Etiquette issue: Did I do wrong?

Discussion in 'The Watercooler' started by svengandhi, Oct 10, 2013.

  1. svengandhi

    svengandhi Well-Known Member

    A week or so ago, I read of the death of the adult daughter (mid-20's) of a woman I know. The daughter was a difficult child in her teens but had ultimately graduated from college and apparently married, since the obit had a hyphenated last name. The mother is not very well liked in town and can be quite overbearing. Although I'm not terribly fond of her, I have never personally had any problems with her and we have always interacted courteously at school functions; her middle child and my oldest were in the same grade. Anyway, it was Back to School night and I saw her at the school when I came in. She was talking to somebody and I didn't approach her. A few minutes later, she passed me in a hallway. Nobody else was there. She asked me what time the program began. I told her and then said "I'm so sorry about..." and she said "I really can't talk about it now." I truly didn't want to talk about it. The obit gave no cause of death, which in these parts generally means drug-related, AND it was pulled from the online paper after just a couple of hours, and even if there had been something listed, I wasn't about to chat her up about it. I just wanted to convey my sorrow as one mother to another over her loss, particularly since I knew the young woman. I feel badly now, like I upset her, although rationally it's hard to imagine that she could be thinking of much else but her daughter's death. I felt compelled to extend condolences since she spoke to me; otherwise, I would never have said anything at this point.

    The last thing I wanted to do was upset her. Did I do wrong by giving a condolence?
  2. GoingNorth

    GoingNorth Crazy Cat Lady

    No. You did nothing wrong. You did exactly what correct etiquette demands. A non-committal "sorry for your loss" or similar is the correct thing to say.

    When I returned to work after husband died, I ran into more than one person who told me husband was going to hell because he wasn't "saved" before he died. That upset me horribly.

    She was rude, but in the throes of her loss that can be excused. The correct response to a condolence message is "Thank You.".
  3. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    You absolutely did nothing wrong. It was courteous to offer condolences. It could be that right now any mention or kindness could break down her walls and leave her dealing with her feelings hen she isn't ready to do so. Sometimes a kind word can break you down faster than the harshest one. It doesn't mean the speaker is rude to you, just taht for some reason he touched a sensitive spot.

    In this situation, I would simply act as though nothing happened. Cut yourself some slack, we are not to blame if we accidentally hit a nerve while going about our day as reasonable human beings.
  4. scent of cedar

    scent of cedar New Member

    You did the right and human thing. This mother was probably holding on for all she was worth, just to get through the night. That you approached her was a good thing. To have avoided her, to have left her alone and in pain, would have been the wrong thing. It's just that, as is true with us sometimes, we are already stretched so thinly that responding "properly" is beyond us. For this mom, the situation must seem nightmarish.

    I am glad you approached her. It is what I would hope for, in that situation.

  5. LittleDudesMom

    LittleDudesMom Well-Known Member Staff Member

    You absolutely did the right thing. I think it's a bigger mistake to pretend nothing has changed.
  6. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I agree that you did the right thing. Perhaps just to hold it together she needed to avoid all of it. Whatever her reasoning, you were kind and appropriate.
  7. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    Ditto. DDD
  8. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    Another vote for "You did the right thing".

    The way I read her response is panic, rather than rudeness. As others have suggested, she had her game-face on, and the kind words from you may have made her control waver. Personally, I hate having strong emotional displays in public, and she might feel the same way.

    *You behaved properly. Please don't beat yourself up.
  9. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    I don't think "etiquette" matters so much as having a sincere response to our fellow human beings. To meet someone who has lost a daughter tragically and say nothing would be odd, in my view. Far too many bereaved people complain that people ignore them because they do not know what to say... of course you really didn't do anything wrong by saying something real. Her response was rude, but of course one can forgive that in the circumstances.
  10. svengandhi

    svengandhi Well-Known Member

    Thank you all. I feel better. It didn't even occur to me to take her comment as rudeness. I wasn't offended at all, just concerned that I could have inadvertently caused her more pain. My heart breaks for her and her husband, as annoying as they can be, nobody ever doubted their love and commitment for their children. Nobody should bury their child. I had talked to H about going to the wake but after it was pulled from the local paper, I felt like going would be just to gawk.
  11. Bunny

    Bunny Active Member

    I'm a little late to the party, but I'm another vote for you not doing anything wrong. She might have said that she couldn't talk about it because it would have made her emotional and she was not in a place where she could have broken down. I do think it was very nice of you to approach her and offer your condolences.
  12. svengandhi

    svengandhi Well-Known Member

    Bunny -

    I actually didn't approach her. I wouldn't have said anything but she passed me in the hallway, where we were the only people present, and asked me a question about the function we were at. I answered her and then said I was sorry to hear. My question was whether I should have just answered her inquiry and kept walking and everyone's answers have convinced me I did the right thing in not ignoring her tragedy. I am in awe of her being able to be present for a function for her other child. I probably would have emailed the teachers for any info and just stayed home.
  13. witzend

    witzend Well-Known Member

    You did nothing wrong. She can't talk about it now, and that's understandable. If there comes a time that she can talk, she knows that you were gracious and took the time to make your sympathy known.