Best Behavior: Finding the Words

Sadness in the Air

Recently I was stunned to learn about the death of a friend’s mother — on Facebook. The messages piled in. A lot of them were “I’m so sorry” or “You’re in my prayers.” But some of them went on and on, with a sad little face tossed in too. I’m sure my friend didn’t know what she was thinking. I’m not about to respond to a Facebook post. Since her mother didn’t live here in town, I didn’t know her at all, but I really like her daughter. I want to say more than what she’s been getting on Facebook.I want to send her a note. Help me know what to say. —Anonymous, Hillwood

Offering condolences should never become a competition. Your alarm at discovering about the mother’s death, via Facebook, is understandable. It’s hard to have sympathy for people who “like” hearing about the passing of someone’s loved one.

Your friend’s mother lived out of town, so the message seems like the best way to get the news around. Unfortunately, everybody with whom the daughter has a social-media relationship probably wants to drop off a verbal hot dish. Even if they have nothing to say, it may be the best they have to offer. Your friend probably knows the difference.

If you’re going to write a note, keep it simple. Don’t try to sound as if you knew the mother. The person you know is her daughter; you can talk about how much she loved the woman who raised her. That’s the part you can be sure of. When you get to the bottom of the page, you may end up saying little more than “I’m so sorry.”  But if that’s all you have to say, go ahead and put it on paper. Omit the mournful emojis.

Side Dished

My Thanksgiving plans are already announced. This year, I’ve invited a dozen guests for dinner (not for lunch, so I have plenty of time to get ready). One of them has called asking me what she can bring. I said, “nothing,” but I know her, and I know she’s very likely to show up with a casserole, no matter what I said. I’ve made my plans to serve the plates, but I’ve seen this friend’s casserole show up before. I’m sure she really means to be helpful; she’s not a show-off. What more can I say? What can I do? —Anonymous, Oak Hill

If the surprise casserole shows up, you’ll have no excuse to be surprised. Don’t leave this matter in the air. You’ve got time now to figure how to put the dish in its place. The minute it comes through the door, take it directly to the kitchen and find a place for it on the plates — unless it turns out to be the Brussels sprouts already waiting in the warmer oven.

To forestall that disaster, go ahead and call the friend back and suggest what you’d like her to bring — something to munch on along with cocktails would be just the thing. She wants to help. Give her a job, but one that needs to be done.

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