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My mother-in-law texted me a condolence Add to ...

Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.

A reader writes: My grandfather died recently after a brief illness. I was very close to him and it was a shock. My mother-in-law sent me a one line text message of condolence. This upset me as she knew I was close to him; I felt she should have at least sent an e-mail or called. I was more upset when I found out she sent flowers to my parents, whom she hardly knows, and friended my uncle (whom she met once) on Facebook to ask about funeral arrangements. Yet when I saw her a few days afterward, there was no acknowledgment of my loss from her or my father-in-law. I am deeply hurt. Should I confront her?

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Give her the benefit of the doubt

I am a hospice worker and people are often very unsure how to approach someone who has lost a loved one. You don't seem very close to your mother-in-law, so why not give her the benefit of the doubt and try to imagine that she was attempting to be both supportive and respectful in her own way?

Leslie Hobson, King City, Ont.

Examine your feelings

Confront her about what? She expressed caring to you and your parents and acknowledged your loss. She sought to participate in the public commemoration of his life. Look past the vehicles through which these were conveyed and appreciate the sentiments offered. Sometimes deep hurt and loss gets expressed as anger. Look at what it is you're deeply hurt about and you may find it's more about your grandfather's sudden death than your mother-in-law's actions; however he's not around to express that to, and she is. Thank her instead for her thoughtfulness, and be grateful she's still here.

Trish Crowe, Kingston, Ont.

Don't play victim

Try not to read too much into the actions of others at an emotionally charged time. Everyone deals with loss in their own way. Acknowledge that the flowers were an appropriate thing to do. Should she have acknowledged your loss personally? Yes, but perhaps that was about her own inability to express loss face to face. Don't play the victim. Move on.

Darby Brown, Kitchener, Ont.

The Final Word

Sometimes I pine for the era of Miss Manners, when there were hard and fast rules dictating a well-bred individual's behaviour in any given situation. Whenever you needed to know where to put the big fork in your table setting, or what to write on the thank you card to great Aunt Cora, you opened the etiquette book to the correct chapter and it told you just what to do. Formalized rules of manners were so great because they left no room for basic human haplessness. They allowed us to circumvent our natural boorish tendency to disregard the feelings of others.

Instead, the era of social media has left us entirely to our own devices. Literally - to our smart phones and our MacBooks. These electronic doodads bestow boundless gifts, but manners? On the Internet? Read the comments beneath any given YouTube video and get back to me.

These days, the kindest thing we can do for one another, I honestly believe, is give people the benefit of the doubt. Your mother-in-law was not trying to hurt you. She was reaching out - fumbling, really - to let you know she cared. I'd ask that you give her that. Death is huge and, as Leslie says, when we see people close to us grappling with it, it's very hard to know what to do.

It's likely your mother-in-law assumed that you and the people closest to you were deeply involved with your grief and didn't necessarily welcome an outsider's intrusion. This assumption is what's behind the tradition of sending flowers, if you ask me. Flowers are an easy, eloquent expression of love at a time when words can seem clumsy and inadequate. When you look at it that way, your mother-in-law sending you a text was a far more personal gesture than the flowers she sent your parents.

I know this likely makes no sense to you as you deal with the pain of this loss, but as someone who has flailed around in the shallows of social cluelessness for more years than I'd like to admit, I implore you to assume your mother-in-law meant the best and was genuinely attempting to be considerate.

Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy.

Next week's question

I'm a guy who gets along with most people but has few male friends. There's a guy at work who's very private, with whom I've had a lot of lunches and good conversations. But when I suggested something outside work with our families he was non-committal, so I backed off. That seemed to make him push forward; we had lunch again, and the pattern repeated. I decided to stop playing games, but my wife has me worried that he really needs my support. Sometimes he looks like he's going to have a nervous breakdown, but he won't talk about it. Do I pull the plug and regain my sanity but lose a potentially good friend; or try to be supportive, be driven to insanity, and maybe make a fool of myself in the process?

If you would like to answer next week's question - or submit your own dilemma - e-mail us at grouptherapy@globeandmail.com. All questions are published anonymously, but we will include your name and hometown if we use your response (it will be edited)

 

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