How AM I D-O-I-N-G?

I’ve found one of the least helpful questions through all of this, from first cancer diagnosis to today, two weeks a widow, is “How are you doing?”.

I know people mean well when they ask, but seriously, there is no good or right or possible real life answer to that question.

When Kramer was first diagnosed, people would ask me, “How is he doing?”  Gee….how do I answer that?  I’m not going to say, “He’s happy”.  I’m not going to say, “He’s sick of sitting in the chair watching television.”

This question bothered the heck of our of Kramer.  He would always rant to me after someone asked him “How are you doing?”  FIRST let me clarify.  Some people say, “How ya doing?”…that is more of a hello and that’s an okay question to ask.  This is said in the tone of “haven’t seen an old friend for awhile”.  There is the also the dreaded, “How are you DO-O-O-ing?”  This is said very probingly.  This one our whole family has come to hate.

Kramer would say:
“I would love to tell them THIS F-ing SUCKS”.
“I don’t really know.  I’ve never done this before so I have nothing at all to compare it to.”
“I don’t really know if there is a scale to judge this all by so I don’t know how to evaluate it.”
“I’m trying so hard to live the life I have left that I don’t want to stop and evaluate it.”

Worst is when this exchange would occur:
Some would say, “How are you DO-O-O-ing?”.  Either of us would say “Good.”  The person would say, “No REALLY, How are you DO-O-O-ing?”

How were we to answer that?  Were we to say:
We break out in tears from time to time.
I cry in the shower so the other doesn’t hear me.
I’m so pissed that this is where life took us that I want to scream!
What if I he doesn’t make it-I don’t know how often to change the oil in the car.
I don’t want to worry about how to change oil in the car.
The trips to Lacrosse back and forth STINK.
I’m afraid this treatment isn’t doing anything.
I don’t want to leave you.
I think this cancer is going to win.
Kramer just wants to eat real food.
I want to be #Kramerstrong but sometimes it’s really hard and I feel #Kramerweak.


Now…our poor kids are getting this question worse than ever only the question is all about me.

“How is your mom DO-O-O-ing?”….No.  “How is she R-E-A-L-L-Y DO-O-O-ing?”

People…I am okay.  Again, all of the things Kramer and I said before are so true.

I haven’t done this before.  I think I’m doing okay but there is no measuring stick.  I cry sometimes…I laugh sometimes.  Days are easier than nights.  Right now it is very easy to think of Kramer at being at work.  Tuesday was super sunny and beautiful.  He’d have been at work.  Last night it rained.  It was harder.  He’d have been home.

Sleeping is a little bit disjointed.  I wake thinking I need to listen to make sure his oxygen is going…then I don’t hear it running…then I have to remind myself that he’s dead.  It takes me a bit to fall back to sleep.

All of that is okay though.  It is part of the process.  I have to unlearn it but part of me doesn’t want to and that’s okay too.

I don’t feel Kramer is gone from me.  He’s always here…just not in physical form.

One of my favorite things I ever heard about love and devotion is this:  A lady from where Roger grew up lost her husband early in their marriage leaving her with kids to raise on her own.  She would always proudly say, “I’ve been married for 37 years and I had Edwin here with me for 15 of them.”  I feel the exact same way.  “I’ve been married almost 33 years and I had Kramer here for all but two weeks or so of them.”

I also REALLY loved this that a blog reader sent me…

I really don’t feel alone.  I feel much like this lady described.  Kramer is such a big part of me and he’s still there.

The most helpful thing anyone has said is:
-I’m thinking about you.

This leaves the conversation WIDE open.  I can say thank you and that’s the end of the conversation.  I can say, “Ya…I never thought I’d be here” and then talk about it if I want to.  That makes the conversation more about me and what I need.

Asking “how we’re doing” is so much more invasive.  It feels a little more like someone is probing to get the gossip and that doesn’t feel as friendly or caring.  When people probe further and say- “NO, how are you R-E-A-L-L-Y DO-O-O-ing?”…you can imagine how that feels.

