Q: My mom died suddenly a year ago. I’ve had several friends make comments to the effect that it must be good to be done with the grieving, that the hard part is behind me, it’s good to see me back in the swing of things, etc. I know they mean well, but my mom’s death is still a daily gut-punch that feels like a huge bruise on my chest. Yes, it’s better, but by no means over.
Do I tell them this? I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to milk their sympathy, but I also get annoyed by talk like her death was some minor drag, but fortunately I’ve bounced back 100 percent.
A: “I’m not quite there yet, but thank you.”
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It’s an honest answer, gently stated, when you would probably prefer to say, “That’s not how it is at all, you plank.” The “thank you” at the end closes the door for people who are just trying to make nice vs. discern where you are with your grief.
Some people will care to that latter degree, of course, in which case they can ask a follow-up question based on your response. Feel free to tell your truth at this point, because opening up to such an inquiry from a friend would not constitute “milking sympathy” — it would just be sharing when plainly invited to share.
That’s not only the foundation of support from friends, but also the way all of us come to the better understanding of grief that you wish your friends would display.
You can also decline to share further, if that’s what you’d prefer; just because you can help your friends understand doesn’t mean you’re obligated to. This is your grief, your call.
Q: We frequently host large backyard get-togethers for our family and friends. While we love doing this, a small segment of our regular crowd pulls chairs off to the side and refuses to mingle. They will stay huddled for the duration of the evening, having their own little party.
How can I keep this from happening? It makes for an awkward environment for the rest of the crowd.
A: Stop inviting them to the big parties and instead invite them as a group to smaller ones, simply formalizing what they already do. You can also use smaller parties to force-mix them with your other friends till they’re big-party-ready.
If that’s not practical or palatable, then call them out when they huddle, cheerfully but pointedly: “OK, guys, break this up, join the party”; “Do I need a secret knock?”; “If you’re plotting against people, I have some suggestions.”
Or, you can mention your frustration privately to the members of this crowd you’re closest to.
Or, you can outflank them by pulling one or two aside beforehand to ask their help: “I’ve noticed people clumping at our parties lately. Can I enlist you and your social skills to help me get people to mix?”
Or you could ignore them, deciding that any awkwardness falls below the threshold of your having to do something about it. They are, after all, the ones willfully (and rudely) missing out by digging their own little rut.
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