I’m Grieving for the First Time. Can I Talk About It?

My aunt died from Covid complications two weeks ago. This is my first time grieving a family member, and she’s really present in my mind. I’m not sure whether or how to bring this up with acquaintances and co-workers. I respond honestly if someone asks me a direct question about my family. But even casual questions — like “What did you do this weekend?” — make me think of my aunt. (I went to a Zoom funeral.) I don’t want to make things awkward for others, and I definitely don’t want to cry in front of my neighbors. But it feels wrong not to say the thing at the top of my mind. What’s the best way to handle this?


Cry in front of your neighbors! I’m sorry for your loss. Sadly, there is no “right” way to cope with grief. For now, give yourself permission to express your feelings, however they bubble up, and put aside your normally thoughtful attention to the comfort of others. This is a time for mourning, not for worrying about the guy in marketing.

Now, it won’t take long to learn that some people and places are better for sharing feelings than others. “How are you?” asked in passing at the beginning of a Zoom meeting is qualitatively different than during a leisurely walk. Personal closeness counts too. But don’t discount strangers entirely. One of the best talks I had after my father died was with a man I’d never met on a Fifth Avenue bus.

You will make your own path. Over time, you may feel less urgency in speaking of your aunt. But until then, be generous with yourself. An important person has left this world. Her loss and meaning in your life are important questions to consider.

Wafting Through the Window

My mother lives in a senior-living apartment building. Residents can buy a meal plan or cook for themselves. The woman who lives beneath my mother cooks, and her cooking odors come directly into my mother’s apartment. My mother opens windows and turns on a special fan provided by management, but the smells persist. It doesn’t help that the woman cooks at 8 p.m., later than normal dinnertime. We realize this woman has every right to eat when she wants to, but shouldn’t management speak to her about ventilation in her apartment? Or maybe my mother should speak to the woman directly?


Listen, I get feeling protective of an older parent. But I’m also wary of unduly burdening the woman downstairs. She has a right to sustenance (even at the scandalous hour of 8 p.m.). And the responsibility for properly ventilating apartments falls squarely on the shoulders of building management. Don’t let up on them!

The building should hire a mechanical engineer to solve this issue or move your mother to another unit. The woman downstairs may be asked for reasonable access to her apartment to fix the problem. But she has a right to cook and enjoy her unit, and it’s not fair to expect her to correct the building’s mechanical problems.

About Your Alter Ego …

I have a friend with whom I interact socially and professionally. In direct communication, he’s lovely. But his social media presence is toxic. He is quite far to the left, which is fine, but I’m tired of how vicious he is to anyone who disagrees with him. Our field operates on social media, so I can’t abandon the platform. Should I mute him or talk to him about his cursing and name-calling?


The easy thing, of course, is to mute him and move along. But if he’s truly a friend, I think you have a duty to speak up. A few tips: Call him, no typed messages. And start with a positive statement: “I really value our friendship.”

Then make your constructive criticism: “It upsets me to see you attack people on social media. It’s your right to express yourself, but I don’t think it reflects what a kind person you are. Maybe think about it?” Then listen. He may be defensive at first, then soften after time for reflection.

Now You Tell Me?

My brother married in May. But he only told me months later when I visited him for his birthday. His excuse was that Covid would have made it impossible for me to attend. He still could have told me! He called me yesterday for the first time since I learned the news. I was upset, so my responses were curt; he hung up on me. I’m at a loss for what to do next?


Why not take your brother at his word? He decided it would be frustrating for you to know about the wedding and be unable to attend. And he waited to tell you until he could do it in person. (I buy it.) I also get that you don’t like it. But wouldn’t it be better to discuss how you’d prefer to handle news in the future than feud about possibly good-faith mistakes in the past?

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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