How Are You?

A sign on the side of a city apartment building reads, "How are you, really?"
Photo by Des Récits on Unsplash

… I do not have an answer to this question that anyone finds satisfactory. Least of all me.

Today is three weeks. On a podcast I was listening to the other day, one of the hosts said that the thing he has noticed about experiences of grief is that somewhere around the three-to-four weeks point, people stop asking about the grief thing. There’s a sense that it’s time to talk about other things or to get back to some kind of normal. And if there’s one thing that the pandemic taught me, it’s how many people I share a society with who love an ill-advised and premature return to normal.

I do not feel normal. I barely feel human.

It’s true though, about the need for normal creeping back in and the people starting to fall away. By the week three point, the meals and visits have abated and the steady flow of cards has reduced somewhat and at first, to be honest, it’s a bit of a relief, because all those things are really, truly difficult to process and engage with in a way that feels meaningful. But then it sinks in that people on the outer circles of your life are kind of done with the grieving thing, and it feels a bit like the circles are going to keep falling away from here on out until it’s just, you know. You.

A few days after Dad’s death, someone called and asked how I was and when I reflexively said, “I’m okay,” they said, “No. You’re not. How can you be?” And that is both true and also, whew, a whole lot to come back at someone with when they’re emotionally unstable. Sometimes an “okay” is less an “okay” and more a finger in the emotional dam, just trying to hold back the floods, you know? Let me repress in peace.

When people ask how I’m doing now I mostly just tell them that everything sucks, but then I kind of laugh, like, “Everything sucks but what can you do, I hope I’m not making you uncomfortable.” Today I went to a bunch of meetings for the first time with people who largely don’t already know, and I didn’t tell them, and the whole thing made me feel dissociated and weird. But also it feels like a weird piece of news to bring to the cold intros on a Teams call, you know? “Fun fact about me: my dad is dead and I’m not keeping it together. Now who is going to screen share today?”

The physicality of grief is not new to me, but it’s different. My most recent experiences of grief came from a series of miscarriages, so the physicality of that grief was not a surprise; it’s wrapped up in the physical experience itself. But this grief is very physical too. I’m tired, but it’s more than that — I am tired in my bones. Existentially tired. My brain wanders; focus is difficult. Sometimes I’m not hungry and other times I feel like I can never eat enough. All the places I carry stress — my lower back, my shoulders — are screaming. There is not enough sleep in the history of consciousness, and also I wake up every hour just because I do.

Three weeks.

I am in no rush to get to normalcy. The idea of it ever feeling normal for my dad to not be here makes me wince. The world will come for me and I am trying to re-engage with the world. But none of it feels fair or right or reasonable. None of it feels normal.

How are you?

Pretty shitty.

Hope that’s okay.


  • Same same. We are moving toward the four-month mark here in our family.

    Something that helped me process how I was feeling I found in a book on grief (right after it happened, all i could do was research research research). The book talked about the difference between pain and suffering.

    Pain are those parts of your life that you have some control over — you can move your body, you can eat, in other words: how you can work to help take care of your broken heart in tangible ways.

    Suffering is different. Suffering is that ache and sadness that is so deep and transformative, and may never feel ease.

    What I’ve been finding helpful is understanding what parts of my life I can take care of, pain-wise. And which parts I need to hold space for my suffering.

    It’s also helped me in how to talk to my friends and family about how they can be there for us — I know so many times people want to help, but they just don’t know what to do.

    Anyway, my heart is with you. I feel shitty too. <3

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