Here’s the truth of it all.  I didn’t know asking “how are you doing” could be interpreted this way until I’m now going through this and …so I know others don’t know it either….so I’m pretty forgiving.  BUT I know now and will do better if I encounter anyone who is in a situation like this.  I’m simply say, “I’m thinking about you.”

“How am I R-E-A-L-L-Y DO-O-O-ing?”.  I’ll answer the question.  I’m sad, happy and mostly okay….It’s a moving target and that’s all I’m going to say.

54 thoughts on “How AM I D-O-I-N-G?”

  1. Awe Jo my heart aches for you. It reminded me of my diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer that metastasized to the bones. People would ask me how I was doooing. Yep how to answer…..Really how does one answer that? Well I did learn a few things through this process. I was guilty of those platitudes before, now I’m more aware of what I say when confronted with difficult situations. After all how does anyone know how they are doing? Know you are in my thoughts and prayers. I’m here in your cyber corner rooting you on.
    Love, hugs and prayers coming your way.

  2. It’s hard to know what to say to people going thru different situations that you haven’t experienced. I’m sorry for your loss, but know that you and your entire family have been and still are in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for sharing . I now will try to be more thoughtful in inquiries of others.

  3. I’ve been in your place Jo and it’s not easy. I remember one Sunday somebody said how are you doing as we passed in the hall at church. I’m sure it was just a greeting and I said fine, happy and cheerful, and Under My Breath I said, ” and I lie with the best of them.” It was easier to say I was fine because when I did open up and say more than that their eyes glazed over because they didn’t really care. It is the process that we walked through one day at a time. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  4. I’m happy to hear you are feeling so many different emotions. It’s better than never ending numb. I’ve been both ways. Feeling is living life.

    Kramer IS with you. Love never dies. Never ever.

    You have been in my thoughts and prayers. The kids too.
    So how are the grandbabies growing? :)

  5. No you have been so strong thru all of this and I am so glad your kids are near by. I am thinking of you all and sending hugs and prayers.

  6. Sally Safranski

    You and your family have been on my mind and in my heart so much since we met at Gundersen. Especially and moreso this last week, as I walked that same hospital’s halls and waited in hushed rooms myself. My mom was admitted to the G. ER on June 8, moving from ER to Cardio/Pulminary to ICU and eventually to a Pallative Care Room, where we said our final goodbyes on Sunday 6/16. And the questions now are the same for us. I’m numb. I’m exhausted. I’m concerned about my brother, my sons and the grandchildren. And I’m moving thru the motions. She was not my spouse – I’m blessed to have my husband at my side. But she was more than my mom – she was my friend and the longest relationship in my life. So I’m thinking of you….

  7. I have been thinking of you and your lovely family. Grief is a personal ride with lots of ups and downs and the support and love your family shares will get you through these uncharted waters. Love to you all xxx

  8. Penny Holliday

    My kids & I unfortunately have been in your situation Jo sev yrs ago. I never liked that question either & we did everything we could to avoid answering! Often I would say I don’t care to discuss it. My son would answer that 99 days 6 hrs & 9 min ago(truthfully) my dad was diagnosed w/ stage iv liver cancer & he quickly died. One daughter was so upset she would answer depending if the tone of voice was probing “Are you writing a book?” The youngest daughter still at home was rarely spoke too except kindly from family members. Something I did learn from this was my general response when someone is diagnosed w/ critical/fatal illness do not ask anything like probing but say something like I’m sorry. Also when someone has died don’t say to closest survivor “Call me if you need anything” be more specific & say what you would like to do to help & when you will do it!(Like I’ll come over tomorrow afternoon & mow your lawn or do some housework)

  9. Jo, you are so kind and gracious. It’s generous of you to share what you’re going through. You are teaching your readership what to do/say as well as what NOT to do/say. I sadly learned this in my early 30s when my brother died by suicide while my Dad was actively dying of his lung cancer. I learned that the kindest thing people can say is “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say”. It’s kind, caring and sensitive. Mom would get so mad at those probing queries too. “They don’t care, they are just nosy” was often her comment.

