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You’ll Be Fine
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Encouragement, but for whom? When I had a health crisis, a friend took me to the E.R. “You’ll be fine,” she said, periodically, as we waited for the doctor. At one point, especially after the E.R. doctor didn’t express such certainty, it occurred to me that my friend was reassuring herself as much as trying to reassure me. In the end, I was fine. I am fine (some years have passed).

The same was true when I was widowed. “You’ll be fine.” Said by a number of people at my husband’s memorial service, at work when I went back, in my neighborhood when I went for my daily walks alone. And they were right, too. But who were they reassuring.

I’ve learned not to say that phrase. It’s meaningless. Because it doesn’t affect the outcome, it isn’t reassuring. It’s a phrase like “how are you?” Answer, “fine.” It’s one of those phrases you say whether it’s true or not. In the case of “you’ll be fine,” it’s more a wish than a reality. At the moment the words are said, the individuals in the crisis are usually entirely unsure of the outcome.

Sometimes, of course, the speakers are sure of the outcome. A little kid cries about not getting a treat. “You’ll be fine” is basically true and the kid isn’t suffering. So Mom tries to get the kid to move on.

The opposite can also be true. I’ve heard that phrase said to someone who’s clearly not going to make it. A friend retired in 2001 and, within a month, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She called her closest friends and we went to her house, sat in her kitchen, and she opened a bottle of champagne, having decided not to struggle with the inevitable. Her first comment was, “Thank God I didn’t annuitize.” We drank a toast, then someone said, “There are new treatments now. They can do so much. You’ll be fine.” Annika fixed her gimlet eye on the speaker and said, “After I’m dead. It’ll be hell until then. Drink up and don’t lie.”

I’ve always admired Annika’s attitude, her directness, and her refusal to lie to herself. I try to emulate my long-gone friend when I face tough times myself. I also never say, “You’ll be fine” to anyone.

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