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“How Are You Doing?” Hits Differently When You’re Grieving

·471 words·3 mins

“How are you doing?” the woman on the phone asks me. It’s a throwaway courtesy line. The longer version of “hi,” ‘hello,” or “good morning.”

She doesn’t actually care. Strangers usually don’t care when they ask the question. They’re just being polite. I say either “good” or “okay” — after I hang up later, I won’t remember which one I said. It just flies out of my mouth, a lie to cover the reality of my day. The way I’m okay 95% of the time and then I find myself randomly crying, just for a few minutes at a time. It hasn’t been all that long since my sister‘s funeral and I’m wobbly here and there.

This isn’t my first rodeo. My father died just a few years ago. And the grief attacks were relentless at first. With time, they spaced out. But it was a nightmare for the first month or so.

I don’t want to get into any of that, so I just give a random answer that isn’t true. Either “good” or “okay.” I won’t remember which.

After I choke out this lie, the woman gets to what the heck she’s calling me about anyway.

She’s asking to reschedule my dental followup — wants to push it up an hour. I check my calendar. No big deal. I agree. She thanks me. I hang up.

And as I do, the full force of how I’m doing hits me like a freight train. Again. Memories from childhood flood in, reminding me of what I’ve lost. Riding around with my sister in her car, escaping because we’re both fed up with our mom, windows down, laughing, laughing as the air hits my face. I’m flooded with regrets from the present day. My brain performs a bit of mental calculus: “How often were you writing her?” “When was the last time?” “What did you say?” “Was it enough?” “Did it convey what she meant to you?”

I know the answers. I’ve already combed Facebook for this information (we talked regularly on the platform). But my brain wants to do the accounting again. It’s enough. I told her frequently that I loved her and why. But part of me wants to find a way that it isn’t enough. It wants to understand why I feel so shitty… it wants to make this grief my fault.

When I’m done with that, sharp-focus memories of the funeral flood in. I think those will be seared into my brain for a while.

I wipe my eyes. Take a few deep breaths. I let my body feel what it wants to feel. And once this latest emotional tidal wave subsides (one of many already and many still to come), I find myself reflecting on the way that “how are you doing?” hits differently when you’re grieving.


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