Miss Manners: Beware of ‘grief groupies’

DEAR MISS MANNERS – I recently became a widower following my late wife’s lengthy illness. After her diagnosis, we both had time to plan both her final arrangements and for my one day becoming the surviving spouse. This was never a pleasant consideration, but I do feel that it prepared us well for the inevitable.

We discovered during her illness that there are two fairly distinct groups of well-wishers: The first is those who genuinely but matter-of-factly say: “How are you doing? We’re so sorry to hear of your condition and hope your recovery is going smoothly. Please let us know if we can do anything to help,” and then promptly get back to the business of conversing with the living.

The second is the group who approach with hang-dog faces, tilted heads sad puppy dog eyes, and almost moan out essentially the same sentiment but never seem to want to get off the subject. (This seems a bit incendiary for Miss Manners, but we came to refer to the latter group as “grief groupies.”)

A few weeks after her passing, I attended my first subdued social event as a widower. I enjoyed the company and dinner but left somewhat early, being the only single among a small crowd of couples.

After my departure, my closest friend was approached by someone who said,

“How’s Ed really doing?” My friend assured him that I was handling things as well as could be expected and seemed to be doing a good job of getting on with my life.

The “well-wisher” assured my friend, based on some past personal experience, that was probably not the case at all and proceeded to ramble on about how griefstricken I must be.

I’m sorely tempted to reply to such people with something akin to, “I’m doing well except for those people who seemingly won’t be happy until I’m miserable,” but I know better than that. My parents (and my wife) raised me to handle situations like this with as much grace as one is able to muster, but it just infuriates me to be told how I’m supposed to grieve.

It’s difficult enough as it is without being chastised for my technique!

I learned from my wife (who had to repeatedly handle this during her illness) to be as pleasant as possible as briefly as possible but to eventually cut off excessive grieving with, “Well, surely there must be something more interesting to talk about than this. How have you and Mrs. Buttinski been doing?”

Would Miss Manners be so kind as to offer some other techniques for handling the “overly grieving”?

GENTLE READER – It is a particular plague of modern society that everyone considers himself a freelance therapist, serving humanity by telling others how they feel.

You were fortunate that your wife gave you such a good example. Miss Manners can only adapt for your situation. You can hardly say that your loss is uninteresting. But you can say, in a tone speaking more of sensitivity than indignation, “It’s not something I care to discuss” if you immediately follow that, as your wife did, by asking a politely neutral question about the speaker.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – How to behave at family reunion?

GENTLE READER – So as not to disgrace the family. Miss Manners imagines that you know better than she what would do it.

If you would like a copy of Miss Manners’ newsletters, “On Cellular Phone Courtesy,” “The Etiquette of Proper Eating” or “Proper Wedding Planning,” please send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 (per newsletter) to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wicliffe, OH 44092-0167. Please state which newsletter(s) you wish to receive.

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