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. I love it when someone asks, ‘How are you?’ as they walk past, and they’re gone before you even have a chance to reply. I think it’s become an alternative to a simple ‘Hello.’ My thoughts are with you, Becky, and while I don’t have much in the way of words, I can see from yours that you’re finding your path through this, and I’m very glad that you’re ‘doing brilliantly.’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Words are blunt tools to express how we feel and they are at the whim of the moment more than we realise. Like many others, I check in regularly and am always relieved when you post, provided you can at least say you are getting support and are able to function. The cat is a bonus! We miss you and are thinking of you. One chastening thing is that reading your updates, I feel as if I have never really understood the scale of what close family members went through when their husbands died.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When I ask the question and get an honest reply, I am pleased as sometimes I do the same because some days just require a really excellent descriptive words that aren’t normally used in every day conversation. Like many I appreciate your updates saying how life is going for you, Becky.

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  4. Becky you are very special. And amazing. Thanks for writing this; it’s very helpful for all of us with friends grieving. Like the others, I’ve often wondered how you are doing and hoping things are going well enough. I send California hugs with Pacific Ocean cool breezes your way. I hope you get lots of purring–it’s a good medicine!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Becky, thank you for sharing your life! I do think of you often although we have only share our lives through DailySquares. I too like the “description” of a day of closeness. With care, Robert.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. After my last major medical catastrophe I gave up church events. I couldn’t bare to be asked “how are you” one more time. I thought my head would explode. It’s 6 years later and I still can’t deal with it. We, here, are in that period when so many people we know are sick, very sick, mentally gone, or … well, just gone. It’s terrifying for me, so how much worse must it be for them? I’m glad you are finding ways to deal with life and it is wonderful that you have a lot of supportive people in your life. I think of you often and hope you are finding your way through the pain and the loss. I too am here, just in case. I haven’t been where you are exactly — well, I have, but that was 35 years ago (first husband) and 12 years ago (brother) — and time can be a saving grace.

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  7. Oh the sadness and the bewilderment I hear, but also determination to care for yourself and your grief! May you find comfort and understanding more each days as your close friends learn the proper way to interact with you !! sending love ❀️ and light πŸ•―.

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  8. What can I add? We know that you’re hurting and we miss your cheerful presence on here. Perhaps we don’t ever realise how much we depend on someone we love until they’ve gone. How interwoven our lives are. And it’s painful separating and becoming just yourself again. It has to be. But I can see that you’re trying, hon, and I will wait patiently and try not to ask foolish questions. But if you need me I’ll try to be here for you, and I know that many of us feel the same, Becky.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Becky. Like Margaret, I believe this would have been a difficult post for you to write, and difficult for others to read, but thank you for sharing. I’m pleased to hear you are doing brilliantly even though you are definitely NOT okay – and that’s perfectly okay. Honey looks like a perfectly wonderful new friend, and yet, I thought perhaps her name may have been Octavia πŸ₯°

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A difficult post for you to have written, and for us, on the other side to read. But thank you. It looks as though the cat news has mainly been disseminated via Twitter. I sense her arrival may be the best news of all, so long as she’s not the aloof kind of cat who looks down upon her meals-and-lodging provider. Is she not a permanent fixture? Sending positive thoughts your way, as ever xx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is an important post Becky. We all fall into the ” how are you?” but ” I don’t really want a truthful answer”. Still….Thanks for writing this post as painful as it may have been to do it. I shall remember it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lovely to see you here again, with words of wisdom as usual. Your ability to analyse your own grief and turn that into guidance for others is generous and admirable. And yes, I know it’s not an ability you would want to be admired for, but hopefully you find some catharsis in it. And keep on Wordling! I’m terrible at the moment, too many 5s and 6s.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Being a non-native native English speaker I do not dare to write an elaborate comment for fear to hurt. Adressing somebody in grief is difficult enough in my own language.
    Only briefly then: I feel with you. You will probably live with your grief for a long time but in the end you are going to learn to live with your grief and then it will slowly getting less painful.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am sending my love dear BeckyB, It is so nice to have a Cat friend, seems so lovely. I am with you too, be sure. Words sometimes really not easy, I can’t find what to say. Much love and hugs, nia

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I have thought in the past how unfortunate it is that in English we often use ‘how are you’ almost as a substitute for ‘hello’. It can slip out without really thinking, even when you already know the answer. Like eklastic above I think we’re conditioned to try to fix things, rather than recognising that some things can’t be fixed. I suspect your friends who haven’t replied are stuck in that mindset and, not knowing how to fix your problem, they have can find else to say. I appreciate you taking the time to share your own experiences and suggest how people can respond and acknowledge your grief. And I’m pleased to hear that, while obviously not OK (how could you be?), you are at least coping. I hope your new friends continue to help you do just that.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. A really important share and I remember me just coming out with a β€˜how are you’ on the phone to my recently bereaved close friend. She too has β€˜done’ brilliantly’ but is honest to say she was not ok. Now she is in a different phase and we can easily share memories of her beloved Carl which actually helps me too as I grieve the loss of him as a friend and presence. Your post is very helpful to others too and those of us who have shared your blog adventures, I am sure are deeply saddened by your loss and just want to send virtual hugs and share that quiet cup of tea together.

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    1. I so glad you and your friend are able to share memories. So important and they mean do much ❀️ thank you also for the hug, I’m sitting drinking tea as I write this

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks for writing. I have been thinking of you always waiting for an email. I am a not much of a fixer but I am a sit silently, hold a hand, always ready to make a cup of tea.
    Now the important part………..what is the cats name?
    I hope you have set up that chatting chair in the garden to let Mr B know what’s going on.
    Many hugs πŸ€—πŸ€—πŸ’•

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Becky
    Thanks for writing this extremely painful post. You have written some very good pointers for the rest of us as to what to say. I hope you continue to have someone support you everyday, relation or friend. I miss your challenges but that is a challenge too far at the moment.
    Sad to hear about friends not replying but I would rather say something than nothing
    I do often wonder how you are
    Sending hugs
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alison thank you so much for your thoughts and kind words. Hopefully I’ll be able to return with the challenge before the end of the year, I’d like to xx

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  19. I have been thinking of you lately… About your grieve and your loss… Thank you for the reminder not to say “how are you?” These three words are so easy to say and the answer is so clear…

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Thanks for sharing this, Becky. It is, as you stated, not easy to react to someone else’s grief or pain. And many people – including myself – have not learned just to sit with someone and let it be. I’ve been conditioned to fix things, whether in practical terms or even in emotional terms (e.g. when dealing with my children). Looking back I should have more often just endured it with the people whose situation I was trying to fix.
    So a reminder now and again is welcome and needed. I hope you keep getting better, little by little (and sometimes going back, that’s okay, too). It’s a good sign that you are posting and sharing your thoughts. The other thing – and that is the only advice you will get from me – is: keep reaching for support whether it is from people or from animals (your cat looks lovely). Some may not be able to give it or not be able to give it at the moment but that should never stop one from asking someone else or approaching the same person again, at a later time.

    Liked by 2 people

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