So How Are You

At the beginning of a New Year, lots of organizations send appeals and retrospectives to encourage us to stay connected as we anticipate the coming days. My mailbox overflows it seems, and often the slicks go right to the recycle bin. But Center for Hospice holds a special place in my heart, so I didn’t just toss their missive when I winnowed it from the slippery stacks of incoming mail. The title caught my eye:  “As you approach the anniversary of your loss.”  Ah. True.  My birthday and Ron’s rebirth-day are just two months from this day. Deserves some reflection that marker.

The essay within, written by a young widower whose wife died of cancer, presented me with a new perspective on a wincing question that comes so often after a family death, “How are you doing?” I’ve asked it myself of other “bereaved” even though I know painfully well how impossible it is to give an accurate answer.  One part of you wants to scream, “How the hell do you THINK I’m doing having suffered the loss of someone I loved so deeply?” Another part longs to respond in laundry lists of misery: “I’m lonely! I walk around as though part of my own soul is missing! Everything in my life is disrupted!” Yet, most always the answer is, “I’m doing fine, thank you for asking.”   I think most of those experiencing grief would express a dislike for this all-too-frequent question.  However, the Hospice writer shares his own epiphany that this query is really for the asker.

He points out that those of us grieving a loss serve to remind others that mortality exists  When we walk into the room, we bring the specter of death in our train.  Most humans acknowledge that death is everyone’s fate, yet we continually are surprised by, even fearful of, any reminders that this reality applies personally.  And we avoid facing this truth as often as we can. One good sleight-of-emotion is to change fear and surprise into care and concern.  “How are YOU doing?”  Sympathy is a salve for our own souls  Not that this makes sympathy insincere,  just incomplete.

The suggestion I took to heart from the young man’s writing is that those of us most recently wounded by death serve as messengers to the rest of the world, walking reminders of the indefinite tenure of life. It is fine to ask me, “How  are you doing?” And fine for me to answer glibly or straightforwardly as I choose. However, the important question Death asks each of us to answer is “How am I doing?” This question is a gift, a chance to assess where I am  on my own temporary journey called “life.”  With an honest response, I can make needed adjustments, set better priorities, and better live my remaining days, however brief or long.

i like having a new way of facing this incessant question.  I can view “How are you doing?” in a more charitable light. I know Ron’s death has made me more keenly aware of the precious nature of life.  The uncertain treasure of tomorrow makes me value today even more.  And now,  when you ask after me, I can remember that one opportunity from Ron’s loss is to help you remember to ask this question of yourself so that you, too, may live life well..

This insight is an anniversary gift I shall treasure come my birthday, and Ron’s rebirth-day in March.  It’s a question I hope to keep asking – and answering positively – for  the rest of my life.  And , now, when I see you in the grocery store or at an event and your first thought is to ask me how I’m doing, I hope your second thought is to answer that question for yourself.  That will comfort me greatly,, and – I hope – you, too.