Console the Bereaved with Concern, but Curtail Curiosity

Showing heartfelt concern when someone dies offers comfort and consolation. Exhibiting curiosity does not.

“The Curious” are more interested in displaying their own pain (or discovering that of the bereaved) than they are in relieving or lightening the mourner’s load. They may say things like:

“Tell me how she died.” Surviving loved ones should never be pressed to discuss this most personal, devastating event. Whether the passing was a bittersweet, peaceful, expected transition or a wrenching, abrupt and untimely, traumatic cataclysm, these details–even if made a matter of public record on the evening news–are intensely private.

“When are you going to move?” No matter how well-intended, this question assumes and imposes the burden of considering yet another upheaval in an already overturned life. Ideally, those who grieve should not make major life decisions within the first year of their loss–and when they do, those decisions are theirs to announce only when and if they wish.

“The same thing happened to my third cousin’s neighbor’s ex.” The grief-afflicted soul thinks, “So what? I don’t know them, and I’m hurting worse than I’ve ever hurt before.” The worst and most relevant grief is a person’s current grief.

“What kind of life insurance did he have?” or “What are the terms of her will?” Unless you have an already established relationship as the survivors’ attorney, accountant, or certified financial planner, questions such as these are off limits! Period.

“When are you going to stop being sad?” Even happily remarried widows and widowers “still” feel sadness over the death of their late spouses. Bereaved parents will “always” mourn the children they’ve lost. Love–and grief over lost love–has no expiration date or timetable.

“What are you going to do now?” The newly bereaved are already overwhelmed. Don’t point out the need for them to make further decisions–which aren’t your business anyway.

In contrast, “The Concerned” set aside their own importance, remembering the goal is to help their grieving friends. They interact to witness and validate the pains of the bereaved survivors they would comfort. Their words sound more like:

“Do you  need to talk about how she died?”
“Is there any way I can help you with any planning you need to do?”
“I’m so sorry for what happened.”
“Can we help you meet any immediate financial needs?”
“Would you like to talk about your feelings?”
“I’m here to support you in whatever you decide.”

Go ahead and show your friends the concern you feel for them in their grief, as long as you aren’t indulging your curiosity to do so.

4 thoughts on “Console the Bereaved with Concern, but Curtail Curiosity

  1. indulging curiosity – I referred to those folks as the “trauma tire-kickers”. Wanting intimate details of matt’s death, with increasing looks of shock on their faces, often followed by a slew of inappropriate questions, all related to the fact that they just couldn’t believe it was true, and therefore, I must have missed some detail. Suckage. Boundaries, people.


    • When my grief was still new to me (meaning I was still in shock) I found it hard to put boundaries up against those “trauma tire-kickers.” (Great description, by the way!) Weeks or sometimes months later I’d have a light-bulb moment thinking, “WHY did I answer that question?!?”

      I wish I’d known then to use the suggestion another widow later shared. When facing inappropriate questions she says, “Why are you asking me that?” Sometimes the questioner clarifies genuine–but poorly worded–concern. Sometimes the insensitive ones backtrack, realizing their error.


      • yeah – I got better at redirecting their questions back to them. I’m also known to say “those aren’t details I share,” and leave it at that.


      • That’s another good way to respond to the overly curious. (I wish I’d thought of it when I was so much in shock I didn’t think to filter some answers.)


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