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"HOW ARE YOU?"
1 September, 2011
You hear it all the time.
"How are you?"
"Fine, how are you?"
People ask you when you are wallowing in depression, but you put on a smiling face and say, brightly, "Fine! How are you?"
When you are burying a loved one, people come through the funeral reception line or talk to you at the wake and ask "How are you?" and you, who have just buried someone you love so very much, answer "Fine. How are you?"
I remember going through the line of some friends who had just buried their son, as we had buried ours so many years before. I was not going to ask "How are you?" (or, in the case of a funeral, "How are you doing?") but somehow it just slipped out. I then apologized and said "I didn't mean to ask that...I know how you are doing!"
It is almost a Pavlovian question and answer. Listen to a radio talk show and see how many callers don't start the conversation with a host who has been talking to them for 3 hours with "how are you?" and have him answer "Fine." You can probably count on the fingers of one hand those who do not start with that question.
What do you say to someone who is dying?
"How are you?" seems like such a dumb question.
"How do you THINK I am, dummy...I'm dying!"
And yet Peach and I each, arriving in Kathy's room within 5 minutes of each other, walked in and said "How are you?" and each time she responded "Fine. How are you?"
I don't know if the idiocy of that seemingly simple exchange hit the two of them, but it sure did me. I knew that was not the right way to start a conversation, but, as I said, what do you say to someone who is dying?
Actually, she was more "fine" than the last time I saw her, which is amazing given how she was the last time I saw her and how we all felt she probably wouldn't live out the week.
I arrived early at the care center and passed her husband in his car as he was leaving. He said she was in bed but awake and not to be surprised if she asked me to leave soon because she was tired.
Based on that, I decided not to go in until Peach arrived, since I didn't want to tire her out before Peach got there. So I sat outside for about 20 minutes and then went in to check on the time. It was straight up noon, the time we had agreed to meet there, so I went into Kathy's room. She was, indeed, awake...and "Fine," by her assessment. We talked for a little bit before Peach arrived. It was very sad when she said that it was "so hard to die."
Peach came and we chatted a bit. I discovered that my function seemed to be to bring jokes and small talk. Over the previous year, I have been the one to break the tension of bad moments at Cousins Day by making a sometimes inappropriate joke. That seemed to make her feel better. It was good to laugh about not very funny things.
She appeared to be lucid, but it was kind of a mixture of being lucid and not being lucid, because she remembers things that haven't happened (e.g., she asked me if I had seen her grandson, who had left with her husband--but the grandson lives halfway across the country and is not here). But mostly she seemed to be with us in the present and it was good to talk with her. We even got her to eat a little bit.
But within about 15 minutes, she told us that she really needed to get some sleep, so we promised to go back and see her on Friday.
Peach and I went to nearby Chevy's for lunch and compared notes on people we knew and decided that there is nobody in our lives at present who doesn't have something bad going on in their families. It's just that kind of a year.
So...if anybody reading this has something wonderfully happy going on in their families, please let me know. I really could use reading some good news right now. I reserve the right to be jealous of you.
But hey...I'm just fine. How are you?
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Dinner at the Farmers Market tonight