Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How ARE you?

I went with some new girlfriends to the rodeo last night. As it usually does when meeting new people, conversation turned to my history and my experience of being a widow. One of the girls had recently lost a sister-in-law and was sharing with me the difficulties her brother was experiencing. It has only been three months for him, but I was interested by the fact that one of the most annoying things for him to deal with has been the dreaded question: “How ARE you?” When I got home I climbed into bed and paged back through some painful memories. That question had driven me nuts for a couple of years.

In these past three years, my life has taken twists and turns I could never have anticipated. I woke up one morning to the horrible realization that the never-ending day before was not a nightmare, but a reality. I blazed my way through my task list –

Call funeral home, check.
Bury husband, check.
Fall apart on the inside while appearing to maintain on the outside, check.

The one thing that became a constant was the sad, scared looks on the faces of friends and family. The visible tension when I entered a room and everyone wondered if I would be able to hold it together. The inevitable question: “How ARE you?” Occasionally I fantasized about telling them the truth. How would that sound?

“How ARE you, Michelle?”

“Well”, I’d calmly answer, “I’m terrible. Thanks for asking. This hell I am in, it sucks. I am so angry, sad, and so terribly lonely. I hate it. I want to scream, cry, and throw up all at the same time. (loud sobs, uncomfortable pause….) So anyway, thanks for asking. How are YOU?”

Of course, outside of my bitter fantasy, I answered in a variation on two words: fine, or okay. I was neither, but the blackness of my heart didn’t really need to be bared to the sweet, well-intentioned people who cared enough to ask that scary question. What a relief it was when I met Michele (my fabulous widow-match!) and we could laugh at the absurdity of the question together, and also answer it honestly. Knowing that my friend understood the blackness of my mood and wouldn’t be terrified of it was an incredible gift. What a relief to have a friend who understood me: a friend, who was another unwilling member in this club; a friend who had to pay the same awful initiation fee to gain membership.

The crazy thing is that whether I wanted it to happen or not, one day I did notice the sunshine, I did hear my child's laughter and not feel like my heart was going to break, and for a brief second I am sure I may have had a relaxed, possibly even happy smile on my face. Those moments gradually became more and more frequent, and much to my surprise I felt…hmmm, not good, not peaceful, still bitter at times, but OKAY. I felt okay. I would never have thought the day would come when the truthful answer to the horrible question “How ARE you?” would actually be: okay. I’m okay.

Step forward a bit more in time, and I can now say I am good. I am changed, and my definition of good is not the same as it was in a previous life, but I am still good. Sometimes, on days like today, when I anticipate the arrival of a wonderful friend for a visit and am filled with hope and an overall sense of well-being, I look back on the past three years with a sense of awe and a feeling of having lived more than just the three years. I’ve aged many more years in some sense, and grown younger in some ways too. Life is sweeter for having had to learn to adjust to a terrible bitter taste in my mouth. I laugh harder and appreciate the small things so much more. I’m still here and I still have terrible days, but I’m determined to make the best of it.

Happy Wednesday, how ARE you? ;-)


  1. Wow Micki...

    That was the best, most insightful blog that I've read!

    It speaks volumes as to who you are... Which is wonderful!

    Your blog does bring up a question, when 'as a friend' we are faced w/ people who have suffered through such extreme and emotional loss... Should we not ask 'So... How ARE you?

    Should we just state that we are there for you and will try be there for you as best we can?


  2. Not so fine. My husbands 1 year anniversary is march 30th. I am angry and sad, and all that a grieving widow should be. He left me a 17 year old a 10 year old and a 3 year old to raise alone. I am proud of you Micky for being as strng as you are!

  3. Lea, I'm so glad you read it, and call me if you ever want to talk. Heather has my numbers, and I'll be thinking of you on Monday. Hang in there, I know it sucks.

    You have to keep asking, or we think you don't care, catch 22: ask us and we're upset because the answer is so ugly we don't want to share it. Don't ask us and we think you don't care about us. :)

    I remember actually complaining inwardly when people assumed I was fine, and also complaining when they were worried I wasn't fine. I know, I know, it's not fair, and I knew it at the time. But, it is what it is! I think the most difficult part about that question is that the answer is so negative for so long, and you can't bear to keep telling the people who care about you that you still aren't better. Really, you can't believe you aren't better yet, and yet you can't imagine ever being better. It is a surreal space to occupy.

    The question was just so loaded with unintended meaning to a me as a widow, it was almost too hard to think about. Of course I was terrible, but fine was always the answer. I guess the short answer is, you have to ask it, but make sure the person you are asking knows that you are really wanting an honest answer and that you'll still talk to them if they tell you how bad it really is. Just as you said, be there the best you can.