Thursday, August 19, 2010

"How are you?" and other complicated questions

In the days since Matthew's death, I've been asked "How are you?" about a zillion times. I'm appreciative of the inquiries, because I know that, generally, people care. But as time has passed, how I answer has become a struggle. Immediately following the trauma, it was perfectly fine for me to answer with "horrible" or "awful." That is what people expected. But now, we're almost three weeks out...and over the last week or so, it feels like the question "How are you?" has gotten a lot trickier to answer. Because I feel like there is an expectation that the socially correct answer is "much better, thank you." But, truthfully, a lot of times, I don't feel all that much better. I'm not sobbing uncontrollably as much, I've woken up a few days without bursting into tears, but that doesn't mean I am fine.

I know some people want my answer to be "better" because they love me and want me to feel better for me. But I can't help but feel like there is some unspoken social expectation that I ought to be doing better "by now." Whatever "by now" means. I feel like our culture demands that we do our very best to get over hard things as soon as possible, so that they don't have to be referenced in social exchanges. As though if we pretend that hard things don't exist, life will be easier. But that's a lie.

Having a first-hand experience with grief recently has me thinking a lot about our culture. Generally, I love to think about culture and social interactions (hence the oh-so-useful sociology/anthropology B.A.). But this examination has been painful. Some cultures share grief very differently than we do. They mourn together, they mourn loudly. They have physical expressions of grief. They have extended periods of mourning. I'm not saying they have it all right, but I've simply been noting the contrast to our society.

Many of my friends (lots of you, dear readers) have bucked our social norms by giving me permission to take my time, by acknowledging that this wasn't a "typical" miscarriage (I acknowledge that ALL miscarriages are significant losses, it's just that this one was so late), and by being willing to simply BE with me during this emotionally turbulent time and let me know you don't think I'm losing it completely.

But then there are others who think I need to be moving on. And that really hurts. And then there are others who simply haven't acknowledged it whatsoever. And that just confuses me. Do they not care? Or do they think if they acknowledge it, it will somehow remind me of what happened (as if it isn't just below the surface of every thought I have all day long)?

So now when I'm asked, "How are you?" I feel like I'm navigating all the possibilities of what the person they want the real answer, do they want to hear that I'm "fine," or do they want me to act as though none of this ever happened or as if I don't know that they know what happened. And I have to analyze it in about 2 seconds. And that is making me tired.

I long to answer people's questions with authenticity and grace, and do so in a way that conforms to appropriate social norms. I'm just not sure I've figured out how to do that yet. So the next time you ask me how I am, forgive me if it takes me a few moments to answer.


  1. Beautiful post Sarah. And I think you're right...there is something attractive about being able to mourn loudly and freely and not care what others think...because they mourn the same way and with you.

    When I lost my sweet one, I felt the same pressure to answer the question with "fine thanks. Doing much better." Many times I did answer that way...not because of people's expectations, but because it was too hard to think about it anymore. So, let me encourage you. To do and say what is best for you at any given moment. Even that means not being 100% truthful. Give yourself the freedom to say what you need to say in order for you to not have to relive the loss or process what's happened when all you want to do is not think about it. How you answer that question does not define who you are and how authentic of a person you are.

  2. Very sorry to be one that has been bad about acknowledging you... Please take your time and know that you are in my prayers.

  3. Looking forward to just being with you very soon! Happy to listen or be quiet or play or pray or whatever you need.