Dear Mary Pat,
My husband passed away two months ago and it’s been tough. Those closest to me and my family were at the wake and funeral, but I’m finding it difficult running into people who weren’t there and are now offering condolences. Even just trying to go to the grocery store or the gas station can be emotional. Even though well intentioned, people hugging me and saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” makes it difficult to keep my composure. Sometimes people go on and on and I wonder why I attempted to go into public. Is there anything I can do to avoid these scenes?
Door County, Wis.
Dear Emotionally Ambushed,
Firstly, let me express my condolences to you. I’m sorry for your loss and for your difficulties since.
There are going to be a few people who hadn’t heard your sad news and will want to say something when they see you for the first time, but all of the others should have given you their condolences by now. In other words, if they know you well enough to run up to you, hug you and say how sorry they are, they should have already done so in person, by card, by sending flowers or a donation. The reason for funerals and memorials is so the family and friends of the deceased can grieve and say goodbye together. This also eliminates the awkwardness of what you’re experiencing now. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be sad when you run into a friend or an acquaintance in public but hopefully this won’t happen as frequently as time goes by. If you are out in public and someone comes up and wants to get into a lengthy or tearful conversation about your husband, feel free to excuse yourself after you give a polite thank you. If it’s someone you would like to talk to more at length, you can say, “I’d love to get together with you next week or next month for a coffee, but I’m afraid I don’t have a minute to spare now.” It’s ok to give limits on what you can handle at this point and give yourself a little space.