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Staying Alive With One Foot In The Mouth

A couple of years ago, an old friend that I had grown up with was in a terrible car crash, and unfortunately did not make it. She left behind a young son, and as an only child, her parents were understandably heart broken.

To help cover the cost of her funeral and the costs associated with raising her son, her parents held a fund raiser by selling port-a-pit chicken. I was in town that weekend, and my mom wanted to go show her support, so we went down to the fund raiser. It was at a gas station, and absolutely packed, so my mom jumped out of the car to go get the chicken while I circled the station.

A few minutes later, she hops back into the car, her face was the color of a cherry tomato, and she looked really upset.

“What is wrong?” I asked as we pulled onto the street.

“I really put my foot in my mouth this time,” she answered.

She then told me that while buying the chicken, she bumped into “Leona” the mother of my friend who had passed away. She said hello and asked how “Leona” was holding up. “Leona” responded and then asked my mom how she was doing.

My mom replied just as she always does when someone asks her how she has been.

“I’m alive.”

Oops. 1004-13

I think people do and should overlook “shallow stupid” things people say in awkward moments.   The intention was not to be hurtful, just mindless for a moment.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Marozia October 7, 2013, 4:24 am

    Mindless, but also idiotic!
    ‘My mum replied just as she always does when some asks her how she has been.’ “I’m alive”.
    AND….she says that to all her friends when they ask her???
    Maybe she should change her tack. The “I’m alive” is getting a little old (and vulgar too).
    (Marozia shakes her head in disbelief!!!)!!!

  • Jess October 8, 2013, 6:22 am

    I actually winced when I read this

  • Lo October 8, 2013, 6:45 am

    I really feel for your mother. She must have felt awful afterwards.

    I think this is one of those times where it’s okay to do the awkward thing and once you realize just stop everything and so. “Oh I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry.” or “It’s just a saying, I wasn’t thinking, I’m sorry.” Just offer up an apology right in the moment, don’t pretend it didn’t happen.

    You’re already looking bad, what have you got to lose?

  • Easily Amused October 8, 2013, 6:50 am

    I don’t know that “I’m alive” is such a bad thing to say. Someone who has survived cancer or some other serious illness might take great joy in uttering the words “I’m alive!”. It was a mindless thing to say, but it’s possible the lady she was speaking to didn’t even register her reply.

    If you say something mindless in the moment: apologize for your thoughtlessness, hug the person if it is appropriate to do so and move on!

  • Sarah Jane October 8, 2013, 7:04 am

    There are just some colloquialisms/metaphorical sayings/clichés that people use all the time which actually make light of serious issues. It’s just accepted.

    But I’m of the mind that there are always better, more sensitive things to say. For example, I don’t let my children say they’re “starving” (there are children in parts of the world who really are starving, and it’s no joke.) I don’t let them say “scared to death” or “This is killing me.” Not that those words are terrible… Just insensitive.

    I agree with Marozia…your mother may come across as a more positive, pleasant person if she got out of the habit of replying “I’m alive”, as if there is nothing better to say about her life. At the very least, she could reply with, “I can’t complain.”

  • Cerys October 8, 2013, 7:09 am

    Reminds me of the time I encountered an obviously distressed young woman who was sitting crying by the side of the street. I asked her if she was okay – long story short, she was upset about recent events in her life and had been feeling borderline suicidal. We talked for a bit, and she seemed to perk up. And my parting words? ‘Hang in there’.

  • VanessaGa81 October 8, 2013, 8:01 am

    I think “idiotic” is a bit harsh. We’ve all had foot in mouth moments and it’s always mortifying; heaping abuse on the head of the offender doesn’t really clear up the issue. I imagine that the OP’s mother was probably more careful about choosing her words after this incident.

  • Angel October 8, 2013, 8:03 am

    I absolutely hate when someone responds like this. In any scenario. It comes off as a little obnoxious. In this context, it was hurtful. I know your mom didn’t mean it this way, but that’s how it came off. Perhaps she will think a little more before she gives this type of response–in any scenario.

    That being said I can’t think of one person including myself, who hasn’t put their foot in their mouth at one time or another. She shouldn’t be too hard on herself, just learn from it and don’t do it again.

