Why do People Change the Subject from Grief and Loss?

Recently a woman whose son in his mid-20’s died. In her lengthy blogs, she complains about some people in her life who didn’t want to hear her grief. Her son’s death was recent, within the month; he also had an addiction issue. Even some church friends turned away. Perhaps you have sought in vain for a friend’s listening ear; you know how that woman feels.

I’ve been thinking about that mother in her sorrow, and especially why many people find it hard to listen, sympathize, or show they care. Instead, they refuse to hear another’s hurt. Here are some reasons I can think of why people might turn away from our deep sadness.

Why They Change the Subject

1. Our grief overwhelms. Although they have them, they don’t live with deep feelings on a day-to-day basis. They go about their business, preoccupied with their agenda and responsibilities. They also have a lot of problems of their own. When we come along and want to talk out our hurt, they can’t cope with the tragic nature of our loss, the depth of our emotions, or the presence of our tears.

2. Our grief makes them feel helpless. This is a big one. My first church funeral as a young pastor was a 92 year old man in a nursing home. I thank God he was the first, because, I had an extremely difficult time with my second, a 52-year old man with two teen age children, who died of Hodgkins Disease. If he had been my first, I don’t know how I would have handled it. Over the years, what I learned from my training and experience, however, helped me: I needed to live with my helplessness. In death, loss, and grief, we’re all helpless. Nothing we can do can take away our tears, revive our deceased, or cheer us up. When others feel helpless, it unnerves them. So, they cut us short and move on.

3. The circumstances of our loss make them feel critical. In the case above, the young man’s addiction could lead to thoughts like, What do you expect?, It’s his own fault! or Why didn’t you do something? Rather than say something hurtful, they cut short the conversation. You will recall how Job’s friends’ comments sought to lay blame to him or to his children for their tragic deaths. They showed their support through their silent presence with him, but their spoken “explanations” revealed a cold theology and even colder hearts.

4. They don’t know what to say. So they give a stock answer: “He’s in a better place.” Or, lacking skills and sensitivity, they change the subject. It doesn’t occur to them to state the obvious, “I can see how much you’re hurting,” for example. Or “Tell me what happened,” “May I pray with you for your comfort?” Try, “I feel very sad.” The key is genuineness.

Will others thank God for you?

If you’re in deep grief, I hope you’ll tolerate better the misstatements of people who change the subject, while you find those few who can hear. The lady mentioned above did find a few in her church and some others who would listen. Thank God for his provision of a few people who, in our grief and loss show they care. If you know someone in deep grief, I hope you’ll offer your friendship, care, and  love.

Will others thank God for you?

About Grose

Gordon Grose loves most to write, speak, and preach on the message of hope from the book of Job. Using drama, video, and PowerPoint, he has preached and presented this message of hope to churches around the country. Grose pastored three congregations 25 years, then served 12 years as a pastoral counselor in a Portland, Oregon counseling clinic. He now serves with Good Samaritan Counseling Services, Beaverton, OR. A graduate of Wheaton College (IL), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Brandeis University, and Boston University, he comes from a rich and varied background in theological and counseling training. In 2015, Gordon published Tragedy Transformed: How Job's Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours, a book about turning to Job for hope after tragedy. If you have experienced life challenges or personal tragedy, visit his Transforming Tragedy (gordongrose.com) blog to learn more. TragedyTransformed.com provides a sample of Gordon's speaking as well as an opportunity to purchase copies of his book.
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