    Hugs to you all as you make it through each day alone and together.

  10. Donna Pheneger

    I love the fact that you are so candid with us. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to say so I’ll just say good morning – you are loved and you are in my thoughts and prayers.

  11. Thank you for sharing this post. I have two good friends going through cancer treatments and I check on them a couple times a week. I try to just to let them know I am thinking of them. I don’t ask about how their treatment is going because I figure they are tired of being asked and I figure they will tell me if they want to share, Sending you hugs.

  12. Winda Hiemstra

    All i can say is that i think of you and your familie, and that i hope that you all will find a way to give everything that happend a place in life. all i know is that love never dies, never ever!

    Hugs from over the pond
    The Netherlands

  13. Elizabeth V K

    Jo, I love reading your blog because you express yourself so well. You and your family continue in my prayers. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Donna Albright

    I was where you are 10 1/2 years ago…..I know exactly what you mean. Pretty soon people will quit asking that and, instead, will ask ‘how long has it been now?’. Really, it doesn’t seen that long, they say. I think that it DOES seem that long! I’ve had to make decisions by myself and I don’t like it but I deal. After a while ya just deal and hope that the kids will help with one or two decisions instead of saying ‘it’s up to you mom’.

  15. Been there and hated that question too. I always wanted to say that I’d be so much better if people would just quit asking how I was all the time. My personal pet peeve is when people say “If you need anything, let me know.” After asking a few people for help on a few projects I couldn’t do myself, I realized that this is too often an empty statement and most people really don’t mean it. When I say that to someone I mean it, whether it’s cleaning, painting, moving or just lending an ear.

  16. Denise Briese

    I know exactly what you are saying…My beautiful daughter is on the streets a heroin addict. We get that all the time how are you guys doing. Self care taking care of you first. Sure we never sleep worried about her…we are sick over constantly helping her only to have her return to drugs, we are financially drained from her. Oh were DOING just fine

  17. Since I have cancer I get this question all the time. I say I’m ok. If they press, I tell them the truth: my tumor markers are off the charts, and I have cancer throughout my skeleton. They usually follow with, ‘but you look good.” I don’t really know what to say to that.

  18. I just say we are doing okay to questions about our son who died of a massive heart attack at age 52. It’s been 16 months now and if asked I now say I have two children to keep from further questions that I will have to explain. You do move forward and it does get better as the grief moves more to the background instead of up front and personal. Not a day has gone by that I don’t think about him and miss him. You’re not suppose to bury your children even when they are 52. You are doing all the right things Jo that will help you and the kids in the future. Hugs.

  19. Intrusive, ghoulish and selfish. Our most raw emotions are not meant to be shared except with our dearest. And he’s listening. Hang on. It will get better.

  20. Thank you for being so open and honest about what you are going through. I’m frequently asked how things are going because my son who underwent chemo last year for the second time is now suffering from low platelets. It’s been a roller coaster ride with his health and then my mother died 3 weeks ago. I couldn’t even mention her death to some folks because I couldn’t take more questions. I try to remember that most people mean well but there are times when I just want to become a hermit. Thinking about you and praying for you and the family.

  21. Thank you for that post, now I know what and what not to say to my daughter who lost her husband last August. Hugs, and again, thanks for your honesty.

  22. Ugh, I’m glad I’m not the only one that hates that question. My husband passed away in January of 2018. I think of him as being with me too. Yet I still could use help getting rid of things, cleaning up and doing things around the house, so offers of help are still needed beyond what most people would think. I’m praying for you and your family Jo, it’s awful what you’ve been through and then losing him.

  23. Grieving is a process and after my husband died, I would tell them that and say I’m at stage zero now. It seemed to shut them up. I was alone most of the time, my family lived 45 minutes away and we had just moved into the small community after living in Idaho for five years. I was very alone and my grieving lasted for a very long time. It hasn’t really stopped even though I’m remarried. I’m still his widow and always will be. I don’t care that others think I’m not. Be gracious, be kind to others, but take care of yourself first.