  • Alexis October 8, 2013, 8:48 am

    I don’t understand why “I’m alive!” Would be idiotic or vulgar–it’s just a self-deprecating thing some people say. I have a tendency to say it on days when I’m not doing great and people ask me how I am. It’s my way of avoiding responding negatively to a pleasantry but trying to insert a little humor into it. It’s something I do automatically some days, like saying “not too bad” which is also a strange thing to say if you think about it. “I’m alive” seems to be one of the most innocuous things that you can say in these situations!

  • MichelleP October 8, 2013, 8:53 am

    So, Marozia and Jess, you’ve never said anything even remotely inappropriate at any time to anyone???

    OP, your mother didn’t do anything deliberately wrong. I have to agree, though, there are better responses. My grandmother is very morbid and says “I’m alive” to anyone who asks how she is, and whenever she makes plans “I’ll be there, God willing”. They just seem so negative.

    Life is too short to only say “I’m alive.”

  • Alexis October 8, 2013, 8:53 am

    To clarîfy, by “these situations” I do not mean the OP’s situation–this would definitely be embarrassing but we’ve all done it at some point or another. It just seems easier in an everyday situation as a response to “Zhou are you doing?” than going off about how terrible things are.

  • Mary October 8, 2013, 8:54 am

    I will agree with Adm. Your mom’s comments were a little mindless. We’ve all been there. Maybe she can learn from her embarassment and pick a new “go to” phrase – as other posters have suggested; “I can’t complain” or “I’m fine”, etc.
    I think to say that her comments were “idotic” was way harsh and uncalled for really. We have all had foot-in-mouth moments. Live and learn and try to make it better next time.

  • Library Diva October 8, 2013, 8:55 am

    Everyone strives not to do stuff like this, but it’s an inevitable part of being human. In graduate school, I was over at the school building and computer lab right before packing up to head home for the break. Christmas was about a week away. That morning, I’d made a couple of other stops in town, and had been running into everyone I knew for the last time before the holidays. The town was very small and very homogenous, and I’d been saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone all morning. So by the time I encountered a Jewish classmate….I was on total autopilot. To her immense credit, she smiled and said “Thanks LD, you too! See you in January!”

    She knew I didn’t mean to be hurtful or insensitive, but that I just wasn’t thinking. I am sure that OP’s mom will be forgiven. Sadly, from my experience on Ehell, I know that so many people will come out of the woodwork to say deliberately horrible things to this grieving woman that a mere slip of the tongue won’t be remembered.

  • Elizabeth October 8, 2013, 9:28 am

    Good intentions prevail. Although it may have sounded flippant, those that know your Mom know her and her manner and will see the truth.

  • Lisa October 8, 2013, 9:45 am

    This is right up there with asking if a woman is pregnant. I’m a woman myself and should know better, which I do now, but obviously didn’t when I asked the question… learn and move on.

  • Shalamar October 8, 2013, 9:47 am

    My dad has the habit of answering “Without” when someone asks how he’s doing. Drives my mother crazy.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith October 8, 2013, 10:08 am

    This one could have been fixed pretty easily with a sincere and immediate apology on the day of its occurrence- if left to fester, then yes, not good. Following up with gestures of support and help is also ideal. It normalizes the relationship.

  • Kovi October 8, 2013, 10:21 am

    I don’t get why a few readers seem to be freaking out so badly over this. Yes, in this particular instance it had the potential to be very hurtful. But it’s obvious that your mother didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and in this case, something she normally said happened to be the wrong thing. It’s definitely a case of ‘foot in mouth’ disease, but it’s hardly idiotic or vulgar. Friends and I say the same thing to each other all the time. It’s a simple joke.

  • SKV October 8, 2013, 10:24 am

    We’ve all done it, OP. Tell your Mom to cut herself some slack. It wasn’t maliciously intended and the other mother in this scenario knows that.

