(818) 788-HOPE (4673)
Grief Support Groups Serving West Los Angeles, Encino and Agoura Hills

“How Are You?”
Those Three Little Words

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Three little words (TLW). A simple phrase that comes out of people’s mouths as easily and unconsciously as an exhale.  

When said to a griever, it takes their breath away for a moment as they are hit with the realization again. The realization of the death of their loved one just when they were attempting to stay away from the feelings for a while. So there is a hesitation to calculate how they feel … or to figure out what to say to a phrase that has no easy answer right now. A mixture of emotions and thoughts flood their mind and body like an ocean wave.

How am I? I don’t know.

I’m lost.

I’m frightened.

I’m angry.

I’m so lonely.

I miss my loved one so badly. Where are they?

Please stop asking me!

Those three little words are usually and simply meant as a social connection. Often, it’s a true concern and kindness from a person knowing that you’re hurting. They care and don’t know what to say. It’s hard to know what to say when death takes away someone you love.  Everyone gets lost. Everything is changed.

So what can be done?

For you who are not grieving:

Do your best not to ask, “How are you?” as a social gesture… or ask it with true, conscious intent.

No one has the “right words” to say but consider the following:

  • I truly care. May I ask how you’re doing? 
  • I’m sorry that you’re hurting.
  • I know that this is a difficult time.
  • It’s good to see you. I think of you often and hold you in my heart.

Even then, it may not be “right.” Nothing feels “right “ to someone who is grieving. It’s just good to know that you see their pain… and acknowledge that it’s difficult. You don’t need to fix it, ignore it or focus on it. Just notice and be there for them.

For you who are grieving:

It’s going to happen, TLW will inevitably come out of someone’s mouth like an exhale. People don’t mean harm or to upset you. They generally just don’t know what to say and often really do care. Some ways that you might prepare to handle the situation include:

  1. Fog the answer: I’m hanging in there or I’m okay (even if you aren’t).
  2. State your truth: Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that right now. Please give me time. Thank you for asking and caring. I feel lost. I’m doing awful but I’m hoping to heal. Some days are better than others.
  3. Avoid a feeling answer and use a stock phrase:
  • Thank you for asking. I’m doing the best that I can right now.
  • I’m managing.
  • Minute by minute.

Having some understanding and patience for each other is important.

As one of our group members once said, “grief is not for wimps.”  It’s a natural, yet very messy, confusing, difficult journey that no one knows how to do. It will take you on an unexpected “ride” but you can find some guides to help you through. The HOPE grief groups, therapists and their members can be your guides, your safe place where you share your feelings, your confusion, your thoughts and eventually be able to answer those TLW without hesitation in a changed life.  

 “I’m healing and I’m going to be okay.”

By Jo Christner, Psy.D.