A bereaved letter writer and a laid-off worker wonder why friends and colleagues aren’t reaching out.
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My parent recently died. I am dumbstruck by the friends and relatives who did not attend the service or send something. This includes people whose family funerals we traveled to attend, or sent food or flowers for. Although these acts were done without expectations, isn’t there an etiquette rule that would obligate people to reciprocate? Some didn’t even send a card! I think I am channeling my grief into anger.
Anonymous / Brockton
I lost my job of many years in a restructuring. I was well regarded professionally and had friends at all levels of the organization. Many have contacted me since my departure, but many others, including longtime colleagues, have not. I’d like to reach out, but isn’t it more appropriate for them to take the initiative?
Anonymous / Boston
What an odd coincidence, to have both of these letters arrive, by postal mail no less, within a few days of each other.
It shouldn’t be on the person experiencing a misfortune to be the one to reach out to friends, but the sad fact is that it often is. When someone has lost a job, or a loved one, or their health, we don’t know what to say. We feel guilty about our own good fortune. We wait too long and then feel like it would be weird to reach out. Social media is rife with articles on “10 Things Not to Say to a Friend Who Got Laid Off/Has Cancer/Lost a Loved One,” but there aren’t nearly as many on what one should say instead.
You’re both ego-bruised and feeling hard done by, and your brains are flooding you with memories of all the times you behaved better than your friends and colleagues, all the times you did the right thing. But for perspective, think about the times you didn’t. We’ve all deleted friends’ e-mails out of embarrassment at taking too long to respond, or made excuses to get out of events important to people who are important to us.
Boston Anonymous, start reaching out. If you’re going back on the job market, you can’t afford to take things personally. You need to network! Don’t wait for anyone to call you. You definitely need to process your feelings about all of this, but try to keep that confined to your personal friends or support group.
Brockton Anonymous, you’re right about channeling grief into anger. It sounds as though funerals and supporting the bereaved have been important practices for your family. That someone else isn’t as good at it as you are, because they weren’t raised to be, doesn’t mean they don’t care. Look at their actions in the entire context of your relationship. Are these people who have let you down many times in the past? Or are they good friends who have shortcomings and blind spots?
Relationships, professional and personal, should be reciprocal, but they are never mirror images. You give, you receive, but you may not give and receive the same things. Some people are good at life events and rituals and gift-giving; others give practical support or emotional intimacy. Ask for what you need, but in general, let your friends play to their strengths.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.
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