Tag Archives: grief

Dear Captain,

I am a female self-employed professional in a male dominated profession in her early 30s. My friend is a female of a similar age who is also a self-employed professional in the same profession. This person was my closest female friend in the profession. We would socialise and when things were going badly for me a couple of times in the last few years we have been friends, I would open up with her, share my problems and occasionally have a cry in her presence. I felt that we were open with each other and trusted each other.

Friend has some boundaries that surprise me, for example, even though she would seek out my company, once I went to hug her after not seeing her for some months, because I had been travelling, and she told me she doesn’t like to be hugged because she doesn’t like touching. I was surprised and found that unusual. Friend also asked not to be invited to my wedding in 2016 as friend “Hates weddings.” Again, I considered this an unusual request. I did not invite her but otherwise might have.

Friend became pregnant and was excited. I shared her excitement. She went on maternity leave shortly before the baby was due. I texted her offering to visit her at home if she wanted company (she demurred) and that I was looking forward to baby pictures. She send she would send photos.

Friend shares an office with another female self-employed professional in our profession (lady). One night weeks later, around November 2017, I was socialising with professionals in our field and I meet lady. Knowing lady shares an office with friend, I asked her how friend was. Lady shared the devastating news that friend’s pregnancy spontaneously terminated at a late stage and her baby was stillborn. I was shocked and saddened and expressed this. I immediately asked lady for friend’s address so I could send flowers. Lady responded firmly “Friend doesn’t want flowers”. I was surprised. I asked if lady would give me friend’s address so I could send a condolence card. Lady responded, “Friend doesn’t want contact with anyone. All messages are to go through an email address operated by friend’s sister.” I asked lady to send me that email address. Lady said she would. Lady didn’t send the email and I felt uncomfortable chasing lady about it given the no flowers/no cards information I had been given. I also felt uncomfortable with the idea of emailing friend’s sister, who I have never meant. I did not contact friend, or friend’s sister, out of respect for friend’s wishes, even though I very much wanted to share my condolences with her.

Finally, on New Year’s eve I texted friend saying that I was thinking of her, I had heard her terrible news, I was there for her if she needed support but that if she did not want ever to discuss the matter that would be okay with me. I wished her a better 2018. I got no reply.

Friend returned to work in January 2018. I work in a separate building and did not see friend for some months. I was waiting for her to reach out to me. She didn’t. I texted her a couple times offering to catch up for lunch or a drink. My texts were either ignored or she responded one word: “Can’t”. I let it go.

I saw her tonight at a networking event. It is now about 5 or 6 months since the still birth. I have not seen her since several weeks before her maternity leave. I approached her and she was civil, but not friendly. She barely smiled that evening. I was unsure whether her behaviour was directed towards me or whether she is just miserable. I made an effort to be friendly but to also give her space. I did not mention the still birth. She did not go out of her way to speak to me or say anything like, “Let’s catch up.” I left the event that night without saying goodbye to her, though it is possible she might have previously left without saying goodbye to me. Overall, friend’s behaviour was markedly cold.

I now feel like friend has placed me in an awkward position. I feel like friend has pushed me away. I don’t know if this is because friend felt like I was not there after her still birth, but I complied with lady’s “no contact” instructions. I feel like I can’t mention the still birth at this point because friend clearly did not want condolences at the time. It also feels deeply wrong to me to just smile and treat friend like nothing happened. I now feel like I’m walking on eggshells with friend and just wish that she had let me give her condolences like people normally do.

What, if anything, should I do? Should I accept that for whatever reason (and I have no idea why) friend no longer wants to be my friend? For the record I have no kids and am not currently trying, so there is no awkwardness about my family situation vs hers. It is now at the point where I am starting to feel secretly angry at friend for making me second guess how I should behave around her. My male friend has told me, when I have asked about it, to “just act normal”, but the problem is that friend is not acting normal towards me. I don’t know if I can, or should, try to fix it. I also don’t feel like continually putting myself out there to be rejected by friend. It is getting to the point where I am questioning whether to just let the friendship go, but it seems like a strangely unnecessary outcome. I have tried to be compassionate and respectful towards friend all along.



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Dear Captain,

I’ve (27F) have been dating my boyfriend (33M) for about 6 months and things are wonderful. We’ve talked seriously about a future together and he’s a great partner. He has invited me to spend Thanksgiving week with his dad, brother, and sister-in-law on the West Coast. *However*, his mom passed away suddenly earlier this year (before we met) and this will be their first big family holiday without her. I’m worried about my BF. I’ve noticed him drinking more than usual this past week and just seeming a little down.

