Ask Her Specific Questions

April 7, 2008 at 1:42 am 22 comments

How To Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 7

What do you say when someone asks you “How are you doing?” I usually give the knee-jerk, no-brain response, “Good,” or “Okay.” If you’re grieving, it’s a strange question: are they just using it as a greeting where they expect me to say “fine,” or are they really trying to get at how I’m feeling? Both are okay. It’s just hard sometimes to know which one it is.

You can make it clear by asking specific questions when you talk to your grieving friend. This is especially helpful because, remember, she’s a scatterbrain.

I’ve been helped by friends who ask me well thought-out questions. When I sit down with them, I know that I won’t have to synthesize something out of the mush that is my brain to answer that wide-open “How are you doing?” question.

They’re specific. They ask about my last visit to the cemetery. They ask if Felicity had a lot of hair. They say what they imagine I’m feeling so I can say, “No, it’s more like…” or “Yeah, it’s kind of like that.”

This kind of conversation is relieving to me. Not only does it take a lot of the pressure off, it helps me know that they really think about me and they’re trying to imagine themselves in my shoes. They’re not afraid to take conversational risks, put thoughts out there, and steer the conversation.

“How are you doing?” has it’s place, but the most meaningful interactions for me have been the ones where I haven’t had to come up with answers from scratch. It’s a relief when someone else brings the energy to the conversation by guiding it with perceptive and specific questions.

(Read other posts in this series.)


Entry filed under: Grief.

She Can’t Grieve on Command He’s My Prairie Home Companion

22 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nancy Carlson  |  April 7, 2008 at 6:00 am

    Here here to being a scatterbrain. Not you just a person in grief. I know thinking for me was particularly hard that first year. I just couldn’t focus. Just having friends that understood that would be a huge help. Like you said a few days ago, your mind is always thinking of your baby. As I sat in conversation with friends I was hearing words and linking them to Derek, my son. They would be talking of taking a plane trip and I would be thinking ” I never got to show him a plane in the sky”. With that kind of double thinking going on no wonder I was a scatterbrain. Thank you for bringing your thoughts to others.

  • 2. JessicainFlorida  |  April 7, 2008 at 6:51 am

    I’m so proud of you, Molly. E-mail to follow…

  • 3. jennapants  |  April 7, 2008 at 8:24 am

    this is so helpful. as usual, i have a few comments and questions. i’ll go list form.
    1. i almost never know how to answer, “how are you doing?” and i’m without excuse.
    2. i often wonder specifics. not that i should be asking them in the church lobby…or the parking lot at the grocery store, but it’s good to know that it can be helpful, rather than burdensome.
    3. i struggle with wanting to tell you how sad i am for you, but wonder what the point of that would be…it seems too self-focused. is there any comfort in hearing reports of your friends grieving for you? or maybe i should ask what is most comforting? or does it just depend on the moment?

    i finally put you on the blogroll, but want to post about your blog, but keep stumbling over words…i’m way too self-conscious. i need to get over myself because this series applies to everyone i know. who doesn’t know someone who is grieving????

  • 4. lynn  |  April 7, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your grief experience and writing these posts. They are so enlightening and helpful – because so many times I jsut don’t know what to say. I am praying for you and your family. God bless you.

  • 5. shawnda  |  April 7, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Again, very helpful, Molly! Love you and praying for you, friend!

  • 6. Stephanie  |  April 7, 2008 at 1:08 pm


    Thank you for these posts. I have so enjoyed reading these–they are so helpful to so many people. What a blessing you are to people!

    love, steph

  • 7. Melanie  |  April 7, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you for articulating this… When we were in the hospital with our newborn that needed heart surgery- and we were there for longer than expected… I felt so alone sometimes. I know that those in my church didn’t know what to say, and I tried putting myself in their shoes, but it was a hard time. I always know now that when others are going through hard times it better to say SOMETHING than nothing at all-

  • 8. Valerie  |  April 7, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    What a helpful series of posts. If I could have printed this and handed it out to family and friends 5 years ago when we lost our son, I would have! What a blessing these smart words will be to many who want to help their friends but don’t know how. There are still times when I feel clumsy with my words around grief, even having been through so much of it myself. What a blessing that you have God, a fantastic husband and son through this horrible time. Thanks. Many blessings to you and your beautiful family. Valerie

  • 9. Tiffany  |  April 7, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Molly! Thanks for writing this series. I’ve often wondered how you are doing and what would be appropriate to ask you when I do see you. It’s been helpful to me to understand more and to know how to help other friends who have also been deeply grieved. Thank you for your clear articulation and genuine honesty!

