How are you? For reals?

Maybe we need a different kind of check-in?

I had this thought while reading an obituary for Anthony Bourdain. It seems everyone, including his mother, said, “He was the last person I’d expect to take his own life.”

I suppose we hear this all too often. Is it always the “least likely” to end their lives? Not particularly. I’m probably fortunate to count only one dear friend who took his own life. When I got that news, I wasn’t at all surprised; saddened, for sure, but not surprised.

This all makes me think of a moment after the death of my mother. Months after the funeral, a friend called to check in and said, “I don’t know – do you want to talk about your mom? Is it too depressing so long after the fact?
On the contrary, I was relieved to talk about her. Of course in the month after a family member’s death, that’s all anyone talks about with you. But soon thereafter, we Americans resort to our regularly-unhealthy relationship with death. We avoid it.

But it felt good to talk about my mom 5 months, 10 months, 1 year, or 5 years after her passing. It keeps her alive – not in a “I haven’t moved on with my life” kind of way, but in an appreciative form.

It’s healthy to address the reality of death. We can’t always hide from it or be protected from it. We need to consider it, accept it, even embrace it. Why hide from anxiety or things we can’t control?

And maybe when we let precious people unexpectedly slip through our fingers because “we never expected it”, means we need to address death more often? Perhaps when we’re able to get beyond small talk with friends, and when we’ve surpassed chit-chat about sports teams and summer vacations, included in our discussions of politics and art and God, maybe we need to strike at the heart of all matters and say “How areyou?” And implied in that italicized “are” is:

Are you OK?

Do you need help?

You won’t hurt yourself between now and the next time I see you, will you?…because you matter to me. Got it?

We are all far too preoccupied with material gain and working too hard and feeling guilt over not spending enough time with our kids. Life in 2018 is hard. So what point is there in keeping up appearances, anymore? It ain’t 1957. Aren’t profound relationships based on real connection? Sharing the worries and disappointments and stress of every day life? It’s more impactful to talk about our emotions and depression than our accomplishments. So much in life is fleeting and doesn’t matter. What does? Mental health. Without it, what have you?

How are you?


  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. So much about this post I love, thank you. I agree completely that we Westerners avoid engaging with Death so much, and yet there it is, waiting for all of us. I am profoundly changed and improved beyond measure by the loss of my Dad, my subsequent depression (which a couple of times made me think suicidal thoughts), and my understanding that my life is such a gift BECAUSE I’m going to die one day- maybe today, maybe tomorrow, hopefully not for another fifty years, but one day…

    I’m super well today thank you, with a new lover on the cards, a healthy son, and glorious Australian winter sunshine beaming on me. I was so sad to hear of Anthony’s suicide though, and it reminded me how bad I felt when my Dad died (of old age), and how fragile mental health can be for some people… bless you for this beautiful post, love G xO


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