  • Cromo October 8, 2013, 10:58 am

    I know I’ve definitely put my foot in my mouth. About ten years ago, my husband’s mother was killed when she was hit by a car while we were all on vacation in Colorado over Christmas. While her family was at the hospital and she was still being treated (my husband was skiing and didn’t even know yet what had happened, otherwise I would have been at the hospital with him) I stayed behind at the cabin, trying to contact the people skiing and began to clean up, pack suitcases, etc. because I knew we would all be heading back to Denver as she was supposed to be transported by helicopter to a larger hospital (this was before she passed). A few days later at a family gathering before the funeral, my mother-in-law’s sister came up to me and thanked me for helping out at the cabin before we left. What I meant to say was something along the lines of “No need to thank me, I knew everyone needed to focus on MIL and I was just doing what I could to help out.” Instead, what came out of my mouth was “You’re welcome, it’s not all about me.” She just looked at me for a minute and said “Well . . . no . . . but thanks again,” and turned and walked away. I stood there thinking what did I just say! She never said anything to me about that, what could she say, and, as far as I know, never said anything to anyone else, but to this day I still cringe when I think about that.

  • Kristin October 8, 2013, 11:00 am

    This kind of thoughtless foot-in-mouth disease is rampant. I know I’ve said a few things that I look back on and want to slap myself in the forehead for.

    I’ve been on the other side of this a number of times lately. My youngest cousin committed suicide a little over a year ago – we’re a small family, so it hit especially hard; I was raised with him, and he was very young. I still haven’t stopped flinching every time someone makes a joking comment like “oh I could just kill myself for that” or “I just wanted to hang myself” (that was his method). I imagine I just have some really clueless friends; I’ve wanted to chew them out once or twice for being so insensitive, but I hate to draw any more attention to it. Not once has anyone said “oh, god, I didn’t mean that – I’m sorry!” and I really wish they had.

  • sio8bhan October 8, 2013, 11:06 am

    I think everyone can stop heaping on the abuse. The speaker has chastised herself plenty. We all have said things that make us cringe immediately.

  • technobabble October 8, 2013, 12:04 pm

    Last week I attended the funeral for the 25-year-old son of a couple with whom my parents are very close to. The circumstances of his death were very tragic and unexpected, and he had left behind a girlfriend and 9 month old daughter. My parents and I got to the funeral home early and found seats in the back row. Two middle-aged women came and sat next to me shortly afterward. I did not know who they were or how they knew the deceased, but as they chatted between themselves before the service started, I overheard bits and pieces of their conversation. One of the women commented that it was rather warm in the building we were in. The other woman replied a little louder than I’m sure she intended, “I know! I’m DYING over here!”

    There was silence, and several people in the row in front of us turned around briefly. The
    woman was obviously embarrassed, but nobody really judged her too harshly for it, I think. She just said something that people say. It wasn’t meant to offend anybody – she just wasn’t thinking. So I don’t think OP’s mother needs to feel too bad about her gaffe. Everybody does it at one point or another.

  • kingsrings October 8, 2013, 12:51 pm

    To be completely honest, it does come across as a strange thing to say in general in response to those who ask. Although your mother means no ill behind it, I think she should think of something a little less odd and unnerving to say in response to this question. She may not think it seems like that, but it definitely has the capability to come across like that to others.
    In this case though, we’ve all put our foot in our mouths before (even those on here who are scolding the mother have!) and your mother intended no harm at all behind it, so she’s to be forgiven for this indiscretion. I once knew of someone who asked a classmate whom she hadn’t seen in a while how her daughter was doing. She’d totally forgotten that said classmate had given up her daughter for adoption upon the birth! Boy, was she kicking herself for a long time after that one…..

  • Ellex October 8, 2013, 1:58 pm

    That’s awful, and I totally laughed. I know what it feels like to have jammed your foot so far into your mouth that you don’t stop until you hit knee.

    I will share a story in commiseration with your mother.
    I used to work as a waitress and found that I made more tips as a chatty, bubbly, cheerful type. The switch didn’t always get flipped back to “normal” when I went back into the kitchen. One day I go back there and the gal behind the desert line looks glum. So as I grab my deserts from the line I say “It’s not so bad. Cheer up!”

    Immediately I’m pulled aside by one of the other waiters. It turns out the desert cook’s father had died over the weekend. My only saving grace was that at the time English wasn’t the first language of anyone on the cookline at the time. So to this day I can tell myself that she didn’t really hear me.

