It is seems such an innocuous phrase doesn’t it, ‘how are you’. It is a phrase my culture frequently asks of people when we first see them.

It is however one of the hardest things you can ask someone who has had a traumatic experience or bereaved in the last twelve months. Even those of us who know how hard it is to answer find ourselves using it sometimes. Those three words just slip out before you even realise you have asked.

So why is it a problem, well firstly we are not okay. Our life has changed dramatically , and if the death was sudden we are also still reeling from the shock months later. So asking us ‘how are you’ feels both odd and challenging. I’ve yet to find a great alternative but the following I have appreciated hearing;

  • I have no idea what to say, but I want you to know I have been thinking of you
  • I know there is nothing I can do, but I am here for you
  • I am sorry for your loss, it must be so hard

And if you find you have asked ‘how are you’, don’t panic! Simply follow it up immediately with an ‘oops, sorry that’s a daft question. No need to answer unless you want to’.

When someone does share how they are, whether that’s in an email, text or in person, make sure you acknowledge the hurt, the grief and the pain if they mention it in their response. I have been left reeling in recent weeks by a couple of friends who have been so discomforted by my painful response they have ignored it or worse begun comparing griefs. I know it isn’t easy to sit beside someone who is grieving, but whatever you do please don’t ask and then ignore or try to fix it.

Grief is not a problem so it cannot be fixed. Grief is something we learn to carry in our lives. Sometimes we learn quickly, but when the pain is deep it can take a very long time and will be intensely lonely at times. If you truly think you have a solution or want to share your own experience of grief then please make sure you acknowledge their grief first, and preferably check to see if a solution is what the griever is seeking. They might just want you to be there as they vent anger, cry or share difficulties.

So how am I . . . . . (yes I am allowed to ask that of myself!)

Well I continue to function, and by that I mean sleep, eat, get dressed and occasionally do things such as meet up with a friend, go for a walk or drive somewhere. I have been away for a few weekends, and even made two new friends. One feline (see header) and one human.

Too much activity or prolonged distraction though exhausts me, and I am frequently overwhelmed by even minor decisions and I struggle with paperwork and phonecalls.

Some days the grief is easier to carry but other days it is really hard. A day can begin brilliantly and then become difficult, and vice versa. An object that has brought comfort for weeks can suddenly for a few hours be an intensely painful reminder. An action, such as going to the supermarket, randomly becomes a huge thing one day when it has never been before. Sometimes I know what the trigger is, and may have even initiated it deliberately. Other times I have no idea what it was. It is unsettling and makes me very anxious at times. Consequently plans to go out or see someone always have the caveat – I may need to cancel at the last second. There are also the spurts of anger, usually at the uselessness of organisations responding to bereavement but increasingly with individual responses and actions. The latter I remind myself ‘they mean well’!

I am avoiding the use of the word ‘bad’ to describe those days as they are my reality and it is important they occur. My bereavement counsellor calls them ‘a day of closeness’; a day when my love for him is in my every step and my every breath. I really like that description and am so grateful to her for coming up with it. As whilst the lack of a linear journey is deeply unsettling, the pain can be strangely comforting; a demonstration of the depth of my love for the amazing MrB.

So to answer the question succinctly – I am definitely NOT okay but I am doing brilliantly.

75 thoughts

  1. When my father died six years ago, I received an e-mail from a friend asking how I was doing. I wrote back to him that I was miserable. A few days later he replied- with a list of losses he’d endured in his lifetime- and finalizing with “I’ve made it through and I choose to be happy so why don’t you stop winning and do the same?”. I think it’s a hard one to top as far as rudeness goes. These days I’m more careful about telling people how I feel about my husbands recent passing, particularly in written. Texts, e-mails, Facebook, they make it easier for people to hurt and to get hurt. I prefer talking to people in person or on the phone or over a video chat. If I get messages asking how I’m doing I say “hanging on” and “thanks for thinking of me”. If the person does not feel close enough to me to ask for a more in person type of conversation, I assume they are not close enough for me to disclose myself.


    1. OMG, I am horrified how that friend died following your father’s death and totally understand why you are so careful these days. Continue to take care of yourself, and sending hugs

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  2. Thinking of you. “Grief is not a problem so it cannot be fixed.” is a great phrase of wisdom. I think grief may be like the sea. Sometimes briefly we happily play along the shore in memories of our beloved. Sometimes we think we’ll go for a swim and almost drown in the undertow. I think you’re a wonderful person. I hope people are as giving with supporting you as you have been in supporting us as bloggers.


    1. Thank you so so much. I really needed to hear this as it’s the 6 month anniversary, and so I am feeling a little bit wobbly. Your kind words help so much

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  3. What an amazingly honest post with such poignant advice. Thank you for sharing. As a fellow blogger, although far away, I will continue to think of you.

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      1. As I’m sure you understand, every day is different, But I’m much better than I was when it was more by the hour. Time helps. And thank you for your posts! You “express me” so well.

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  4. Oh Becky, I was so sad to read of your loss of your beloved partner. I have been out of the blogging world for a few months so have only just read the news. My deepest condolences to you. I cannot imagine your grief. I will be thinking of you in the weeks and months to come, and wishing you strength and courage during these difficult times. Denzil.

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