I’ve heard that sometimes the weeks leading up to a big holiday or anniversary after someone dies can be even worse than the day itself, but I’m not sure how to talk about this with him without pushing him. He’s very stoic and doesn’t like to talk about himself or his feelings in general, and although he’s mentioned offhand Thanksgiving is probably going to be hard/different, he doesn’t seem to want to open up beyond that. My heart is breaking for him and I want to help him however I can, but it’s almost like he doesn’t want to acknowledge that he’s grieving at all.

Spending five whole days with his family (whom I haven’t met before) is pressure enough, and on top of that I’m not sure how to be understanding of what they’re going through without intruding, if that makes sense. We have some activities planned but I’m not sure how/if I should give them space when I’m there, or how to be supportive during an emotionally-charged time. Would you be able to give me a script for asking my BF about how he’s dealing with his grief leading up to this holiday? Do you have any tips for being a good houseguest and partner during an emotionally-charged holiday?

Thanks for your help,

Worried GF

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Ahoy, Captain!

My mother died suddenly earlier this year. She and my father lived in a kinda remote area, 600 miles from my current residence. Pops is now getting ready to maybe think about moving to a zip code that has more humans than cows.
Here’s the problem: Mama and Pops spent most of their 45 years together collecting. We’re talking decorative spoons, commemorative display plates, a pewter powder horn engraved with scenes from the Battle of Valley Forge… Most of it was admired when it arrived and then put away for safekeeping. I have probably laid eyes on only 10% of the tchotchkie iceberg in my lifetime. The majority of the collection is currently tightly packed (Pops loves Tetris) in a 40 foot shipping container parked out back of Pop’s house, the kind more commonly seen on trucks or trains.

Whenever we talk lately he reels off a list of dozens of items, and he starts getting overwhelmed with emotion and memories of Mama. He then demands my siblings and I come and take what we want as soon as possible. I’ve told him the first step is that he has to choose what he wants to hold on to, but he is adamant my siblings and I get first pick because this stuff is ‘valuable’ and they bought it for us to have ‘eventually’. This evening I went on eBay looking for comparable items to the ones I knew were in the shipping container– they have not appreciated in value.

I try to keep collectibles in my own home to functional and useful items since I have a distinct lack of storage, and I have original and commissioned comic art covering most of the walls. Even if I picked out a huge pile of things I wanted, even if I somehow got them 600 miles to my home, I have nowhere to put them.
How do I tell my Pops that I don’t want any of his treasures? Are there scripts? And do you have any suggestions on the best way to support him as he starts downsizing, particularly as I’m so far away?


What Do You Do With An Engraved Pewter Powder Horn

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Hi Captain!

What do you do when someone who treated you badly dies?

I went to school in a small town, an “everyone kind of knows everyone somehow”-type place. This isn’t really my type of place, and I left to attend a big university in a big city. I return to the town during breaks, but I don’t think I’ve spent more than six consecutive weeks there since I left for college two years ago.

This morning, I found out that a guy who I knew (sat next to in high school band, had some mutual friends, our siblings dated), “Mitchell”, died in a freak accident yesterday. Since this is a small town, and I had mutual friends with him, my Facebook feed is full of “RIP Mitch” and memorial events being planned. Also, since I’m returning to said town for about three weeks at the beginning of summer for my brother’s graduation, I’m sure I’m going to encounter people who want to talk about Mitchell.

The problem? Mitchell sexually harassed me in middle school (and continued to be an asshole to me in high school). Given the memories of the sexual harassment, and how awful it was to be dealing with that as a mentally ill 12-year-old with DD breasts and lots of other body issues, I’m having trouble seeing all the happy memories and sudden reminders of his existence. So:

1. What’s the appropriate thing to do when people try to engage me in conversation about the death? Obviously, it sucks that he’s dead, and I would never wish that on anyone, him included. But apart from “Yes, that’s awful, and I’m so sorry for his family”, what else can/should I say?

2. Not many mutual friends know about the harassment- they think he was a great guy. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but if someone asks for my Happy Memories or Nice Stories, what do I say?

3. What do I say to my mom? Since our siblings dated, she knows Mitchell’s parents, and since we were in band together, she knows that I knew and interacted with Mitchell. I don’t really want to tell her about the harassment- we don’t have that kind of relationship- but I also don’t want to pretend that I feel much beyond a neutral “someone is dead and that’s unfortunate for them and their family” feeling.

I’m in the process of acquiring a therapist who can help me sort things out, and I have tons of college friends who didn’t know Mitchell and can be a good Team Me, but I’m dreading the return to my old town. Help!

