Oh, mama. I have such a heart-wrenching number of people in my life who have experienced trials and grief and loss lately. 

Some of the losses are due to literal, physical death—unexpected, too-soon passings of people my sweet friends cannot imagine life without.

Some of the losses, though, have been caused by other kinds of death: the death of dreams or hopes or expectations of what would or could or should be. 

I’ve tried to check in with these women as they’ve journeyed through their seasons of sorrow—and admittedly, have done an unsteady job of it. Often, when I’ve asked how they are, they’ve answered, “I’m doing OK.” By which I understand they do not necessarily really mean, “OK.”

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From what I can glean from these brave friends and from my own experiences in OK-land, “I’m doing OK,” is sometimes just the easiest, most socially acceptable way of communicating, “I’m not good or fine. I’m something else, something complicated and messy that I’m not even sure about myself.”

I don’t pretend for one second to fully grasp what my friends mean when they say they’re “doing OK.” But here are a few possibilities that seem like they might honor the truth. 

  1. I’m hurting and struggling and maybe on the verge of tears. But I know I need to keep doing regular life, so I’m here at church or school drop-off or the grocery store, trying to hold it together.
  2. I’m functioning enough that I was able to get out of bed today. Which does not mean I wanted to. And which does not mean I’ll be able to tomorrow. 
  3. How I’m doing is too multilayered and too involved and takes too long to explain in one word. So I’ll say “OK” for now. But ask me again in some other place when we have more time—and a lot more tissues—and I’ll give you another answer that uses a lot more words. 
  4. I’m mad. Furious, in fact. 
  5. I’m tired. Bone-weary, in fact. 
  6. I know you mean well and I believe that you truly do care how I’m doing, but I don’t know you well enough to know if I can trust you with the truth. Because the truth is often ugly and unpleasant and uncomfortable. So I’ll just take the route that’s easiest for both of us and tell you I’m doing OK. But thank you for asking. 
  7. I actually am doing OK. I’m not great or wonderful, but I’m not terrible. I’m in between where I was and where I want to be. Which feels like a victory in and of itself. 

As near as I can tell from the honest feedback I’ve gotten from my hurting friends, sometimes “OK” represents a step forward, and other times it represents a stumble back. 

Whichever way “doing OK” leans on a given day, I need to be a lot more intentional about remembering to ask, “How are you?”

Because sometimes, we all just need the comfort of knowing there’s someone who knows our lives well enough to understand that the question needs asking in the first place. 

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two teenage daughters who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.