  24. I get frustrated when people (including me) say stupid things. But the truth is that for most people they ask because they care, they want you to know they haven’t forgotten that things are hard for you now, and they don’t know a better way to communicate that without becoming potentially too personal. So, answer as much or as little as your want and move on to another topic when you wish. It will help you both get to having more conversation about the things that make up your relationship. I’m sorry you and your family are confronting so many of these “firsts” far sooner than you ever imagined, but I think about you often.

  25. SusanfromKentucky

    Yes, people can be very insensitive! How about my husband’s cousin (who I hadn’t seen since the service) calling me and telling me that my husband spoke through “psychic” friends of his, that I could go ahead and get rid of his stuff. I couldn’t get off the phone fast enough and totally blocked contact with his cousin. Other family members of his, didn’t have time for me. Don’t talk to them anymore, either. I’ve had to pretty much deal with this on my own. Even my own mother never offered any sympathy for me. I’m still here, though and have a few good friends. I also still have my husband’s things. I refuse to get rid of them, but that’s just me.

  26. when my son died my daughter-in-law would say, “sometimes I have my breakdown moments”. I ended up using that phrase also but only to people who were very close to me.

  27. Thank you for writing this. It all makes so much sense. I too felt the same way about that question when I lost my youner sister 1 1/2 years ago. All I ever said was “OK”. U r making Kramer so proud, u r a STRONG family. Bless u all.

  28. My sister and I get asked that … A LOT! about dad since mom died. First response is usually “oh we’re all hanging in there.” If they press, then it’s “we have good days and bad days. It’s hard to get used to her being gone….” or something similar. Then they usually drop it. Though sometimes there’s a “let me know if you need anything” If you want to get rid of them fast, suggest something they can do because mostly they really don’t mean it. ;)
    We, as a people, don’t really have good ways to talk about these things. I just write it off as the passable, familiar script we all use to communicate. How are you? Fine, you? Fine. and let it go. Though I have stopped asking that question of other people.

  29. Wonderful post. My husband is terminally ill and when people ask , I
    just say he’s ok. Most of them don’t really care. They are just being nosy. And the ones who say, “if you need anything, ” don’t really mean it. Prayers for you and your family.

  30. Thank you for this post. I’m in the camp of wanting to be helpful, probably doesn’t realize what she’s saying! I’ve had two miscarriages and I remember people saying wrong thing at that time. I do think of you often!

  31. From my experience, people who haven’t had someone go through cancer aren’t sure what to say. It’s awkward for them and they usually say the wrong things. I think most people mean well but they just don’t know how to handle it. Glad you are taking it one day at a time.

  32. I’m so proud of you. You are so brave and open. I’m sure you don’t feel brave. Just baby steps, one foot in front of the other, day to day. It’s okay. That IS brave. Thank you for sharing your journey with me. It has given me hope that I could live through and live on if my hubby goes first. The thought has terrified me. We are getting up in age now and have our health problems that make us wonder day to day. But your openness and sincerity have truly given me strength. I pray God will continue to watch over you!

  33. When my oldest stepdaughter passed at age 53 I had been her stepmom for almost 40 years. People would also ask me “How are you doing?” My answer would always be “I’m hanging in there.” Some days were ‘good” and some days weren’t. We each grieve differently. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers each and every day.

  34. I’m glad you are willing to give grace to those of us who haven’t been where your are right now. Thank you for that! We don’t mean to be ignorant and unhelpful. We’re just trying to let you know we care, but we feel awkward and don’t know what to say. That’s why I usually just say, “Sending quilty hugs!!” Take care, Jo.

  35. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis. I have often wanted to write and do just what you talk about. However, having been on the receiving end of that very dilemma a time or two, I settled for a rosary or prayers instead. Just remember you are loved, cared about and very special to all who have come to know you through both the blog and emails. Take care and if the mood strikes, just tell the next person who asks the intrusive questions…. “I really hate that question! Its just too complicated to answer!”