  • 10. Tiffany  |  April 7, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    Ha! I JUST read your “about me” section and see that we both have a fondness for the word “smattering.” You’ll see that on my blog. Funny!

  • 11. proverbs31  |  April 7, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    I always ache for my friends when they ache, especially through such difficult tragedies, but I’m always at a loss for words. Unfortunately I probably err on the side of silence much too often. Also, I’ve thought of them months later, wondered how they were handling things as time passes on, but I didn’t want to be the one to bring it up if they were having a good day, you know? I never realized how it got so much harder, as you said in one of your earlier posts, especially as those milestone months pass by. Thank you for taking the time to write these.

  • 12. proverbs31  |  April 7, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Okay, one final thing: that last sentence sounds a bit trite, as if all you had to do was sit down and spout out a few paragraphs in the midst of your busy schedule. I know it can’t be easy for you. And for that, that’s why I say thank you.

  • 13. nanette  |  April 8, 2008 at 7:19 am

    You are so right. When I had people ask me what my daughter looked like, or if she looked like me or daddy, it was a relief to be given a chance to talk about my baby. Most people get to talk about their baby after they give birth, but with a stillborn , not only do you miss out on having your baby, but you miss out on talking about her too. I loved those who were “brave” enough to really talk to me.
    And now we can both help others who lose a child in ways we never knew before. It is just another aspect of the bittersweet and new normal.

  • 14. Jenna  |  April 8, 2008 at 10:58 am


    Thanks again for this series. Your perspective is so insightful. In an unrelated (but funny how small the world is) note- a friend of my husband’s made a knitted gift for a couple who was adopting a child from China. When I stumbled over to their blog, they had a sermon from Desiring God linked. Just thought it was funny that even in the blog world, everything is connected.

  • 15. Lisa  |  April 8, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Thank you for your insights…this series has been a blessing to read.

  • 16. Stacey  |  April 8, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    conversational risks………I like that. This has been very well put Molly and I am sure very therapeutic!! Very educational for the rest of us too.

    *let me know when it comes out on dvd heheheheh (I couldn’t resist)

  • 17. Diana  |  April 9, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Molly you are speaking so truthfully. I truly felt the same way at times. I also did what Nancy did. When I would have conversations at times. Simple words would send me into a whirlwind of what could of been. I would spend the next few hours or mins. thinking of what could of been, depending on what the conversation was.

  • 18. runningamuck  |  April 9, 2008 at 10:36 am

    I really appreciate these posts Molly. They make total sense but are not something I would have realized without your help. Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to “wisen” the rest of us up.

  • 19. Kathy  |  April 16, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Molly,
    I think that you did a wonderful job on guiding people in helping their grieving friends… I hope that people follow your advice because people can be so hurtful (unknowingly and unintentionally!) I know from experience. My husband and I had identical triplets over 5 years ago. Jeremy and Austin were just over 2 lbs each and are healthy 5 year old boys! Our son Zachary was 1lb 4oz at birth, and he lived for 3 months in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I was there every day… He died on May 12, 2003… People didn’t know what to do and started calling Jeremy and Austin “twins” and few people ever mentioned Zach and still don’t! I’ll be praying for God to heal you but I definitely know that it’s a process to go through… I’m nowhere near the end, it feels like…
    Thanks so much, once again!
    God Bless You!

  • 20. Lisa  |  April 17, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Oh thank you SO MUCH for these postings. I am sitting here crying because you are able to put into words what I have been trying to articulate since our baby was born still, full term, last December. Everyone who knows someone who is grieving should read your posts.
    In Christ,

  • 21. Kristy  |  April 26, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I feel much less alone in my feelings and thnk EVERYONE should read this before coming into contact with a grieving person!

  • 22. Kelsey  |  December 29, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I just want to thank you so much for these posts. I have known too many women (close friends to my sister in law) who have lost precious little ones this past year. It has been so hard to know what to do besides prayer and a sympathy card. My husband and I just lost a little one this week and reading these is just what I needed. Thank you.


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