    I never say “cheer up” anymore though. Which is good, because it’s annoying as eHell.

    The good news is that no one dwells on these incidences other than the person who committed them.

  • McGrizz October 8, 2013, 3:28 pm


    Clearly you do not know my mom. Thank you for your kind words. Have a lovely day.

  • Karen October 8, 2013, 3:39 pm

    What is port-a-pit chicken?

  • Leah October 8, 2013, 3:51 pm

    Just like most things, doesn’t it matter how you say it? When I’ve been having a rough time, and someone who knows that fact asks how I am, I sometimes say “I’m alive!” with kind of a smile and a laugh, because it really is how I feel – it’s a reminder to myself that things could definitely be worse, and hey, here I am talking to someone who cares! If, on the other hand, it’s said in a grudging way, like “that’s all I can say,” then yeah, can be obnoxious. The person in the OP shouldn’t feel too bad. It’s not automatically insensitive to say such a thing. Sometimes, you mean it, and you’re glad to say it!

  • Jess October 8, 2013, 5:07 pm

    “So, Marozia and Jess, you’ve never said anything even remotely inappropriate at any time to anyone???”

    Yes, yes indeed I have. That is the precise reason I winced, because I have been in similar situations before. I know how badly you want the floor to just open up and pull you anywhere that is not that there, and I cringe internally every time I remember a past gaffe (or even wince or grimace outwardly if it’s particularly bad). So sue me for having an empathetic reaction.

    Thankyou for the assumptive social justice comment, my apologies that I can’t be your bad guy today.

  • Jenn50 October 8, 2013, 5:15 pm

    Thanks, Leah, that’s exactly how I felt about this. I really can’t understand all the harsh comments.

  • hakayama October 8, 2013, 6:25 pm

    McGrizz: Your Mom did not need to feel bad about the episode you’ve narrated. The perhaps trite “all occasion” response failed her that time, so she probably had to find one TRULY suitable for all occasions.
    Perhaps there’s also hope for a phrase less strident than “MERRY Christmas” to make its way into the mainstream… Something that would not only include non-Christians, but also folks whose personal circumstances are less than jingle bells celebratory.

    As far as “Leona” is concerned, I suspect that the woman in question was holding up pretty darn well. Possibly better than many of her daughter’s friends… She’s one that I think should be in E-Hell for arranging a fund raiser, basically for HER benefit. I know, I know, people grieve in different ways, but still… I suspect she had no problem with being the center of attention.
    (BTW: I understand that these chicken and BBQ affairs net very little.)
    Am I mistaken in my belief that Social Security pays out benefits to minor children of deceased workers? And where is Daddy?
    It wasn’t until I moved to the “boonies” that I’ve come across the fundraisers that seem to be just a great excuse for boozing it up, pigging out, whooping about for a good cause. However, “Leona’s affair” really takes the cake.
    I do have to admit that having been raised by proud-ish traditional Europeans, I tend to look with less than respect at anything that even vaguely smacks of “gimme”. And “Leona’s” jump into the “help me mode” is quite unsettling. No money for a funeral? Just like weddings, funerals can be done on a shoe-string…
    A brief return to greetings: I pay a lot of attention to words, and have a tendency to take things literally. So when a total stranger, such as a clerk that passes me by in Home Depot greets me with a “How are you?” or “How you doin’?” I sort of feel out of sorts. Do I ignore it? Respond with “Fine, thanks.” “I’m alive.” 😉 Or, as sometimes I actually say to supermarket cashiers, “You don’t really want to know.” Which in turn takes them by surprise as it seems they don’t really expect any answer. Much less one that deviates from the norm.
    How bad am I with paying attention to words? I cannot focus on work if there’s vocal music in the background. I have to listen to those words, regardless of their merit or total lack of it. I just cannot shut them out.
    I know, it’s my problem. But words are so powerful…often magical and sacred. Think about it.

