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Ouch! Why do we grieve grievers with tacky questions?

Grieving is hard – astonishingly hard. Even psychological experts seem to struggle, when grief hits close to home. Consoling those who grieve can be tricky, even though we aim to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4b, NIV). Often, we struggle to find something comforting to say. In our floundering, we may even misstep and add to the grieving ones’ sorrow.

Adding to their pain is the last thing we intend to do, but it happens. Consider these examples.

  • He died of a heart attack. Was he overweight?
  • She had liver failure. Was she a drinker?
  • His son was killed in a car crash. Was he drunk or high? (Or: Was he wearing a seat belt?)
  • She was in a motorcycle accident. Was she wearing a helmet?
  • He had lung cancer? Did he smoke?
  • She passed away suddenly. Was it suicide?
  • He killed himself. Did anyone ever suspect anything was wrong?
  • She died. Was she a Christian?

These questions, even when they are well-intended, are all painful to hear.

This kind of interrogation does not comfort the bereaved at all. In fact, these queries may only add to their pain, because they imply the lost loved one was somehow responsible for his or her own demise. They’re a form of victim blaming, even if we don’t mean them to be.

Why do people ask such nosy and loaded questions of someone who is grieving?

Maybe we are trying to make sense of the senseless. Death is distressing to us, even when we are fairly certain that the one who died has passed into a blessed eternity with the Lord. By seeking a reason or explanation for the tragedy, perhaps we are aiming to keep it at bay. We may be worried that death might strike even closer, or we may be struggling with the question of our own mortality.

But, to the bereaved, it feels as if we might be trying to impose some sort of sowing upon the deceased ones’ reaping. And that’s not up to us.

Here’s the bottom line.

Life is hard on this side of eternity. It’s filled with inexplicable troubles. (See John 16:33.) It often feels unfair. And we wrestle with reality, grasping for ways to understand what may be beyond our own comprehension. So we forget to be gracious and tactful, and we ask probing questions that  wound the already wounded listeners.

That doesn’t exactly fit the bill, if we recall Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (NKJV).

Those who are grieving need not be burdened with satisfying the curiosity of others about the circumstances of their loved one’s death. If the bereaved choose to share such information, that’s their prerogative. But if not, it’s simply not their job. The work before them is to survive the grieving process, not to keep everyone else informed about all the sad details.

What about asking if the deceased person knew the Lord?

Although some may argue this point, I think it’s not appropriate during the grieving process to ask the bereaved about the deceased person’s condition of faith. If there’s any doubt about it, this is probably not the best time to do that sort of digging. That isn’t going to comfort those who are mourning.

If they are assured that the one who died was resting in faith in the Lord, then they will likely volunteer that information anyway. If they’re not sure, then we can assume it’s already an uncomfortable topic.

The only loving and gracious thing to do at such a time is to offer care and support.

That can take all sorts of forms. Basically, we “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15b, NIV). And, if we say anything at all, it might be something much safer and non-intrusive and general, such as:

  • “I am praying for you.”
  • “I am here, if you need me.”
  • “I’m here for however you need me.”
  • “I simply don’t know what to say.”
  • “I will sit and cry with you, if you want me to.”
  • “I just want you to know I care.”
  • “I’m so sorry.”

Angel Weeping –
 public domain image

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1 comment:

  1. Well said Linda Ann! We often think that we need to "solve the problem" with these questions. (oh that was why the person died). We are trying to make reasonable something God never intended for us. Can we just be willing to "be" with someone mourning and not try to say the right thing or "solve" their mourning "problem"?

    Sometimes saying nothing and offering a hug speaks the loudest to someone grieving.

    Thanks for the reminder!