Not a Small-Town Girl

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly 2 months ago. My parents had been married almost 40 years. A month after her passing, I accidentally discovered that my dad has been sleeping with multiple men he meets on the internet, at the gym, etc., and that he is also having sex in public restrooms. I don’t believe that my mom knew that this was going on, but I realize that that is a possibility. 

It was not a complete shock to me that my dad is gay or bisexual, as the thought had crossed my mind before, and after my mom died I had even considered that he might bring home a boyfriend in a couple of years. I imagined myself being very supportive and understanding in that scenario, but this sudden discovery at such an emotional time has really thrown me for a loop. The high-risk behavior is freaking me out and making me angry, if I’m honest. I just lost one parent, and I don’t want to lose another! Furthermore, the thought that he was likely putting my mom at risk, too, really upsets me.

I cannot stop worrying about how this might play out. I’m worried that he is putting himself in harm’s way and risking arrest, etc. I’m worried that the community that has been supporting him through the loss of my mom would disappear if this came out in the wrong way. Similarly, I worry about how my mom’s extended family, to whom we are very close, would react if this were suddenly revealed. I feel like I’m not able to progress through the normal grieving process for my mom because I am so wrapped up in the stress of this situation and keeping this secret. So, here are my questions:

1) Should I tell him that I know? Should I tell him how much I know?

2) If I do tell him, how do I do it and what do I say? Is it even appropriate for me to share my concerns for his health and well-being considering his sex life is not really any of my business?


Daughter with a Dilemma

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Dear Captain,

I am in my mid-twenties and my fiancé died in early 2011. I coped better than I thought I would (he was sick for some time before he died so there was time to wonder) and have continued on with my life in many ways, but I do still miss him and think about him everyday.   I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, I loved him when he was alive and I continue to love him now he’s not. However, friends of mine have recently, gently, been bringing up the subject of me dating again and I find I need some advice on this.

My fiancé was the first man I dated that I really felt I truly loved and could spend the rest of my life with, which is a rare feeling I think. However, I do think it is probably possible to feel that with someone else, although it might take a while to find him. My main concern is that if I did start dating again, I think I’d always be comparing the guy to my fiancé and, because my fiancé was a) a wonderful man and we just sort of fit together incredibly well and b) I tend to view him through rose colored glasses because of his death; the poor new guy would have no chance of measuring up!

I don’t think I need to start dating right now but I do get lonely sometimes and I am still only in my mid-twenties and hopefully going to be kicking around on this planet for a good chunk of time to come. Plus my fiancé and I had planned to have children and that is still something I would like one day. So, not necessarily right now but at some point I would like to find another guy to be with.

Although I have talked to friends about this topic I don’t actually have any friends my age that have been in a similar situation and older friends/family whose partners have died are at a much later stage in life and have chosen to remain single. I guess my main questions are; how do I deal with the issue of comparing guys to my fiancé? Should I be starting to date again now on the basis that I will always feel like I’m not really ready or will I eventually feel like the time is right? And if/when I do date someone new when should I tell them about my fiancé and how much detail should I go into? I am not generally someone who is very comfortable with sharing feelings with people I don’t know well, but I have no difficulty in talking about my fiancé, his illness, or his death in practical (non feelings!) terms. I don’t want to overwhelm someone with too much info in the early stages of a relationship but at the same time I don’t want them to feel I’m lying/deliberately keeping my fiancé a secret. That last question sort of applies to making new friends too, actually.


A Young (Not Quite) Widow

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Dear Captain A,

I’ve been friends with my friend, B, since 2004. We had a short but really important lovership in 2006, had a hard breakup, but then rebuilt our friendship. For the past five years, he’s been someone I’ve considered family and my best friend. We referred to each other as ‘non sexual life partners”, threw giant Thankstaking and Xmas parties for our queer chosen families. We are both estranged from our families of origin due to abuse and have been super committed to being really solid people in each other’s lives. He has been the person I always picked up the phone for, the person I pick up from the airport, and the person who I’ve prioritized being there for. Over the years, we’ve done  a huge amount of mental health and physical health support for each other that’s been a work in progress, but that has felt really good in terms of us both being able to offer a lot to each other and also have boundaries. He is the executor of my will and my medical power of attorney person. And we’ve also cooked and eaten lots of food, traveled, laughed our asses off, gone to movies, thrown parties and film nights for our friends, nerded out over hiphop and poetry, talked for hours,  gotten each other jobs, gone dancing and to the ocean, and been super involved in each other’s lives. I thought we were going to be in each other’s lives forever. Our breakup and the way we came back from it built this huge amount of trust and solidness in how we’ve handled conflict. He is a wonderful person.

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