I have been surrounded by so many kind people since my husband died and I can never repay the kindness they have shown me. And I know this question is full of that very same kindness. It’s a question we all ask all the time and with the very best of intentions but, oh my goodness the angst I have over answering it is driving me insane!
So I’ll warn you this might be long and rambled post but I need to get this out of my head in a way I don’t upset anyone who is trying to help me and that I might get some sleep tonight.
Firsty, I get that no one can begin to understand my grief in the same way I can’t fully understand anyone else’s. I have all these unrealistic expectations of people close to me and boy have so many of them stepped up and surpassed those expectations. But when they’re not met I feel the anger and resentment rise. That’s not fair on them or me and I desperately don’t want to become this bitter victim of circumstance who I know wouldn’t be the person my husband loved.
So when that person who you’d never doubted would be front and centre in your time of need isn’t to be found. then texts every few months to ask how you are and that they always there for you. How do you respond in way that doesn’t just add to your pain ? They are offering what they feel they can and it’s not their fault if I expect more.
Soas far as I can see my options are;
1 “I’m ok.” A lie but I guess ok is all comparitive. Simple, makes them feel good that they’ve checked in. Leaves me feeling frankly P*ssed off.
2. Full on grief fest. True but a bit long for a text, possibly quite terrifying to receive and what on earth do I expect them to do with that? It’s clear they’re not comfortable with the concept of Wailing Wilma or they’d actually try to phone or visit. People can only handle what they can handle. Plus I have the morning after regret of oversharing and that dreaded all to short ‘I know it must be hard’ text as a stock return.
3. And this is my most favoured response. … “It’s good to hear from you. That’s so kind of you to get in touch. Hope you are all well and that [insert child name] is enjoying [insert Uni/school/ job/travelling]. Love to everyone”. i.e. avoid answering anything at all but keep it all friendly and the sentiment from me is true at least.
Anyone else have any tips on positive ways to manage the ‘How are you?’ question. ?
@Stillhiswife Your question is fundamentally about how we handle relationships after bereavement.
All our friends, family and acquaintances have different roles in our lives. Some give us emotional support, some practical, others are company in shared activities etc. Each is an individual with their own belief structure and sensitivities around death from their own experience or lack of experience of it in their own lives. Each will have their own boundaries in their relationship with you.
So my reply is there is no single ‘correct’ answer to your question but you are right it does depend on your expectations and awareness of the nature of each relationship. Your reply to those who give practical help or social company would be different to those who give you emotional support and a shoulder to cry on. You don’t need to lie to any of them, you only need to answer honestly in relation to the nature of your relationship with each. As you will have different expectations of them, they will have different expectations of you and your responses.
This is how I approach the question you asked. Hope it helps. Hugs xxxxxx
Anyone you thought would be ‘ there for you’ but just texts every few months isn’t there for you are they !
I have a few friends ‘ mainly my late husbands friends, who to be fair still have their wives . They text every few months now ( my husband died over 3 years ago). I always reply as they are obviously thinking about me .
I usually say something like - thank you for message and for thinking about me . I am much the same - still miss —— every day and remember all the happy times we shared with you and —— . However I keep busy with spending time with caring family and friends so that helps . I often send an up to date photo with me and the grandchildren maybe and thank them again for keeping in touch . I may say they are always welcome to visit any time .
It’s nice if folk keep in touch even just a message isn’t it
@Stillhiswife @Susan71 Maintaining social relationships after bereavement is also complicated because the relationship before was more often with you and your loved one as a couple rather than you as an individual and the relationship may have been asymmetrical and more with you or more with your partner. The dislocation of bereavement knocks on to all your social relationships. Some of those which were more tied to your partner may fall away, you may find gaps in your relationship needs and build new relationships to fill them.
All this is further complicated because the love for our partners is still there and the emotional stress of bereavement makes us focus so strongly on our loss we expect everyone else to feel the same.
As we are social animals finding our way through social maintenance and growth is an essential part of re-constructing our broken lives and protecting our physical and mental health even though we can never replace the deep ab me intense relationship we have lost.
I often respond with " I’ve been better"
@UnityMan Sometimes it’s ok to just shut down the conversation. That works fine and is better than Ok.
@Stillhiswife you couldn’t have summed it up better for me. I find acquaintances checking is fine with a stock reply of ‘I’m ok but been better etc’. However, there are a few close family & friends that frankly could do more. This makes me feel needy & a burden though so I then feel guilty. I am constantly either hiding my true feelings or hating myself for being weak & needy. I so hate this position that we are in through no fault of our own. Sending hugs.
My usual response is “ not great”, and then I will either elaborate on why I am feeling this way or not, depending on who it is asking the question.
Strangely though, if someone doesn’t ask ‘how are you?’ It then leaves me feeling, why? Why haven’t they asked? Don’t they care? Or maybe they just cannot cope with hearing my response xx
I have found being honest and true to myself has worked for me. My world has been shattered in to tiny pieces and I am not going to pussyfoot around that fact with anyone. I am discovering a new me and having to navigate who I am now, what I want and need and what my future will be and part of that is looking at all my social relationships (I don’t have any family) and I have found some of those friendships have run their course. I only want people in my life now that I feel totally at ease with and it flows, where there is no need to ask questions or need answers and those people that make time for me regardless of how I feel. That may sound a bit harsh but in the depths of grief there is a positive, as death brings about a rebirth and time of reevaluation. Kind of like out with the old and in with the new. Life is too short and time too precious to be having to work people out
Perfectly said Sarlyn. As someone who has no family either, I wholeheartedly agree with what you’re are saying. My lovely husband passed away 10 weeks ago and in the last couple of weeks, ive also had to try to reevaluate, decide what I want in life now and to let go of friends who clearly were not friends, another form of grief in itself while at the same time, a relief because I can hopefully move forward with those who have more than proved their friendship to me, while they too are grieving for my husband. I think grieving for the life we had with our partners is the part less difficult to deal with as we carve a new life for ourselves and it doesnt mean that life will not be good again, maybe for some, even better. Whatever path we decide, we will always take our departed loved ones with us in heart and spirit. Dont get me wrong, i dont even think the grief has hit me fully yet, work has been such a distraction. But I do know that I owe it to my late husband and myself to live the best life I can. Its what he so would have wanted. Much love to you all xxx
@Sarlyn You give us a good example of how you have approached social maintenance and growth after the devastating loss of your loved one.
