“How are you doing?”
This is a very complicated question to answer. There is no short answer. I know you do not have time to hear the whole thing even if I could come up with the words. Right this very minute, I may be breathing normally and able to speak. An hour from now I may be running to find a hiding place before the next torrent of tears breaks again.
Anyway, there are no words in any language that are sufficient to the task of expressing what I am experiencing. That is why, in some cultures, the women wail when someone dies. Even wailing is inadequate. There are some things that cannot be halved by sharing them. Grief is one of those things.
So I say something like, “Fine”. Or, “O.K.”
I feel bad when I say this, like I am lying.
But it really is no lie. When you have been hit by a bus but your injuries are not life threatening and you are still conscious and someone asks in the emergency room, “How are you doing?” you can truthfully say, “I am O.K.”
But you have still been hit by a bus.
I know your question is probably sincere, but I also know you do not really want to hear the whole thing and that you are afraid I might try to tell you. You are nervous about the potential for tears and about how you should respond. You have other things on your mind. You know you cannot help.
You are Uncomfortable.
So, it’s like this. Think of me as recovering from a horrible life threatening illness for which I had to have emergency surgery under primitive conditions without anesthesia. Like an amputation with only a stick clenched in my teeth like during the Civil War. Under cannon fire with snipers all around and no cover. With a dull knife.
Or you can think of me as having survived a train wreck. You know the kind where the locomotive is steaming down the tracks and the travelers in the dining car are enjoying a wonderful meal with their family all around the cramped little table. At Christmastime.
And then the train approaches a bridge, a very high bridge, and you want to shout, “Stop the train!” But the train keeps going and half way across, the bridge begins to collapse. And there is no screaming, just falling, silent falling.
Then the survivors are dragged from the wreck in the gorge, the hungry gorge. And the injuries are horrendous. There are not enough bandages in all the world.
I am injured. I am alive, but I am injured and in a lot of pain, though the wounds are not visible. And it isn’t hard for you to cause me additional pain without even realizing it.
Like when you kiss your little boy at the park and I see you do it and I remember.
Or when you stand there behind the cash register at the hardware store, young and strong and smiling and very polite and handsome like my Hans.
Or when you do not seem to remember him at all. You have nothing to say about him, no memory of him to share with me so that I can know that he really did exist and it is not just my imagination that I had a son.
I just love to hear his name spoken. I love to hear things that you remember about him.
So be gentle with me. I cannot speak my feelings without losing it. My faith is strong, and God is good. But the pain is staggering. Do not ask me about that.
Don’t ask me how I’m doing.