Two Big Questions: Why and How

When coping with the loss of a loved one, two big groups of questions arise. The first, and sometimes the most persistent are the Why? questions.

For some of us the “Why?” questions will persist for a long time. Here are just a few of them I have heard, and I’m sure you can add to the list.

  • Why did he die so young?
  • Why has this happened to me/us?
  • Why did s/he have to suffer like that?
  • Why did s/he do it? (Suicide, DUI, smoke, do drugs, etc.)
  • Why must I hurt so badly?
  • Why did s/he leave us so soon?
  • Why didn’t I do something to prevent it?
  • Why did God allow this to happen?

Unfortunately, for most (or even all) of these questions, there are no satisfactory answers.

It is natural for people of all ages to ask these questions as we seek to put our lives back together in some way. As an adult seeking to help a child, however, it is usually best not to give a pat answer like, “You will get over it in time.” Or, “S/he is in a better place now.”

While both have some truth to them, it is better to respond with the question, “What do you think?” That can open an avenue of communication and help the child begin processing their own thoughts around the loss.

The second group of questions takes us in a different direction. These are the How? questions.

I once heard a priest who had lost his teen age son in an auto accident say that it was only when he stopped asking the “Why?” questions and started asking “How?” questions was he able to start healing and move forward. Here are a few he asked and suggested that others consider asking following the loss of a loved one. Again, you may have some of your own.

  • How would s/he want me to live my life?
  • How can I honor his/her memory?
  • How can I use the experience of my loss help others who are grieving?*
  • How can I let others into my life in a new way?
  • How can I live my life in a healthy and giving way?
  • How can I find positive ways to cope?
  • How can I allow myself to be vulnerable again?

Fortunately, these questions do have answers. The answers will differ from person to person, and will help move us forward in our grief journey. You will likely find that answers to these questions continue to develop long after the initial loss.

*One of the best examples of someone who asked the “How?” question is Lynne Hughes, founder of Comfort Zone Camp. Lynne, as some of you know, lost her mom when she was 9 and her dad when she was 12. In her own words, she says, “I always knew I wanted to use my own loss experience to help children receive the help and support that I didn’t get when my parent’s died.” The answer to her “How?” question now exists in the form of free bereavement camps for grieving children in five states.

While this is an extreme case, and my or your answers to these questions may not result in something so big, they will change our lives and the lives of others around us in ways we cannot now imagine.

One Comment:

  1. elisabeth said on January 15, 2014 at 5:50 pm ... #

    here i was, lost in thought – asking myself many why’s and suddenly recognised that why-questions purely come from my soul, from emotions. i wondered how. 🙂 and your article cought my attention while seeking an equal opinion to what i found. why do I keep asking myself why?
    When a why-question is answered, it does not satisfy me. I think a why-question’s goal isn’t knowledge, but demands the positive effect of learning the answer to a certain state of mind which made you ask the question in the first place. in that state of mind, someone who griefs the loss of a loved one finds questions such as ‘why did he/she leave us behind so soon?’ natural, to the one the question’s asked to, it is very painful.
    we ask ourselves why, or relatives/friends why. in both cases, why can be expressive. thus socially useful and may result phylosophically interestion thought or conversation.
    which is important to ease the mind and make it ready for future experience, in order to cope with it better. once satisfied with the effect, I suppose I am ready for the how-questions. But these seem too harsh in my current state of mind. Because all the how’s are putting a past tense to the person I lost. 8 years, still asking myself why I am not ready. Time to start asking myself how to live with that.

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