“How are you?” “Fine…and stuff” – The Valley of Loss and Grief

“How are you?” a friend asks.  “Fine,” I respond, not adding details as I pull the best smile out of my pocket that I can find for that day.  “So what’s going on?” they ask again…Ugh, what do I say?  I forgot to beat them to the quick with a return question!  “Oh, I’ve been busy with doctor’s appointments and stuff.”  It’s the “and stuff” I don’t really want to get into.  In fact, lately I just don’t feel like talking much.  I’d rather seal myself up in a rabbit hole and disappear.

Quickly, I try to divert attention back to my friend and ask questions so I won’t have to talk about myself.  The good thing about people is we like to talk about ourselves, and when I’m in an introvert mood, if I can just get a person talking about themselves then half of the problem is solved.   The remaining problematic half consists of the fact that, due to the “and stuff” I am dealing with, I’m only processing 50% of what they’re saying because I’m distracted with my own issues.  I AM trying to listen and care about other people, I’m not trying to ignore them and be a jerk; it’s just that my brain and emotions are on total overload and I feel like I can’t handle anyone else’s drama on top of my own internal drama – that “and stuff“.

But I wasn’t lying when I said I was “Fine” either.  Because, I am fine.  Or I will be fine.  No, I both am fine and I will be fine.

The “and stuff” is a combination of grief, loss, sadness, and exhaustion on all levels.  Just because one is experiencing grief, loss, sadness, and exhaustion doesn’t make one “not fine” by my definition, as long as one is working through it in a positive way.  If one IS working through the “and stuff” positively, then that’s fine and they are fine and will be fine.

I don’t feel like sharing it, however, with others.  My “and stuff” is very sore stuff, personal stuff, and like the CRPS in my left leg, I simply don’t want anyone POKING IT.

In an ironic twist of hope, however, I do feel like sharing it, getting it out and letting it go as much as possible.  I share it with the Lord.  I tell Him all of the things that hurt, all the losses I feel in my life right now…He hears the groanings of my heart that I can’t find words to contain.  I ask Him for His grace to get me through the next 10 minutes, I ask for healing and contentment.

 I’m not fighting with God…

I trust His character and believe His promises, and I’m content to leave the results to Him.

I’m just sad.

I’m not faithless or doubting or not trusting especially.  I’m so grateful to have a firm confidence that my Father loves me and His will is best.

I’m just sad.

As one of His beloved children, I know He has compassion on me.  I’m not especially fearful or angry as I walk through my own trail of tears.

I’m just sad.

I am accepting that things are what they are.  I’m taking in the facts and adapting my expectations accordingly.

I’m just sad.

And hurting.

And exhausted.

Therefore, at this time, I’m hesitant to share the details of my “and stuff” even with some very close friends because I don’t know that most of them would be able to understand why the “and stuff” hurts so much.  I don’t want others judging my reasons for feeling grief, if you know what I mean (?).  I also don’t want to receive those painful “encouragements” to “bring it to the Lord” or “just trust the Lord with it”…that list of things-people-say-that-aren’t-helpful can go on for miles, can’t it?  Such encouragements I KNOW are given with a well-meaning intent to solve my problems, thereby making me (and the encouragement-giver) feel better.

Instead, they deliver POKES in my “and stuff”.  Since I AM already doing those things – trusting the Lord, bringing my cares before Him, yadda yadda yadda – it feels like the friend who “encourages” this way is downplaying the pain and up-playing the “here’s my simple solution” card (also known as the “get me out of here quick!” card and the “I just gave great advice that’s sure to make her feel better, so I can pat myself on the back…then get out of here quick” card), missing the fact that there is no easy way out of grief and loss for those in the thick of it, even when we do “everything right”…it just runs its own course, in time.  (Boy that was a long sentence!)

This is why, honestly, I’d rather keep the grief between me and the Lord.  I’m a bit raw right now, and I cannot promise I’d respond kindly to “encouraging” POKES…and I don’t want to hurt friendships by responding poorly to a friend’s heartfelt “word of exhortation”.  Nor do I personally feel like subjecting myself to all of the above willingly.

