Sunday, September 13, 2009

And how are you today?

I pondered this question from the gas station attendant on Saturday (yes, our little town still has a full-service gas station, and it's the cheapest gas in town--why wouldn't I go there and have someone pump my gas and wash my windows? It feels so 1950s.).

Anyway, as the attendant was washing my windows, he asked how I was.

And when I'm troubled, as I was on Saturday, I wondered: Do people really want the truth when they ask you that question?

When I was in high school and college, I worked as a lifeguard at the local pool. Mr. Kay, who I am sure has long since passed away so I feel OK using his real name, used to come each day like clockwork to swim. He'd had heart surgry and had a bad elbow, but he was very good about getting his daily exercise in.

Mr. Kay was one of those people who, if you didn't want to hear every detail of what was medically wrong with him on that day, for heaven's sake, don't ask how he is.

"How are you Mr. Kay?"

"Well, my bursitis is acting up. See how swollen it is? (Ewww, yes, I can see it's the size of a grapefruit, thanks) And I wrenched my back and had to see the chiropractor yesterday. And you know I have to have follow up surgery on my heart. I'll show you my scar when I get changed. . ."

It was a running joke amongst the staff--Don't ask Mr. Kay how he is unless you have an hour to spare. But he was a nice man and we always asked him anyway. Besides, it was kind of interesting to hear how this man was holding up.

Anyway, back to present day. So the guy at the gas station had asked a polite question. How was I? I, personally, was fine. But so many others weren't. He had no way of knowing I had just come from a funeral for an 11-month-old baby--the son of a girl I met through Bible study. He passed away very quickly earlier in the week from a Strep A infection. I hope I never have to attend a child's funeral again. It was the most awful experience to see a parent grieving for a child. When Finn was sick, we were at the lowest point in our lives, save one. And on Saturday, I saw that save one up close and personal. It was a terrible thing to behold. And I will never forget it.

When I returned home from the funeral, I received a phone call from a friend telling me that the husband of another friend of ours had died suddenly. He was only 48. They had an 8-year-old son. I couldn't get over the shock. I still can't believe it.

It's hard to imagine going on in these situations. And yet you do. That was the question people asked the most when Finn was sick: How do you do it? The answer: Because there isn't another option.

Even after the funeral and the shocking news about my friend's husband, life went on for me that day. I went to the post office and the grocery store. I was doing normal things when other people's lives were altered forever.

I bought gas.

And so when the attendant asked, "And how are you today?" I smiled and said, "I'm fine, thank you."

And I was fine. But I didn't feel fine. If that makes any sense at all.


Kristie said...

My catchphrase used to be " 'How are you' isn't a question, it's a greeting" Now I realize that sometimes people ask to be polite, and sometimes people ask because they really care about the answer. It can simply be tricking to know the difference....

I'm sorry to hear about your recent losses, even once removed. I agree, children's funerals are the toughest thing in the world to attend ... thanks to cancer, I've attended a few .... and yet everytime I am reminded that could be any of us, at any time .... its a very sobering experience.

Anonymous said...

"There but before the grace of God..."I try to remember that. (Some days it is easier said than done)I try to remember that my problems, which seem impossible to me at the time, are merely bumps in the road. There are people living with real grief. Insurmountable grief....grief that I can not even begin to imagine...and never want to.

Leeann said...


No, you will never forget that funeral. As a special ed teacher, I went to several children's funerals when I was in my early 20's and they are still vivid in my mind. One of them in particular has become a recurring nightmare, in fact.

Hugs and love to you, and peace.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for the tough weekend you had. Funerals are hard enough but one of a child is awful.

Hugs to you,
Connie F-G

Mountain Mama said...

Oh, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of that sweet (and very young) baby. Never easy. Praying for that family!

Whew! I have missed you too. It has been a whirlwind of happenings around here. The dust has settled and things are getting back to normal (whatever that is).

Anonymous said...

Wow! - How did you go through so many years of cancer treatment and not go to a single child's funeral? We met so many kids at camps and the weekly clinic visits- the sheer number of kids with cancer and on treatment was almost overwhelming to me.

I went to so many funerals that I finally had to stop - it was breaking my heart. I started to go to my friend's 9 year old daughter's funeral and I got 1/2 way there and started crying so hard I had to stop driving. I turned around and went home and climbed into bed for the rest of the day.

I just could not listen to one more priest/minister tell me that they were lucky to have died and gone to heaven to be with the lord. Lucky would have been to not have cancer and to have lived a normal childhood with thier mommy and daddy.

Oh Sorry - didn't mean to rant. It still breaks my heart each and every day.

Beth said...

Oh how difficult. Children's funerals are so very hard.

I think we're right in the middle of feeling everything at this age (even though I'm older than you). We're definitely sandwiched with the little ones and the mortality of those our own age, plus we've got aging parents.

I remember immediately after giving birth for the first time I couldn't even bear to watch the news.

Those of us who have come close to losing a child have imagined everything. But there is no way to imagine the depths of loss these two families are feeling.

May all of you find some semblance of peace and comfort, even when nothing makes sense.

1dreamr said...

*** hug ***

Lucinda said...

Now I feel awful for asking Grandpa Fleming's children (Andy's aunts/uncles) "How are you holding up?" at the funeral home Wednesday night...I keep asking Andy how he's doing, but I think he's like you in his answer of "I'm fine" (I think his real response is something quite longer and more complex, but he isn't ready to share yet).

As for asking "How are you?"...I think if it's a true friend, you should tell them the truth. Strangers are another matter though.