  • Dee October 8, 2013, 6:40 pm

    Is this perhaps a natural response to all the greetings of “How are you?” that are anything but queries as to how you are doing? How does one respond to those greetings, if one is not all that well, since the asker is probably not actually wanting a truthful answer? And if one does respond with “Fine!” when not then one feels deceptive. So I can see how an “I’m alive!” could be the truthful but lighthearted answer that covers all ground. Maybe not as politically correct as it should be and maybe a better response is out there waiting to be used but OP’s mom seems to know that, now. I can’t imagine any harm done if the receiver of the comment knows that the mom has her heart in the right place. The actions (support for the fundraiser) speak louder than the impulsive words.

  • babs October 8, 2013, 7:16 pm

    Jess, I totally understood what you meant. I cringed. Same thing.

    Most of us feel the embarrassment of the OP’s mom because we’ve been there at some time. I think what I’ve learned by reading all of the comments, is that when a situation like this arises, the best thing to do is to deal with it right then and there. A hug and a quick apology would have settled the whole matter. I’m going to try and remember that! Although in those situations we’re usually so mortified we freeze up and then agonize over it for the rest of our lives!

  • The Elf October 8, 2013, 8:11 pm

    I’ve tasted shoe leather more than once. It’s awful, but everyone does it, especially on these rote kind of responses. The only thing you can do is apologize immediately, then let it go.

  • MyWorldand October 8, 2013, 10:31 pm

    Many years ago, my mother was visiting us from out of town. Our little 4 year old son had been invited to a pool party at the community indoor pool. My mom came along when I took him to the party. She watched the kids for a while and then walked off to check out the rest of the facilities. About 10 minutes later she came back, all flustered with her face beet red.

    She had gone out to the outdoor pool and started chatting with a man that was in the water. My mother looked at him and said “Its so cold I don’t think I could put even one foot in that water” The man glared at her and said “I can not believe how rude you are!” and he swam away.

    Don’t you know, that of all the people that were at the pool that day, my mother happened to pick a man with only one leg to chat with!

  • Kate October 9, 2013, 12:24 am

    I’d like to give the perspective of someone who has been on the receiving end of these sort of “oops” comments.
    I have depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, have been hospitalised in the past, and have attempted suicide. I have a few friends who know all about it, and sometimes they’ll accidentally say something like “I could just kill myself” or “I had to tuck the sheets in, I’m so OCD!”. Then they immediately look at me with this “Oh no…” look on their face. I have to say, I honestly do not care about simple slips of the tongue like that! The only time I care is if someone has a habit of making repeated insensitive comments to get a rise out of people.

  • Niamh84 October 9, 2013, 4:09 am

    Many years ago when my grandmother (on my mother’s side) died – we had to get some workmen in to clear up a drain because everyone was coming back to our house after the funeral. So my mum stayed home from work grieving her mother and preparing for the funeral the next day. The drain cleaner people rang the doorbell and she answered it with what she thought was a neutral face but she must have looked utterly miserable because the man said “Cheer up luv, it might never happen!” He then stepped into the hall and noticed the flowers and a couple of wreaths and just said “oh sorry!”

    She was really upset about it at the time but when she told us the story later we couldn’t stop laughing, so she ended up laughing too and now tells it as a story that ends with how funny it was that the poor man was so embarrassed at what he said.

    I hope he stopped saying that to people though.

  • ebrain October 9, 2013, 6:40 am

    Oh, my. Poor mum – I, too, cringed. But I do hope she will take a deep breath, apologize if the opportunity every presents itself (and perhaps create an opportunity), and continue to be a friend and comfort to the grieving mother.

    As to what one says when asked by service staff, by way of greeting, “how are you?”, I generally answer as honestly as I can, and return the inquiry. First, because I consider it polite (though it is a social formula and very superficial), and second because they are human beings and deserve to be treated as such. My “I’m doing well enough by my standards, thanks; how are you?” is usually met with some surprise, and perhaps we can have a pleasant conversation about how the day is measuring up. (Or not, depending on the response.)

  • kingsrings October 9, 2013, 11:43 am

    My confessions of times I’ve put my foot in my mouth:

    I was seeing a therapist a couple of times a month, and she had told me she was expecting. On one visit, I asked her how she was doing pregnancy-wise, only to be told that she’d lost the baby five months along. I so wanted the earth to swallow me up!! I apologized a million times. But she took it in stride and wasn’t offended at all, fortunately. From then on, I have never discussed a person’s pregnancy with them unless they bring it up first.

