When the nurse is taking me back to the cubicle where I will be imprisoned until the doctor drops by, he or she always asks. “How are you today?” That question always stumps me. My first thought is to scream, “I’m at the doctor’s office. How do you think I feel?” However, I do possess a thin veneer of courtesy and say, “Fine, thank you. How are you?”
Then I sit in the little room and ponder that question. Finally I decide the nurse is not really asking for a health report. “How are you?” is a polite social convention which really doesn’t demand an honest answer, only recognition that the rules have been applied and accepted. Yes, I may be throwing up on the nurse’s feet, but I answer, “Fine.” I may be doubled over in pain or spouting blood from every orifice, but that’s not what the nurse is asking. The nurse is simply recognizing that I’m there and my answer merely says, “Thank you.”
But the question came up again six months ago and again I had to work out what others were saying, Only minutes after George died, one of our ministers asked, “How are you doing?” My mouth dropped open. I wanted to shout, “How do you think I feel? They joy of my life is gone.” I didn’t of course but had no good answer. People asked that over and over in the months after George’s death and, every time, I thought, “You have to know how I feel.” But I didn’t say that. “As well as can be expected,” I’d say and that was the truth. But why did they ask? Didn’t they know?
Again I realized that, yes they all knew I hurt. That question meant, “I care about you but I don’t know what to say.” It meant, “He was my friend and I hurt. How are you doing?” It meant so many things my friends and George’s didn’t know how to ask, what words to use. And thanks to all those friends and ministers and family members, I’m doing fine, sort of. Thank you for asking.