Today I had lunch with a dear friend who also has had more than her share of loss this year. One of the things we talked about is how frequently we are asked, “How ARE you?” — usually with a concerned facial expression and tilt of the head.
Or worse, “Hey! How’s it going?” — followed by a facial expression that says, oh crap I totally forgot her son just died and of course she’s not doing ok and I can’t believe I just asked her that question.
And it happens on my side of the question, too. Someone will ask me how I’m doing, and out of pure habit I answer, “Great! How are you?” And then I’m sure my facial expression says, oh crap of course I’m not ‘great’ and now I probably look like I’m either totally lying or totally in denial and I don’t want to correct myself now but I feel awkward and I just want to change the subject.
The real answer is, I’m ok. And devastated. And fine. And heartbroken. And motivated to make the most of life. And exhausted. And excited about being back at work. And struggling to stay focused. And a million other emotions. I’m ALL of these things. Sometimes all at once, sometimes a different one every ten minutes.
I’ve decided that the best question for someone to ask me is, “How are you, today?” That’s usually a question I can answer. And more and more often, the answer is genuinely, “Today, I’m doing well.”
Because the reality is, I do have good days. Maybe not “great” days, but certainly not the can’t-get-out-of-bed days that I would have expected someone who just lost a child would have. Until that someone was me.
Because now I realize, you just don’t know how much you can live through until you have no choice. I can’t choose to bring Julian back to life, but I can choose to honor his life and his memory by working hard on my healing journey. I can choose to not get stuck in the deep well of grief. I can choose to aggressively pursue a future that is filled with happiness and joy.
I know that eventually I’ll be able to honestly answer, “Great!” when someone asks me how I’m doing. But in the meantime, if you run into me (or anyone else in your life who is grieving), don’t ask “How ARE you?” Instead, ask: “How are you… today?”
April 14, 2011 at 11:52 pm
I love this post. I can imagine that many people who care about you are trapped between their desire to reach out and their fear of saying the wrong thing. By offering them the gift of “how are you… today?” you’re helping them (us?) build a bridge over that chasm between intention and action.
Leanne (Trebilcock) Avila
April 15, 2011 at 9:43 am
What Mahtab said.
I also love what you wrote about choices, from being able to manage far more than you thought possible (when you have no choice) to choosing a positive response. I believe in those ideas very strongly.
I would also imagine that having Oscar, needing to tend to him as well, helps propel you forward.
Thinking of you…
April 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm
The first response took the words right off my keyboard. We all need this kind of insight in dealing with friends and also in handling our own grief that is sure to come to us at some time. With love to you boh.
April 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm
Thank for the post, your advise is really helpful. In reality as we know you are hurting inside, we want to reach out to you and sometimes just don’t know what to say – thank you.
I was on your work site today going over some wireframes and came across your April newsletter – Wow, what an amazing and personal example of how to use social media. As difficult as it may have been to write, it really provides a very moving example of how social media reaches out to a vast number of people in ways one may not expect. I hope you keep blogging you really are a gifted writer. I continue to think about you, John and Oscar, holding you in my thoughts and prayers.
April 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm
This is very helpful advice. I have an acquaintance, who is dealing with a lot of tragedy and a number of times I’ve literally been at a complete loss, and said nothing except, “hello.” And then, not been able to sleep thinking about the possibility of adding stress to this beautiful person. Thank you so much.
April 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm
Good Lord this is well put, sista. And Mahtab’s response (as others have noted) is right on.
April 29, 2011 at 7:33 pm
I love this post as well. K always says to me, “I love you today”. For it is all we have…right now. Don’t go losing your today. Squeeze.
July 13, 2013 at 5:57 am
I lost my daughter in April this year, out of the blue at 14, she died of an undetected heart condition in a second. Yours is the only blog that I’ve found which resonates with how I feel. Sometimes I feel a fraud for not sitting in a dark room for three months. Of course some days are darker than others but for me, being grateful for what I had with her and believing in a future is what drives me on. Thank you for making me feel normal. I write too on my blog about how I’ve coped these few months. X