Sometimes the listening I need to tune up is my ability to hear what’s in the unsaid. There is something behind the words that is always being communicated, and the people I experience as truly listening to me get more from me than just my words.

Melinda read a text to me last night from Barbara, a neighbor down the street. She was announcing to the texting group the long-awaited completion of cleaning out her house. She is thrilled to be moving into a retirement community, where she already knows some of the people. The text went on with details of exactly when the movers would arrive and when Barb would be at the house and whether she would be coming back on the weekend etc. I listened to all this with mild interest.

I didn’t stop to think much about Barb‘s lonely existence in that big house at the end of the cul-de-sac ever since Paul died of cancer. Why else would she be thrilled to be moving into a retirement home? I mostly thought about how I might feel about moving into a retirement home. 

This morning when I walked into the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee, Melinda said “I saw the moving van.“ 

What? The words did not compute.

“You know, the movers are coming to take Barb‘s stuff. Her last day in the house.“

I had not remembered and barely thought about it. I murmured something and reached for the half-and-half.

It rained all morning. When I got home from leading a workshop, it had started to clear. Lacey came looking for a walk.

As I put the leash on, it came to me: I should go say goodbye to Barb. I poked my head into Melinda‘s office so she could see I had the dog on the leash and said, “I’m gonna go say goodbye to Barb.”

“Oh good! That’s great!”

She made no request. Not out loud.  But I heard in her hearty response: Be sure to say a “proper” goodbye. But she didn’t want to impinge on me or annoy me.

She was not going to press it. It was up to me to hear it or not.

At Barb’s, the moving van was long gone. The yard and shrubs immaculate. Her silver compact car parked primly in the driveway. I knocked, but had to ring the doorbell to get Barb to answer. 

She said she really appreciated our stopping by and was on the phone with her daughter and had to gather up the last documents to take with her.  I knew her as a nonstop talker, so I just needed to nod and maintain eye contact, but not get her going on any topic. 

I practiced listening to the unsaid, and could hear that all these details were examples of life without Paul. All the things she had to handle alone. All the things she had to deal with that used to be his.

So I said simply, “I just wanted to say goodbye, Barb, and to tell you that Paul was the first person to greet me when we moved into this neighborhood 10 years ago. I remember him walking his little dog Fritz and smoking his pipe on the brisk fall days and commenting to me about how beautiful it was.”

She teared up immediately and said, “That was Paul, always making friends. Our joke is that where he is now, we know he’s on the welcoming committee!“

I said he was the first person to make me feel like I belonged in the neighborhood. And she said, “That’s what all the neighbors keep telling me.”

We just stood for a second thinking about the people we’ve lost living here on our lane. I said she’d better get back to her daughter.

Barb said, “Yeah, and thank you for saying those sweet words about my Paul.”

I cried all the way up the driveway, moved by having moved another, belatedly missing Paul, and present to the unsaid sadness that connects us all.