DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has a chronic, debilitating illness. Frequently I field phone calls from his family or queries from friends I run into, and I don’t seem to have the right answer for “How’s Bob?”
I hate telling people the situation is awful every time I talk to them. Some people don’t really want to know, and it’s depressing for everyone else. I’ve tried out, “There’s no change,” “About the same” or “He’s managing,” but even those are getting stale. I already know I can’t respond with a casual “He’s fine,” because people often take that to mean he’s improved, inevitably leading to a need for clarification.
He has one family member I would like to tell this: “When I say he’s OK, what I really mean is that nothing has changed, some days are worse than others, we don’t expect it to improve, he’s not in the hospital and he’s not dead. That’s what ‘OK’ means to us.”
My husband emphasizes his poor condition to this person, and wants me to do the same, so the family member will leave him alone. I haven’t observed it to be effective. Any suggestions I can add to my repertoire?
GENTLE READER: “About as well as can be expected, thank you. I’ll tell him you called.”
Miss Manners realizes that this is no better than what you have been saying, but it’s longer, and the last part is a signoff, so she hopes it will help. Please allow her to say that she also hopes that you don’t dismiss everyone, but are frank with the people whom you and he really care about – for their sake, yours and your husband’s.