I'd like advice on the right thing to do. Help me be helpful and kind to my (soon-to-be-bereaved) manager.
November 5, 2010 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Help me be helpful and kind to my (most likely soon-to-be-bereaved) manager.

It looks like my manager's mother is not long for this world. I am coming from a dysfunctional family and am not always sure of what is appropriate (when my Dad died, my estranged mother told me and my siblings by baldly saying, "Oh, your Dad died.") My boss is a dream to work for, a real doll (but professional). I'd like advice on what I can (and should) say and do to help.
posted by Prairie to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It would depend on the relationship you have with this manager and the work environment, but simply asking if there is anything you can do to help would be appropriate.

If the mother passes on, flowers are traditional, you can organize others' monetary contributions towards a floral arrangement and a sympathy card. To be clear, don't do this in advance of the death.
posted by lizbunny at 3:46 PM on November 5, 2010

When it actually happens, get a sympathy card for sure and write something that really comes from your heart. It doesn't have to be long, but honest would be really nice.

Also, so many people offer to "help" after the loss of a loved one, but it's better if you can offer to help in SPECIFIC WAYS. For instance, you might offer to take over her clients' needs while she's out of the office, or follow up on a project you think she has a special interest in. Think of a concrete way to help her while she's out of the office dealing with this.

This is very kind of you, Prairie.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:47 PM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

Just come out and offer them assistance with anything they might need "outside the office". When someone is under stress, sometimes it is the most simple things that provide relief. Walk the dog, pick up dry cleaning, get lunch....that sort of thing.
posted by lobstah at 3:49 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the idea of offering specific ways to help, rather than saying an open-ended "let me know if there's anything I can do to help" -- which, in my experience, is always too vague to be very useful, and it puts the burden on the person needing help to coordinate help precisely at the moment when that's likely to be overwhelming. So definitely think of specific tasks or duties around the office that would be appropriate for you to offer to take on; you could also (again, if it seems appropriate) offer more personal help, such as bringing over a few meals, offering to help with pet care, etc.

And yes, a sincere expression of sympathy is always appropriate. It doesn't have to be fancy or profound or extensive -- a heartfelt "I'm so sorry for your loss, and am thinking of you" is fine.
posted by scody at 3:53 PM on November 5, 2010

As part of an office - send a funeral spray to the funeral home. As a personal gesture, lobstah's advice is perfect. When the world seems like it's crumbling around you, who can be bothered to pick up dry cleaning...
posted by Siena at 3:55 PM on November 5, 2010

Unless the bereaved is very close to you, a simple, "I'm sorry to hear..." is comforting enough.

Don't say anything like "she's in a better place..", don't share your religious views and don't share anything about your own, past loss.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:04 PM on November 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

As a recently bereaved person who got lots of varying inputs from my co-workers, I'd say that the most helpful were the simple things like: "I'm thinking of you, I'm so sorry to hear about your dad", and the very valuable "Don't worry about X item that was on your to-do list, we've got it covered." The least helpful (although very sincere) was the person who hung around for what seemed like a very long period of time (but was probably only about 60 seconds) encouraging me to take comfort in X spiritual belief that was not a belief that I shared.
posted by matildaben at 4:25 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

in the lead-up, your boss will be distracted. anything that can wait a couple of weeks or be handled by someone else should. you don't have to walk on eggshells around her, but now is not the time to pitch a new idea or bring up a problem that she doesn't have to deal with right away.

when my father-in-law passed away, my office sent flowers with a card that just said, "we're thinking of you" and a co-worker called me to let me know everything was covered at work and not to even think about checking my email while i was away. i like my workmates a lot, but that was all i needed to hear from them. when someone close to you dies, all the funeral events and family coming into town (many of whom you don't know well) can be very socially draining, and i was honestly relieved that my colleagues stayed away.

since your relationship is strictly professional (if friendly), just leave it there. she has friends who will take care of her drycleaning and other things. a kind word and staying out of the way is sometimes the best thing.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:17 PM on November 5, 2010

she's probably got people around her doing the outside-of-work things, like making sure she eats and that her dog is fed. what you can do as a coworker is reassure her that things are taken care of at work; as a semi-control freak, i would find it helpful for a coworker to briefly, succinctly give me an update of what is happening and what has been taken care of in my absence/while i've been distracted. even emailed status reports or hard copies of same might be helpful to her. you could preface these with "i know you have a lot on your mind right now, and i want you to know that x, x, and x are in process/have happened in the office."

and then just give her space.
posted by prior at 6:51 PM on November 5, 2010

I appreciate all the input.

I've been her assistant for nearly a decade. I really admire her strength, beauty, sense of humor, and absolute integrity. She's been a great role model. I just want to be there for her any way I can, without crossing any boundaries (remember I'm the awkward one).
posted by Prairie at 11:29 AM on November 6, 2010

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