the root cause of all this is an inability to strike a balance between respectful expression and thoughtful restraint. We are all touched by the lives of those around us. Sometimes we are connected by shared upbringing, and other times by a stranger’s smile that brightened a difficult day. Human interaction, both big and small, matters. So when someone’s life ends, it is understandable that a diverse array of people—siblings, parents, old friends, relative strangers, colleagues, lovers, and classmates—would gather in grief and mourning over the loss of a remarkable person’s life.

Those closest to the deceased have every right to decide how much they wish to say and whether they do so publicly or privately. It is only natural. The rest of us (who constitute the larger group, I might add) must find the balance I mentioned between respectful expression and thoughtful restraint.

It would seem almost unnecessary for me to emphasize that the day after someone has passed is not the appropriate time to point fingers, spread rumors, or recount lengthy anecdotes about their impact on you via Facebook. It seems even more absurd that this needs explaining to people who were not particularly close to the deceased.

I have observed for a long time that Malawian culture often encourages everything to be shared publicly. There is a prevailing belief that everyone has the right to know all information, and the even sadder notion that being deprived of information is akin to being denied a fundamental right. To those who feel entitled to know everything about everyone, I urge you to step back, as a fall from such a high horse is inevitable and perilous. Those who choose to mourn publicly are not obligated to provide more information than they choose to share. Those who mourn quietly should not be pressured by your endless questions to satisfy your desire to know everything. If this resonates with you, I hope you take heed of what I am about to say. If you adamantly deny any association with the groups I have described, yet know in your heart that you have, I find that more troubling than those who openly exhibit such behaviors.

“There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” These simple words from Ecclesiastes 3:7 are easy to say but incredibly difficult to put into practice. Here is my suggestion for those who struggle to know when to be silent: step away from platforms that allow you to speak without consideration. If your finger is constantly hovering over the tweet button, you may never learn to exercise true discernment in silence. For those who often find themselves unsure of what to say, I understand. Sometimes, in our best moments of listening, we find the best words to offer solace or comfort. Therefore, I encourage those of you who struggle to find words to actively listen to how people feel and pay attention to what they express without words. Importantly, remember that true comfort and peace can only be found when one is ready to seek them. While you may have the perfect words or be a steadfast pillar of support, there will inevitably be times when those you support make it challenging for you to provide comfort. Stay resolute, safeguard your compassion and empathy, and if at any point you feel these slipping away, step back and choose silence.

I write this out of love for my country and its people. I am proud every single day to be Malawian. Sometimes, we forget the essence of being human. I hope this reflection on my thoughts serves as a reminder of that. We cherish you, everyone we have lost, for the beautiful life you lived and the profound impact you made on so many lives. May your legacy endure in the delicate balance between speaking out and keeping silent. May we always be prepared to heed whatever it has to tell us.

  1. June 27, 2024 - Reply

    Powerful

  2. June 27, 2024 - Reply

    Nice,learnt something

    • June 27, 2024 - Reply

      @Sphiwe

      Wow powerful

  3. June 27, 2024 - Reply

    Wow , thank you, I have learnt something new

  4. June 27, 2024 - Reply

    This is a powerful and relieving message

  5. June 27, 2024 - Reply

    Very nice 👍🙂

  6. June 27, 2024 - Reply

    Very beautiful piece that won’t get old. It’s of all time. Guess this time when we have just our VP, and more version of the story are being said. This was probably the best of its kind. More time lord Timmy

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