You have been honest and true to yourself; you have set your criteria for rebuilding your shattered social network, maintaining some existing friendships whilst diching others that have run their course and looking to grow new relationships.
You are doing this while re-evaluating your future needs and recognise that this process is part of creating a new you. Your path is individual to you. I would say it is clear and determined rather than harsh.
I have had only one let down and my family is close and stable. Most of my friends have been around a long time – up to 50 years – so my social connections are also stable. I expect the process of change for me to be slower and more organic, with those who were firstly Di’s friends fading into the background first, and that there will be opportunity and need for new friendships.
Doubtless our paths will not be entirely smooth in the future as the best laid plans…….etc. xxxxx
I love your comments because they are always so thoughtful, kind, balanced, insightful and compassionate. I think your wife was a lucky lady . (That word was is still so hard to say, hear and acknowledge).
Life is a roller coaster so yes, our plans will sometimes go pear shaped…we didn’t plan any of this did we?..but to have plans gives us a purpose and life has to have a reason to it. I can see a chink of light and however small it is, I am aiming for it, in the hope it eventually shines brighter.
It will be 10 wks tomorrow and I’m still scared, still shocked, still sad and all the other emotions that grief throws at me but I’m trying to turn those thoughts into more positive one’s but still allow the grief in because I cannot change what is in the past, I am here in the now and I must be here for a reason and to find what that is.
I looked at his order of service today and it’s so surreal. It feels like yesterday that he was still here yet another lifetime ago. I feel like I am in a tardis between 2 different worlds.
There is so much pain and heartache on this site but at the same time so much love. We are like a family and from someone who has no family, I feel I belong and that is such a comfort xxx
OMG…so much to resonate with you all, about so many of the things you have all said. That’s why this site is so amazing .
I too hate the question How are You? But hate just as much those who don’t ask it!
I think what we all really want people to say to us , " we know you are not okay. And we are so sorry that life now is so hard for you"
But I guess only those who have walked in our shoes can understand.
Big hugs to you all
Thank you to all of you. So much of what has been said rings true.
Yes different relationships have different expectations and there are those where the occasional text feels right and proportionate but others…
The whole situation has forced me realise that some relationships just aren’t what they once were and that’s no one’s fault. Its just life. But it adds loss onto loss and I so want to make sure that doesn’t become resentment.
As time has passed I feel more and more the Obligation I now represent for everyone. The text that starts with an apololgy…you know the ‘sorry I haven’t been in touch…’ simply adds to that feeling. Again that’s life. I’ve always accepted I was the less popular one in the double act but confirmation of that fact still smarts a wee bit I need to get a tougher skin without the hardened heart!
Grief sharpens the focus in many ways but in so many others clouds any clarity. It’s all too easy to have a knee jerk response fueled with the anger of grief and then hate myself for it.
So today I replied with a ‘good to hear from you. How are you all doing’ kind of reply. And I’ll breathe and accept that no response is again just life.
Thank you everyone xxx
I’ve sent those who I care for but don’t understand d a link to the Sue Ryder grieve site and the cards/advice on being grieve kind. I’ve had some acknowledgment and thanks as it helped them help me - and others who clearly have been frightened off or just don’t want to come on this complex and unknown journey
I have some really good friends who have been a good support and always checking up on me.
If friends ask how are you I always reply that I am still really struggling… I have about 4 friends who came to my husband funeral who hardly been in touch. One wrote in his memory book that she be here for me and my son. Bull shit! I have decided if they message me again then I am not going to answer. One of those just live around the corner from me and I can see the back of her house but no invite to her house. I did speak to her about going for a walk which she said yes but never happened. I found 2 friends I hardly saw have really stepped up and keep in contact and check on me often.
I read the book by Sasha bates a grief companion which is very good and there is a section there friends supporting friends who are grieving which is so true. I just purchased her other book languages of loss which was recommended on this forum. X
Hi l found your post.very balanced & l can really identify with it.l found some people so kind & thoughful. especially people who phoned me & invited me out to lunch.coffee & came to see me.like you l have realised people who just texted or didnt contact me at all.thats all they can give.or there are just not comfortable with it.or dont know how to handle it.so l just say lm OK.getting on with it.as lm having counselling & find that a safe space to work through emotions.thank you for your post.
Yes i liked it on my facebook and hopefully will give some people the hint ! Xx
Stillhiswife, I can totally relate to being the least popular one in the double act!! But its simply emphasised the genuine friends who were part of my late husbands life, less than a handful, who have so far, kept in touch because they evidently care about me too. Who knew?!!! The others, I have no reserve of emotion to waste on them and their absence. Firstly, you do not need to apologise and say ‘sorry’ for not being in touch with others. No response isnt just life, its ignorant of others to not acknowledge the fact that you are actually thinking of THEM because of your husband and in that moment, putting your own needs to one side. Dont take it personally. You are clearly an open & honest soul who just needs to be a lot kinder to yourself. Grief is complicated, you are doing it your way doing and you are doing just great my lovely. Sendi g love and hugs to you xxx