DEAR MISS MANNERS: I met with an old friend, a lady I had not seen for many years. I knew that her former spouse had dumped her for a younger woman a few years ago, after about 50 years of marriage.
His name came up in our conversation, and I learned that he died last winter. I automatically expressed my regret and said that I was sorry.
She looked as though her wish was that he was in some particular corner of hell. I apologized for saying anything, and let it go at that.
How should one respond in such a situation? Having never met her ex, I could not really express an opinion about him or his treatment of her.
GENTLE READER: Your behavior having been correct, Miss Manners only hopes that your friend will read this answer, as your exchange will not be the last time your friend hears condolences for a man whom she is evidently now happy to have seen go.
Because ex-spouses often have trouble gauging their own feelings about the death of a former partner, even close friends may be at a loss for what to say. The answer is a neutral expression of regret. The proper answer is “thank you,” with a sad look if the regret is shared, or a tight lip and change of subject if it is not.