    I was working at a college. A student brought in her new baby boy. His eyes looked just like hers, so I remarked that he had her same beautiful eyes. She shot me the dirtiest look ever. When they had left, my co-worker informed me that her son was adopted. I was sorry I offended her, but in my defense, how could I be expected to know the personal life details of my students?

    I was volunteering at a theater that was holding general auditions one day. I had volunteered at this theater many times, and it was in a very rough area. We volunteers had to constantly be careful, as there were a lot of unsavory characters wandering around outside. Sometimes they would try to come into our building, hence us locking the doors all of the time and being careful about who we let in. So that day, a man came up to our door, and because he was walking with great difficulty, I thought he was one of the many drunks that were in that area. I told the other volunteers to just ignore him and he would go away. It turned out that he was one of the actors auditioning, and that he had cerebral palsy. Again, I wanted to die on the spot. Thank goodness a million times over that one of the other volunteers knew him personally and could inform me of that, so the man never knew that I had thought that of him!

  • starstruck October 9, 2013, 2:10 pm

    iam not gonna lie, this made me giggle a little . just because, lets face it, this is one of those things that you can laugh about lonnnnng after its happened. ofcourse your mom didnt mean anything mean by it. its just one of those slips. those tongue before brain slips.

  • starstruck October 9, 2013, 2:20 pm

    and whats with all the people harping on saying “iam alive!”. i mean, not only is it a true statment , but its something to be gratful for! to me its like saying, “well i cant complain” . and its better than when people say negative things like , ” same crap, different day “( i hate that one):))

  • RooRoo October 9, 2013, 2:41 pm

    “How does one respond to those greetings, if one is not all that well, since the asker is probably not actually wanting a truthful answer? ”

    I just say, “Oh, getting along.” It’s inoffensive, and it’s the truth; and often earns a laugh. And it doesn’t invite inquiries such as “What’s wrong?”

    Sometimes I’m getting along well, sometimes badly; but if I’m in a position where someone can ask me how I am, then I’m getting along in some way. If I’m not getting along at all, then I am at home, not answering the phone.

  • Niamh84 October 10, 2013, 7:39 am

    @kingsrings I wouldn’t worry too much about your first two stories. The therapist had told you she was pregnant previously so I wouldn’t fault you for asking her how she’s getting on.

    As for the second one, I can’t imagine why such a comment would offend her. My siblings and I are not biologically related and look nothing like eachother. People have many a time over many years commented on my siblings and I looking like or unlike eachother. When they say any of us look alike, I always just say, “thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment!” (because my sister’s gorgeous!) and if they say we look nothing like eachother I’ll just joke something like “ah yeah, we can’t all be as beautiful as big bro here” or something like that. I’d never dream of glaring at anyone for it and I’ve never been offended (though now that I think about, it’s not a comment I would ever make to anyone else about their families but that’s just me being overly cautious – I wouldn’t expect that from anyone else).

    As for your third story, lucky escape!! That could have been extremely embarrassing!

  • Kirsten October 10, 2013, 7:57 am

    “So as I grab my deserts from the line I say “It’s not so bad. Cheer up!”

    I have to admit that this is the only example that I find offensive. I know it’s mindless, but it’s the only one that’s an order and it’s often used as a power play, particularly towards women. If you don’t know someone, don’t tell them to cheer up. They might be grieving. Or they just might not be happy – it’s none of your business. Leave them alone.

    I have had it said to me after a funeral of someone very young, by a total stranger, and was very young myself. So I snarled, “My friend’s just died, I’m not cheering up!” Bad Kirsten. A friend of mine said it to a man who screamed at her that his wife had just died, together with where she could get off, telling him to look happy.

    Most people look sad for a reason. Why on earth would you tell them to cheer up?

    And yes, I have put my foot in my mouth more often that I can bear to think about, but I have never ordered a total stranger to cheer up.

  • Tamjamb October 10, 2013, 7:59 am

    Poor lady — this is somethng that truly does happen to everybody. Nothing idiotic or vulgar (?), just good ol’ foot-in-mouth disease.

    My late dad (he died this past June), always responded to the “how are you’ queries with ‘I’m still on the right side of the grass!’