Sometimes All You Need is Kleenex

My friend Jaenia tells a poignant story about going to a doctor’s appointment not too long ago. A couple of things about Jaenia – she is a strong woman. She loves her people well and bears the burdens of others, always offering hope. What some don’t know is that all of this comes at a personal cost.

At the time of the visit, she was going through some difficult things in her personal life. Just prior to arriving, tears were streaming down her cheeks. She pulled herself together long enough to sign in, but the minute she got into the exam room and saw the doctor, she choked up again.

“What’s going on?” said her doctor. And with that, the tears began to fall again. The doctor reached for a box of Kleenex and handed it to her. Jaenia did what most of us do during these situations. She began to apologize. The provider stopped her and said “It matters. All of this matters.” And then she allowed her to cry.

“It matters. All of this matters” This is wholistic care at its best.

Sometimes we think we have to have all the right words, that if we don’t we dishonor the one who is in front of us with their tears flowing. But sometimes, all we need to do is give kleenex and wait. Our waiting is a nonverbal affirmation that the person in our midst matters, their pain is acknowledged through patient waiting and kleenex.

This is part of what it is to bear witness to stories, whether they be stories of pain or of joy. I often talk about the ingredients to active listening and bearing witness being about the head, the heart, and the body. We listen with our heads, our intellect, the brain we’ve been gifted, the knowledge we have; we listen with our hearts, the pain and joy of our own experiences moving out of self absorption and into an empathy for the one in front of us; and we listen with our physcial selves, our bodies tuned in to the story that we are now honored to hear.

Kleenex, patient waiting, bearing witness with our heads, hearts, and bodies – it all matters. It’s what makes fractured hearts heal, one person at a time.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes All You Need is Kleenex

  1. Thank you so much for this, Marilyn. This is exactly what I do, oftentimes.
    I am now working as a hospice chaplain, in addition to being a part-time pastor at my little UCC church. This post is so meaningful to me. I appreciate it. (and you!)
    God’s blessings to you!


  2. Marilyn, it’s hard to believe how providential your blog was. You may know that God took Mary Helen home to heaven about 6 weeks ago. I’ve been having a hard time, but had held things together for a couple of days. Until this morning. But I gathered my self together and went to a heart appointment. While waiting I tried to keep a grip on my emotions. I read your blog in the waiting room, and thought, well, I guess Lord it’s okay if need Kleenex. Thanks. The blog ministered!


    1. Oh Eric – you have been on my heart and mind. I have appreciated so much the honesty of your grief on losing your beloved Mary Helen. I’m glad you felt permission to use the Kleenex and not be okay.


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