Blowing in the Wind

Lately I have found myself in various situations in which I have been without an adequate response to people asking the question, “How is Strokeman?” I wish there was some way to filter through that question and determine exactly what kind of information they are looking for. Do they want the status quo answer of, “He is just fine”, or are they looking for something more in depth? And how in depth, exactly? Most of the time I give what is considered a “too much information” response, and regret it. But lately, I have found myself trying out the, “just fine” response. Then if they ask for more information, I try to give it to them in small bits and pieces. I never quite know what people think they know about our situation, and I never quite know if they really want to know or if they are just being polite. I also have this struggle within myself about saying, “he’s just fine,” when he is NOT just fine, in my humble opinion.

In the past couple of weeks I have had conversations that included in part these interchanges:

1. “So, sometime you need to come meet your sister and me in W- and have lunch, I know this great place”

“Uh, I will try, but it is hard for me to get away like that”

“Wouldn’t that be fun? We will have to plan that soon!”

“Uh, I can see…”

(third person) “Her husband had a stroke a few years back and is still very dependent”

Then ensued a volley of questions and answers that culminated in this statement:

“Sounds like you need to apply some tough love!”

Thank you, practically-a-stranger person, I have never thought of that!

2. “How’s your hubby?”

“Oh, he’s ok, just doesn’t want to do much but lay in bed and watch TV”

“Oh! I thought he would be fully recovered by now!”

3. “How is Strokeman?”

“He’s ok”

“Is he still in rehab?”

“No, he wasn’t making enough progress for insurance to continue covering it”

“Is he able to speak?” (this from someone who has seen him several times since the stroke and is evidently not very observant. I had to ask myself if it was really worth it to try to bring this guy up to date)

“Uh, yes, he never lost his ability to speak.”

Blank stare.

3. “I hear that Strokeman is feeling kind of depressed and doesn’t want to leave the house”

“Yeah, he is having kind of a hard time”

“And there is nothing we can do about that!”

“Well, actually I have been praying about someone…” interruption by a third party, and exit of inquirer.Ok, so maybe there isn’t anything you can do about it.

I realize this doesn’t seem very gracious of me. It is just kind of exhausting to try to figure out what exactly people want to hear, and to try to figure out what exactly they know. How far back in the story do I need to start, and how long do I want to spend talking about this right now? And am I going to end up crying and ruining the day for everyone involved? How much inane advice can I take from people who don’t understand what I am dealing with on a regular basis? How do I explain this strange mixture of the old man with the stroke man that keeps me constantly guessing where I need to put my foot down, and where I need to love and honor? And where is that line between telling people what they want to hear and violating Strokeman’s right to privacy (no matter how ridiculous his sense of privacy is)?

I think here is where I am supposed to bring in the spiritual application and come to a conclusion on how I have learned to deal with this. The problem is I don’t have anything to offer here. The answer to these questions are still blowing in the wind somewhere. What am I learning? To give short simple answers and give people only what they specifically ask for. Life is complicated and relationships are messy. And we are all just stumbling along trying to do the best we can. And if you see me smacking my gum its to keep from grinding my teeth.

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14 Responses to Blowing in the Wind

  1. Kathy Gray says:

    After years of battling a very similar phenomena, I settled on the “ok” answer. When people ask how I’m doing (after 20+ years of not doing well) I answer “ok”. To which I mean, I’m still functioning and mentally intact, but to which the vast majority of people who do not in any way really want to know how I’m doing- can take it to mean, I’m fine -which is exactly what they’re needing me to say. We human beings do not deal well with the chronic suffering of others. We need it to be better and while the sufferer can not “will it so,” the observer can. One of the most profound things I have learned is that the greatest gift you can give to someone who suffers is to let them “not be ok.” Don’t give solutions you know nothing about (and which won’t work), don’t tell them how much better things actually are than they think (which they’re not), don’t lecture them on how to handle things you’re not even willing to deal with for more than a brief conversation.
    Just let them not be ok. Listen, affirm how difficult their life is, encourage them in the only relevant and comforting truth- the sovereignty and goodness of God in the midst of earthly suffering.
    Then shut up. :0)

    • Thank you for adding what I couldn’t to the end of my post today. This is a good summary of what I am still trying to learn. And thank you for always being that person that allows me to “not be ok”. It is invaluable!

