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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


  1. Hi Chris, Long before the internet & email & iphones, I met you at McM. I was always appreciative of your kindness and willingness to help "newbies" like me, and when my husband and I would see you and your wife over at Front Street Cocina in Wheaton it was always with a smile. Then you moved on to other challenges, and the years went by. In our McM branch in California, people still remember you with a lot of respect and affection (not something every manager earns). And our mutual friend Karla kept me updated with "news from Chris" over the years. There's nothing I can say now that isn't small in the face of what you are going through, but please know that for every one person who reaches out now to say that you were such a positive force that you're remembered for many years, there are probably dozens more that feel the same. Tracey T.

    1. Thank you Tracey. You have a good memory! I appreciate you sharing those thoughts...they mean a lot to me. So many good people at McM and I was doubly lucky to get to spend time in SFS and ELM. Hope you are doing well and enjoying your recent retirement after such a successful career...which included, I believe, breaking a number of pretty high glass ceilings.

  2. I'm a friend of Alison's in Macomb. Thank you for sharing all of this, but especially this post. I have a young friend with a serious illness and I'm never sure how to ask about his current condition. This post will help.

    1. Thank you. I'm really pleased to hear that you find the post helpful.

  3. Chris, I always loved seeing you and Carol in Door County, along with the rest of your beautiful family. I have always been impressed with your graceful presence and each of your posts here reinforce what an amazing person you are. I especially appreciate this post because it reinforces how important it is to reach out. There have been too many times I waited, and then had regret with that non-action. I pray for you that you can leave with the same grace that you have lived. We will hold onto our fond memories of you in DC when we are there next week! Much love to you all!

  4. Thank you Betsy. We have many good memories seeing you, Scott and the entire McC family in DC those summers. I'm glad you found something helpful in what I shared.


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