If I were to describe the response from a friend which I’d find most comforting, it would perhaps be surprisingly simple.  A comforting friend would listen to me, hold me in a hug, and say fairly little, allowing me the freedom to cry without judging my reasons for doing so.  Genuinely sharing in my grief, “carrying one another’s burdens,” and saying something truly heart-felt like “I’m sorry you’re going through this; my heart aches for you” help me trust that friend and know I’m not going to get pummeled with trite phrases and “cures”.  After I lose my steam…and it may take a while…THEN it may be time to break out The Book.  But most likely, what would give me the greatest comfort, is someone who (after listening) showed genuine interest in UNDERSTANDING how I feel, why I feel as I do, what I’m doing about it, and what they can do to help.  Even if they couldn’t fully grasp the details, it’s the fact that they WANT TO KNOW and understand that’s a great relief to me and tells me I’m not alone – they desire to walk with me through the pain rather than just walking away because they’re overwhelmed.  A friend may ask meaningful questions of me, and when I ask questions of them (which will naturally come when I trust them enough), they give thoughtful answers (I don’t necessarily have to agree…just the fact that they thought before they spoke would be a comfort to me).  This is probably the point at which The Book can come out and I won’t feel defensive.  Rather, if a friend brings The Book out now and has specific Scriptures to share, and even shares how those Scriptures have spoken to her, I’d be truly encouraged.  I’d like to know how she has walked through the Valley of Loss herself and how she came out on the other side, reminding me what the world looks like when one has come back out into the light.

Seems like the ability to do these things shouldn’t be so hard, but I’ve met very few people who seem to do the above well.  They are gems.  Sometimes you really have to dig through the dirty stuff to find those gems too.  Maybe soon I’ll be ready to go digging again.  Until then, it’s just Me and Jesus.

Now I know that not everyone who is experiencing grief or loss is going to appreciate the kind of responses that float my boat.  We’re all different and we have differing values and “love languages” as well.  For me, Quality Time is my primary love language, and physical touch is my second.  If you know me, then you know I’m a champion hugger – I love to give and get good hugs!  There’s hardly anything in life better than a really good hug IMO.  But I’ve also learned that some people are NOT huggers – they are those “cat people” – and if you hug them while they already have “and stuff” on their plate, it may be more disturbing than comforting to them.  I don’t understand these people, but I respect them and wouldn’t want to hug someone who falls into that “cat people” category, bringing discomfort to add to their pain.

I remember when I was all gawky in the 6th grade (I’m still gawky?  You Lie!).  I had three teachers who I adored; they were very caring people and it showed in their teaching and interactions with the students in my Special Ed classes.  One of my teachers was going through a tough time, and in my awkward 6th grader way I wanted to cheer him up.  So I often told him to “smile and cheer up – you look so much happier when you’re smiling!” as if telling someone to smile or cheer up was actually going to produce genuine relief of that person’s suffering!  Always a patient man, I was surprised when he said with a rather firm voice “I will smile when I feel like smiling.  Please don’t tell me to smile.”  I was very sad that I’d only brought insult to his loss, but I learned a few very good lessons that day in the 6th grade; lessons not learned in a textbook.

So when desiring to aid a friend through their grief, maybe we can just learn to OBSERVE a bit more, SAY a bit less, and take that person’s values, love languages, personality, and needs into consideration before we do something dense.  

In the end, there’s grace for dense friends too.  I’ve had my fair shares of being a “dense friend”!  I mean, REALLY – I’ve made some dizzyingly bad faux pas before!  In remembrance, hopefully I’ll find a way to respond graciously when those “encouraging” POKES in my “and stuff” occur, as they are inevitable, especially once I start digging for a few gems.

Whatever comes of it, I am Fine and I will be Fine because God knows the details.  I’ll keep bringing my cares to Him, and He will supply my needs, as He did through an anonymous note that appeared in my mailbox a few days ago with this Scripture:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.  The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.”  The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.  – Lamentations 3:21-25


One thought on ““How are you?” “Fine…and stuff” – The Valley of Loss and Grief

  1. To my 8th grade writing teacher, Mrs. Swain:

    Dear Mrs. Swain,
    I remember you telling our class that you’d flunk our papers if we used the word “stuff”. After all, “STUFF” to you was the equivalent of the F-bomb to most other people. Since I’m no longer in 8th grade, I will no longer apologize for my verbose usage of the word “stuff,” which in this context was the perfect word choice.

    But I do apologize for only calling you Mrs. SWINE behind your back rather than ever calling you by your real name.

    And yes, my dog Sabre REALLY DID eat my homework…twice in one week.

    Gutsy Girl

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