  2. It is very helpful for me to read this blog post and Kathy’s comment. I often hesitate to ask people how they are or for details on their progress (or lack of progress) because I feel like I might be intruding in their lives and it might be unwelcome or make them uncomfortable. This is especially true in cases where there is likely to be no progress ever.. such in cancer patients that I know, but are not close to. It’s hard to know if it’s okay to ask. As a result, I either don’t go deeper than, “How are you?” and my response is often a bit nervous because I feel like I’m intruding and am should not be asking. Then, I often say something completely corny and only think of an excellent, appropriate, compassionate response an hour or so later. I will say though, that even though we are clumsy in our attempts and our comments, we do have you heavy on our hearts and I am sure God does hear our clumsy, poorly worded prayers that we send for your health, wisdom, comfort and endurance every day because we do love and care for you more than any of our words can convey.

    • Ack! I changed some things around and now the grammar typos are terrible. Sorry. See? I should be one of those that just shut’s up! 🙂

    • What a good reminder to me that things aren’t all that easy on the other side of that conversation. I was that person – the one that was uncomfortable with illness, especially the kind that was going to end in untimely death. I need to remember that. I need to remember to have compassion and understanding for those who are struggling to be my friend without having the slightest clue how to do it. I think it is difficult to know how much to ask, especially with people you don’t know well. I can say that you, personally, have done a pretty good job of communicating to me your genuine care – otherwise I would not have made you a “charter member” of the secret blog. I will say, that at least for me, I would prefer corny to compassionate (or appropriate for that matter), especially if we happen to be in a public place. I am pretty tired of adding to the list of public places in which I have cried.

  3. I call this, in my own little head, the FB syndrome. It is when we all put on a happy face, or want a happy face without knowing what the other person is really going through. We all have only so much we can give, so we need to pick and chose our giving so that we are just not giving anyone anything….and then we need to pray. We need to pray. I found out yesterday that a friend of mine had a miscarriage a year ago. She didn’t tell anyone. She carried on. When I found out, it reminded me to pray. I may not know what all my friends and family are dealing with and I may not ever understand it….but I can pray. Often before the feet of the Lord I bring you, my dear friend!

    • This I know, and I am so thankful for you! Picking and choosing – yes. Not having any idea of the things others are struggling with – yes. I am mesmerized by those who suffer in silence…I tend to shout and whine and cry in public places.

  4. Cindy V says:

    I have no answers to this dilemma. I only know that I have said enough stupid things aloud that sounded so profound & compassionate while they were still in my head that I have absolutely no right to ever take offence at the silly things others say & do to me. May we always approach one another with sincerity & humility & humor!

    • Well, I know how slow you are to speak without thinking, so I am pretty sure that for every stupid thing you have said, I have probably said 5. My goal with this blog is to speak the truth of the things I struggle with, but hopefully not to come across as offended or complaining. Frustrated, maybe, but not offended.

  5. Cindy V says:

    Completely understand your frustration and always appreciate your honesty. How do we know if someone doesn’t explain. No I didn’t hear complaining.

  6. Melissa says:

    Years ago, Fred preached a sermon about bearing one another’s burdens. He talked about saying “just fine” when asked how we were doing. Unfortunately, I remember more about what happened after the sermon than the sermon itself. While going through the lunch line, Mark M asked how I was doing and I informed him that I would not use the “f” word. He expressed surprise and said he didn’t know I was that kind of girl. After a few embarrassing moments, it came out that he had been in the nursery and had no idea that I was referring to Fred’s message that he had not heard. My foot still stays in my mouth more than on the ground and when I put it on the ground, I break it!
    Sadly, just fine is all some people want to hear at times and we are left trying to fit the puzzle pieces together.

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