Why do so many people ask, “How did he die?” Why are they concerned about what happened?
I’m not an expert or trained counselor, but I have a few ideas on the subject.
Some people ask out of genuine concern and love. As imperfect as they are, they want to love us and help us. To these people, I spill my guts. I tell them what happened. All of it. It is sometimes messy. Tears, and snot, and stuff. But they love me anyway. I am thankful for these friends.
Sometimes it’s asked out of simple curiosity or ignorance of what to say to a grieving mom. If the former, we can deflect the questions by saying something like, “oh, I’d rather not discuss that.” I usually just say, “drunk driving accident,” as if that explains everything. It doesn’t.
If the later, we can help educate folks by teaching them or posting good articles on what to say and how to help.
In the early days of grief, we can’t help others know how to love us. We are too broken. But as we heal, and as time passes, we will have learned a few things. And we can share those lessons with our friends so we can all love the next bereaved parents just a bit better.
But I think a deeper reason people ask how he died or what happened is that, in their minds, they think, “If I know how another mom lost her son, I can prevent that from happening to my kid. To my family. To me.”
If it was illness – I’ll get a better doctor than they used
Accident – I will watch my kid more carefully than they did
Stillbirth – my kids were all born healthy and I’m done having kids
He fell mountain climbing – my daughter will stay off mountains
Drugs – my kid would never use drugs
Murder by abuser – my daughter will be more careful in who she marries
Suicide – my kid is a Christian, he would never take his own life
Drowning – mine will always wear a life vest
Really!? Your child will ALWAYS wear a life vest?? Always?
You see, if they can explain the why’s of child loss, maybe they won’t have to face the fact that it can happen to them. And yet… Anyone of us could face the horror of losing a child. I know. I face it every day.
It makes me want to shout: “No!!! No, you cannot prevent all accidents. Your child will not always wear a life vest nor will he always be careful not to get in a car with a buzzed driver. I know lots of people who are great parents and yet their child died. More prayer or a better team of doctors or bigger hospital would not have saved our kids. Yes, some of our kids were Christians and they became addicts or alcoholics; your child could become one, too, and if she does, you will love her through the whole horrible thing.“
And I want to shout, “love your child and introduce him to Jesus! Trust God and pray and love your kid. And know that he is not really yours; he was loaned to you for a little while. He is God’s. And God can be trusted with him. No matter what happens. He is a loving, compassionate, gracious God. He loves your kid. In life and in death. And He loves you! Turn to him now!”
So, If you are a bereaved parent who is tired of the question, “How did he die?” surround yourself with people who can love you well. With folks who will listen to you talk about how your son lived, not how he died.
Consider going to a moms mini retreat, dads weekend, or parents weekend.
Or find a Grief Share group in your community.
And if you are a friend of a bereaved parent, instead of inquiring about death details, try asking, “Could you tell me about your child? What were his favorite toys? What was she like? How can I contribute to a memorial charity?” Love your grieving friend. Love her well.