DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work at a small company in a relatively small and tight-knit industry, and was previously an officer in our industry’s national association.
Last summer, my wife died unexpectedly after several months of illness. The outpouring of sympathy I received was very comforting. Many industry colleagues sent emails, cards or flowers. Others left comments or likes on a co-worker’s post about my wife’s passing on his and our company’s social media websites.
Through all of this, there was one person I expected to hear from, but didn’t: a former co-worker who had left to work for a larger company in another state at the beginning of my wife’s illness. My company had a farewell party for him on his last day, which I was unable to attend because I had to drive my wife to a medical appointment. I sent him an email explaining this and wishing him well in his new job. He sent me a cordial reply.
Several times each year, when my wife and I had entertained visiting customers, or potential customers, in our home, we made a point to include this co-worker in the dinners. My wife enjoyed his and his partner’s company.
I had assumed that he would at least have sent some form of condolences when she died. I heard nothing, and am somewhat hurt and perplexed by this. I know that he knows of my wife’s death. The same day that a co-worker made a post about her passing, this former co-worker left a comment on another, unrelated post there.
I will probably encounter this person at a future industry convention. How should I react? At this point, my instinct would be to ignore or avoid him completely. If he were to sit at the same dinner table or enter the same elevator, my reaction would be to quickly and quietly leave, to avoid any unpleasantness.
I know that it is probably unreasonable for me to tell him that I am hurt that he never acknowledged my wife’s death or my loss, and I’m not sure if I could ever bring myself to do so anyway. What do you suggest that I do if I encounter him?
GENTLE READER: Presume the best. Yes, it is possible that he is unreasonably angry that you did not attend his last day at work and is now committing a disproportionate retaliation. But it is also possible that his heartfelt condolence letter got lost in the mail. Or something in between.
Before you shun him, Miss Manners recommends that you proceed as though it were the latter. You may say something like, “It is good to see you again. You know, Alicia was such a fan of yours ...” And then leave an opening for him to express condolences, explain his lack of response -- or reenact it. In which case, you may proceed without counting him as a friend.