'Communication doesn’t always have to involve words'

A couple sit on a bench as the sun sets

A couple sit on a bench as the sun sets - Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

On my many regular walks on the Heath Extension, I would often notice an elderly couple sitting on a particular bench under a large oak tree.

They sat mainly in silence, holding hands, occasionally pointing things out to one other, eliciting a nod or shake of the head.   

On one occasion, my dog ran towards them so I followed. They were unpacking some sandwiches (hence the dog’s interest) and I went over to apologise. After that, whenever I saw them, I would head over to say hello. They told me they were in their mid-90s and been married for over 70 years.  

What’s your secret to a happy marriage I asked? They smiled knowingly at each other. Taking the time to sit together, holding hands, they said, but then explained they had not always had a happy marriage.

They had both led busy lives, working, raising their children, running their home and didn’t make enough time for each other. They didn’t really communicate and so lost their connection. Several years after their children had left home, they had even separated for a while.  

Shelley-Anne Salisbury

Shelley-Anne says that the lack of communication is one of the root causes of conflict - Credit: 1000words.co.za

One day, the husband said, he was out walking, feeling pretty sad, when he spotted his wife sitting on a bench. She invited him to join her and they spent the rest of the morning sitting comfortably, side by side, not saying much, remarking on various things going on around them. They laughed for the first time in ages and met again the next morning, and the next, until it became every morning . Now, they sat here almost every day, holding hands. It’s our way of communicating they said.  

Communication doesn’t always have to involve words. A simple gesture like holding hands, taking time to connect, can be so powerful.

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As a mediator, I regularly see breakdown in communication. Lack of communication is usually one of the root causes of conflict. Lack of communication leads to misunderstandings, disconnectedness and loneliness.  

I hadn’t seen the couple during the pandemic and presumed they were shielding like so many other vulnerable people. I often thought about them on my daily walks.  Late last year, I  was saddened to find out they had both caught Covid and died within days of each other. Wherever they are now, I'd like to think they are both sitting together, side by side, on their celestial bench, holding hands and forever connected.  

Shelley-Anne Salisbury is a mediator, writer and the co-editor of Suburb News, themediationpod.net