It was his duty to read the applications from destitutes, reject the undeserving, visit the others to see how deserving or desperate they were, and then, if circumstances warranted it, to write harrowing accountings of their plight, harrowing enough to encourage contributions for the fund.
-- V.S. Naipaul, House of Mister Biswas
After a few minutes of harrowing silence, she said in a smothered voice, “Papa returns tomorrow.”
-- Benjamin Disraeli, Novels and Tales: Henrietta Temple
Harrowing is from the Middle English harwen meaning to harass or annoy. It was also commonly used in the church to mean “descend into hell.”