  36. Some people are just not good with words and the proper thing to say in such situations. It’s like they don’t know any better and it can be so frustrating. I am sorry you have to deal with this. I think of you and your family daily. My prayers are with you all.

  37. Jo, some people don’t know what to say, so they say some things that are inappropriate. Some people are very uncomfortable being around someone who has lost a loved one. (It’s not your fault; that’s just the way it is.) I lost my daughter at 18 months old with a heart condition, and my husband of cancer in 2009. I have been there twice and it’s not easy, but you have to go thru it. There are several stages of grief and you can going thru the process. It’s hard!! I can tell by your posts.

    I could not have gotten thru all the ups and downs without my Lord. I talked to Him day and night about my feelings and asking Him to be with me and keep me sane day after day. I know there are people who deal with their feelings other ways, but this was, and still is, mine. I pray for your and your family.

  38. Thank you for sharing your insight. You have put into words what I have felt since losing my husband 10 years ago; even though he is physically gone he is still with me.

  39. Many years ago my infant niece died as a result of a congenital heart defect. When I was at work I took a call from someone I had known fairly casually for a few years–a man about a decade older than I, someone I knew to be a hard worker, kind, a family man. He could tell something was wrong and, after talking for awhile, I told him about losing my niece. That good man called me every day, for weeks. He would ask to be transferred to my department after taking care of other business, or would just check in before going home. Rarely would he ask how I was doing. Most often he just called to let me know he was thinking of me, tell me something about his day, or how his kids and wife were doing. If I needed to talk about my grief or my worry about the situation, I could. But most days, knowing that someone else recognized my loss and I wasn’t alone in this deeply sad and confusing time was comfort enough. I learned so much from my friend Mort.

  40. I can relate completely when you say Kramer is at work . My Mum went on a really long holiday after she passed away – the only way I could deal with the fact she was no longer here. Do whatever works for you, Jo. The new normal takes a bit of adjusting too. Hugs.

  41. Judith Fairchild

    I learned to hate those inquiries. Unless they asked a specific question like my boss did after my husband died. She asked me how I could go on working and never cry or complain to our clients about what had happened. I told her it wasn’their business or problem. Work has to be done it helped to be busy. I’m glad you can tell us how you feel about things. Always keeping you and your loved ones in my prayers. Thank God he carries us through these hard times.

  42. Jay in Nebraska

    I hate that question too. Now that I am doing chemo again, and people ask me, I tend to joke with them. The first round I avoided people at all costs. Now, I tell them I am fair to middlin’, better than some and worse than others. Most of the time they have a look of shock on their face and I smile and nod and continue on. I guess I see it as semi-polite to say FK off, its none of your business. The people I know and care about don’t ask me that question. It is usually my nosy neighbors or people around the small town I live in.

    I hope this didn’t offend you. I have finally learned that I am who I am, and I don’t hold anything back any longer with people who are just plain nosy.

  43. Jo, thank you for sharing what not to say. And what is better to say to someone going through our very own worst nightmare of losing our own heart’s blood.

    So, i will say my thoughts and prayers continue to be with you and yours.

  44. Another thing I noticed quickly was that people who are not close to the family, forget about the death in about 3 weeks. I’ve buried both parents, a brother and a BIL. For the most part, it is a good thing when those people forget because the “say dumb things” stage goes away and those people who genuinely care are there to help do tasks and listen and smiply say “I’m sorry” which is always appreciated.

  45. Felicia Hamlin

    I read one time about the stages of grief and one of them was anger, I know there are people who may genuinely care about what is going on, but those who push the issue might be a tad nosy. It seems to me that death is the USA is an unmentionable thing, the culture here is for the living and to live life in denial of death and yes, I am aware that we all grieve in different ways. But you are right, that question can be down right rude. It is a good thing that you are willing to be so candid about the issue, what do people expect? It takes a long time to get over losing someone, and even though a person might seem normal, only God knows what goes in their hearts. I wish you the peace of Jesus that is beyond all understanding, your husband’s memory is precious to you and your family and he will forever in your heart.

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