Do You Really Want to Know How I am Doing?
I’ve always struggled speaking with people who are going through a personal crisis…the death of a loved one, a serious illness, etc.
For a long time, I decided it was probably better to say nothing because I feared making them feel badly by bringing it up. Not sure what my thinking was here: Chuck’s wife died last week but I bet he’s forgotten all about it so best not to say anything?
After discarding the ‘ignore it’ strategy I decided that, if I was going to acknowledge the subject, best to keep it short and positive. So my conversation would quickly end with an “I’m sure it will be OK” or even more lame “Hang in there”.
Now that I’m on the receiving end, I’ve learned a few things.
- Yes, it’s OK to ask me about my terminal illness. It hasn’t slipped my mind so no worries about reminding me of that unpleasantness.
- Try to resist telling me about your uncle, cousin, or neighbor who also had cancer. At a minimum, please omit the details of their long and painful death.
- If you want a lengthy discussion of an ache or pain that you currently have, it's best to pick someone else. Honestly after radiation, five surgeries and more than 60 rounds of chemo I can crush your sore knee story.
- If you are going to tell me “Well you look great!”, try not to do it with such enthusiasm that it implies I must be exaggerating this whole cancer thing.
- Resist telling me things will be fine. They won’t. But I’m OK with that.
The most basic and caring question you can ask is: “How are you doing?”. Surprisingly it’s turned out to be a tricky question and I have learned that it comes in two distinct forms.
First is the very well-intentioned “How are you doing?” that is delivered with a little more gravity than the same question for healthy people, but is still fairly superficial.
Second is the much deeper “How are you doing?” where the person truly wants to know and is ready for more than the standard “Pretty well, thanks”. To give this person a pat answer would be disrespectful.
Originally I assumed most people are asking the second form, the deeper question, and expect a sincere answer. Wrong.
Turns out that the majority of people are asking the superficial form and are either uncomfortable with an honest answer or, worse for both of us, bored. A good friend once looked me in the eyes and said “I really want to know how you are doing”. Twenty seconds into my answer, she picked up a magazine to thumb through.
So, when you ask “How am I doing?” I appreciate it but am not going to really tell you unless you make it clear that you truly want to know.