Is It OK to Ask About David?


One of my favorite things to do is talk about my three sons.  I am so proud of all of them.  Chris and Dan are now both fathers and husbands, seeking to use their unique skills, gifts, and personalities to excel in their work, play, and raising their families.

Often when I am asked about my boys there is a deafening silence when I share that our second son, David died in 2009.  People become uncomfortable.  They don’t know if they should ask any other questions.  The conversation often stops abruptly or is changed to something benign like the weather or “What about those Packers?”

Two months after David passed I wrote the following blog to give people permission with some suggestions on how to interact with someone grieving.  I hope it is as helpful!  Enjoy.


I have observed a very interesting dance that takes place when I come in contact with someone I haven’t talked to since David died. It starts with a small shuffle of the feet, at times an awkward hug, followed by two vigorous pats on the shoulder or back if you are a man (that makes the hug manly), quickly followed by hands being stuffed into pants pockets or wrapped around their chest as if attempting to increase their body temperature, followed by an audible attempt to ask how we are doing but then realizing or thinking that must be wrong to ask so they apologize. I call it the shuffle, hug, pat, hand stuff or arm wrap, question and apology do see do square dance. And just like most of you didn’t like having to square dance in high school gym class, I can’t imagine you like this dance with me or anyone else who is grieving the death of someone they loved. So what do you do? Here are a few thoughts I have been ruminating on over the past couple of months.

1) You have permission to ask us about our loss of David. We need to talk about him. It is a vital part of processing our grief. Sometimes we may go on and on about this story or another so be prepared. Sometimes we may start crying. That’s OK. Don’t tell us we don’t have to be sad because David is in heaven. We know he is but we miss him and it hurts. If we say, I don’t really want to talk about it right now don’t push us. There are going to be some people we feel more comfortable talking openly with based on the depth of our relationship. Avoid the question, “How are you doing?” It is too open-ended. Often that question makes me think a person feels they have to say something so they fill the awkward silence with, “Hey, how ya doin?” Often by you sharing a memory or story you have of David you give us an opportunity to enter into a conversation about David and how we are doing. You are not forcing us to grieve when you talk about David, you are simply entering into the grief we are already experiencing. I read the following a couple of days ago in a booklet on grief someone sent us;

Permission is the key to finding a healthy walk through the grieving process. Grief is still a “prison of silence” that must be broken into by your friends,and out of by you.  This can only happen when both discover that grief is not an enemy to be avoided, but a  process to be followed.

2) Be careful of using theological mumbo jumbo. Just read the story of Job in the Old Testament. His friends poked him in the eye with theological truth that failed to touch the reality of his pain and suffering. At times I think people feel like they have to give God an out for allowing David to suffer from Battens Disease and then die. He doesn’t need one. Isaiah said it well in chapter 55,

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Don’t try to fill in the gaps God has chosen to leave unfilled or unanswered. I am discovering they are best left open. In fact, often the questions we have don’t even have an answer. C.S. Lewis wrote,

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Problably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are likely that.

Sometimes we couldn’t understand the answer even if God explained it. Or God may have explained it in Scripture, but we fail to notice it or refuse to believe it.

Children don’t understand why their parents won’t let them stay up late, eat cookies in bed, or feed chocolate to the dog. They don’t understand why we discipline them, make them clean their rooms, or take them to the dentist. One day when they grow up, they’ll understand.

And so will we.

3. Be willing to be silent! Some of the best words of comfort have been an embrace where your tears stained my shoulder. Sometimes words are too loud, abrasive, like lemon juice on a paper cut.