Say what?

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At an event last weekend, an acquaintance wanted to know how I was doing. “Are you still grieving?” she asked.

I had the impulse to say something clever, to let her know questions like hers can sting, but I couldn’t come up with anything on the spot.

“Always,” I said.

Later that evening, I thought I could have said, “Oh sure, I stopped at 6:37pm on October 14th.”

I always think of these things too late. My French-speaking friends call this “l’esprit de l’escalier.” Translation: “staircase wit.” Used when you think of the perfect retort too late, after you’ve walked down the stairs. Of course, the situation rarely arises a second time for me to use my premeditated response.

I need to be prepared. Plan ahead. And, at the same time, sound spontaneous. This requires that I conceive of all the questions and comments I might encounter. Rehearsing wouldn’t hurt.

I remember one of Ariela’s friends who used a wheelchair. When he was asked, “What’s wrong with you?” he yelled, “SCI” over his shoulder as he propelled himself forward at top speed. He had thought about this beforehand and decided that confusing people has some merit. Also, he was able to demonstrate his physical prowess, something I can’t claim. For the record, SCI stands for spinal cord injury.

I don’t know if I was ever swift enough for really witty retorts, but I know I need help now. I vacillate between having fun with the intrusive questioner, or as my kinder friends would encourage me to do, use this as a “teachable moment.”

If you have some advice about how to deal with unwanted questions, I’m open to suggestions.

11 thoughts on “Say what?

  1. First of all, it’s kind of a personal question for an acquaintance. But, I think your answer, “always”, was perfect. The person may have been expecting the cheery kind of “fine” answer we all give when someone asks how we are . . . . we don’t tell them how we really are which lets the inquirer off the hook for any further concern. Your answer was the honest truth — you will always be grieving to some degree. More or less over the years or even on different days. The only other honest answer would have been, “of course”. Your answer was more gracious.

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  2. How much time did you spend finding the stairs to photograph? Certainly not handy at home, where everything is accesibleby wheelchair.

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  3. My Mother had a wonderful reply to questions such as what you encountered. My little sister died at age 6 (I was 12) from lymphosarcoma, and there were similar questions. She simply looked the person in their eyes and said “Why would you ask that?”
    I remember going to school after the funeral with thank you notes to each classmate because they had sent a plant through our teacher…someone said “oh, you are going to have a party?” Her death had already vanished for my classmates in less than a week.

    As a family we endured so many strange comments, including that it was a blessing that she died before she turned 7, as in the Catholic Church (then)…she hadn’t reached the age of reason.

    Ah?

    I grieve forever, but I am never sorry for having the luxury to grieve, as therefore I have also known and loved and know what I am missing.

    When I was growing up, I would become anxious when someone would ask “how many brothers and sisters do you have?” I would always say two sisters and one brother…then invariably, they would ask…so how old are they or where do they live. When I said that my youngest sister had died, the comments were so odd…oh so sorry, oh how long ago…oh why do you still say you have two sisters? Crazy. I always reply, I wouldn’t miss one minute of my sister’s six years and that is how life is.

    … and now I have another sister to add to this

    Harriet, your writing is inspiring. I look forward to face-to-face talks…

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  4. My Mother had a reply to those type of questions. My little sister died at age 6 (I was 12) from lymphosarcoma, and there were similar questions. She simply looked the person in their eyes and said “Why would you ask that?”

    People don’t know what to say and are awkward.

    I remember going to school after my sister’s funeral with thank you notes to each classmate because the class had sent a plant through our teacher…someone said “oh, you are going to have a party?” Her death had already vanished for my classmates in less than a week.

    I grieve forever, but I am never sorry for having the luxury to grieve, as therefore I have also known and loved and know what I am missing.

    When I was growing up, I would become anxious when someone would ask “how many brothers and sisters do you have?” I would always say two sisters and one brother…then invariably, they would ask…so how old are they or where do they live. When I said that my youngest sister had died, the comments were so odd…oh so sorry, oh how long ago…oh why do you still say you have two sisters? Crazy. I always reply, I wouldn’t miss one minute of my sister’s six years and that is how life is.

    … and now I have another sister to add to this

    Harriet, your writing is inspiring.
    Debby

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  5. I just came across your blog from the LTYM announcement — it’s wonderful. I also lost a child some years back. When I got crazy questions, I just answered straightforwardly or ignored them. Then I would go home and put them in a computer file called “Over the Moon,” as in, “Here’s another question that sent me over the moon.” It helped me to simply take note, file them away, and then forget it.

    One of the things I learned from my two decades of bereavement is that we the bereaved end up as “grief educators.” We teach the young and untried around us about what it means to grieve and survive. For a long while it was my mission, to teach grieving. Eventually less so.

    Incidentally, I lost the “Over the Moon” file a few years back during a computer move. It didn’t matter any more.

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    • I could write a book about all the unsolicited and thoughtless comments I heard not just after my daughter’s death but also during her life. Maybe I will sometime. Your “over the moon” file resonates with me. I’ve been over the moon and back many times. Taking note makes so much sense. Thanks for that.

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