DEAR MISS MANNERS: Years ago, I heard knocking and a voice -- I couldn’t distinguish words -- from my neighbor’s bedroom, which had an adjoining wall with our living room. He was a single man and I thought he might have gotten “lucky” or was on drugs, so I quietly left to give him his privacy.
The next day, he was found dead, and it was evident he’d been trying to get my attention.
A friend of his told me I shouldn’t let his mother know what had happened; I think his family heard the story from other sources. I was so distraught that I had a nervous breakdown and never told his family how sorry I was about what happened.
Years afterward, I looked up the family’s address and wrote a letter of apology explaining what had happened. My counselor recommended I not send it, saying that while it might make ME feel better, it could open old wounds for the family.
Is it ever too late to say “I’m sorry”?
GENTLE READER: Ordinarily, no. Miss Manners has often admonished people who fail to console those whom they assume have gotten over their bereavement and would not wish to be reminded.
But you have no comfort to offer this family. Rather, you are in need of comfort yourself, and Miss Manners hopes you will find it in the knowledge that you could not have guessed the dire situation with its tragic consequences, and could only act under what seemed a reasonable assumption.
Had you been able to write the family any pleasant reminiscences of their late relative, they would likely welcome that, knowing that even years later, he was not forgotten. A reminder that he might have been saved --however remote the chance, since you don’t know that any intervention would have done so -- would only trouble them. Please just read your own letter yourself and let that comfort you.