The first week or so following Rod’s death, I was surrounded by family and friends. We told stories, we laughed and cried; we were all grieving together and supporting one another. No one had to ask how I was because they were there - they just knew.
It wasn’t long before traveling family and friends went home, and I left the country (only a week after his service) on a trip we were supposed to go on together. By the time I got back, it was only 10 days til Christmas, and my local friends were in full holiday swing.
The holidays came and went, and a new year was ushered in. People got back to their lives and their routines. They no longer 'just knew' how I was doing, so they simply started to ask, “How are you?”
Before I go any further, I want to say that I totally understand that I am not the center of anyone else’s world, and it's not anyone else's responsibility to take care of me. Many folks did check in on me fairly regularly at first, and several continued to stay in my world beyond that. I wouldn’t have made it without them, and I am filled with gratitude for their love and efforts to care for me in those early weeks and months.
But I gotta tell ya … “How are you doing?” was the question from hell in those early days and months.
Here’s what went through my head in that awkward silence between its asking and my responding:
First, there was the sarcastic answer: “My husband’s dead. How do you think I’m doing?” Of course, this response was never vocalized because it was not deserved (and, well, it was just rude). I realized that the person asking was coming from a place of genuine concern, and had no clue how else to start a conversation or gage how said conversation might proceed.
Next came a whole slew of questions of my own … all in my head.
Do you mean how am I doing … emotionally, in my grieving process?
Are you looking for a report of my grief to see how I'm coming along? Is there some standard you will measure my answer up against to determine whether or not you should be worried about me? What will you do if my answer isn't 'right'? Well, I’m still grieving. Does that help?
Do you mean how am I doing … physically; like if I’m sleeping well (or at all) or eating (at all)?
Well, I’m dressed. I don’t hear my tummy growling, so I must have eaten something recently. And I’m standing here, listening to you ask me *that* question. So you could say I’m functioning. How well I’m functioning - how I am managing the getting dressed and showing up parts - is a different question altogether. Is that the one you were asking - how am I functioning?
Do you mean how am I doing … financially?
Since it is socially impolite to ask anyone about their money situation even in the best of times, I can probably conclude that this is not the question they had in mind. But if you were genuinely concerned about my financial well-being, seeing as how my main source of income has suddenly stopped, I’m sure I’d have a story to tell.
Do you mean how am I doing … practically, as in the day to day operations of running a home? Hmm … this one could take a minute. You see, I’m no longer in the habit of assessing my surroundings - home maintenance or supplies, oil change on my car, etc. I’m just trying to remember to brush my teeth and feed the dog, so I’m not sure I even have an answer to this particular question.
By this time, the awkward silence and blank stare had become uncomfortable, so I had to decide which interpretation of this question I was going to answer.
So began another rabbit trail in my head.
What’s my relationship with the asker? How long have we known each other? Are we the backdoor/pajamas kind of friends, or do we have polite exchanges at weekly events or other social gatherings?
What is our current venue? Are we having lunch so we have time to explore a real answer, or at least figure out which question you are actually asking? Or is it after church when we’ve all got 15 minutes after the service to get the kids and talk to everyone we haven’t seen in a week?
What’s my emotional state right now? Are my emotions just under the surface, looking for an excuse to burst out of my face, or am I having a more stable day ... or moment?
Yeah, it was that complicated. And usually ended with
“I’m fine, thanks.”
Moving forward, not moving on.