To send condolences or not?
November 16, 2012 12:04 PM   Subscribe

My ex-boyfriend's dad just passed away. What, if anything, should I do?

This morning I got a call from a friend letting me know my ex-boyfriend's dad passed away. Should I contact my ex-boyfriend? Should I just feel sad and do nothing? His dad and the rest of his family live about 2000 miles from where he and I live. We broke up about 3 years ago, it wasn't mutual, nor was it amicable. Only in the past year have we been able to be friendly with each other, but I wouldn't go so far as to call us friends. He was very close with his dad, and his dad and I also were close during the time we dated. Part of me wants to send my condolences to him (call? text?), but part of me doesn't want to open any doors back to him (he's never been one to respect boundaries, which led to a lot of...conflict during/after the breakup). Thoughts?
posted by csox to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A simple sympathy card via mail would probably be nice. Let him know you're thinking of him and that you're sorry to hear of his loss, but a card doesn't have the "call me back" feeling that a call or text might.
posted by susanaudrey at 12:08 PM on November 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

Normally just sending a card would seem to be the thing to do under the circumstances, but if he has a history of not respecting boundaries (I read that as "he called or showed up and bothered you after the breakup."), I might not do even that. I don't think you have an obligation to do anything.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:09 PM on November 16, 2012 [12 favorites]

part of me doesn't want to open any doors back to him

I'd listen to that part. If anything I'd send a card in the mail* but not if there are boundary concerns.

*Text and phone both require immediate response and are more intimate. Grieving loved ones can open cards privately and at their own pace.
posted by headnsouth at 12:09 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You really can't go wrong with an old-fashioned, hand written letter. It's more distant than a call or text, and reduces the chances that he will get back to you about it.

However, if the conflict to which you refer was major and you feel that even a letter might spur unpleasantries, then skip it altogether. It's okay just to have some sad thoughts about the death and not share them with him.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:09 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do nothing - you don't want him leaning on you during a very difficult time.
posted by lpcxa0 at 12:10 PM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

My mom died a few years back, and I was basically inundated with calls, emails and texts about it. I hardly had the time or inclination for more than "thank you, I appreciate it" for 95% of them. How does he handle stress? If he does it by being shitty about boundaries with people, I would avoid contact. I don't think any of my ex-girlfriends got in touch with me about it and I certainly do not feel ...well, in any way whatsoever about that. Otherwise, I'd text or email your condolences and ignore any replies beyond "thank you, I appreciate it."
posted by griphus at 12:10 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Give him your condolences next time you see him (I assume that the fact that you can "be friendly" , and that you seem to have mutual friends means that you run into him from time) to time. If he reaches out to you in the interim, be kind but protect yourself.

I wouldn't reach out to him otherwise, however.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:16 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

When my brother died, one of my exes signed a guestbook on the newspaper website where the obituary was published. We hadn't talked in a few years, he knew I would see the message there, but it didn't bring about the feeling that I needed to reply to him directly. It kept it about my brother, not about my ex and I, which I totally appreciated as I was a complete mess during that time and I might have inadvertently overstepped if I replied in that state.
posted by deliciae at 12:18 PM on November 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Seconding sparklemotion - "I'm sorry about your loss" if/when you run into him is more than adequate.
posted by Currer Belfry at 12:32 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

When my mother died, some exes of her kids got in touch with cards or flowers sent to the whole family (i.e. to her and my father's address) and they were appreciated. If you were close to his mother as well as his father-- were they together?-- it might be nice to get in touch with her. Even if you write directly to him, you could write the sort of letter that's about (say) a a memory of his father that he might like to know about or recall, and just not mention anything about the two of you at all. But if you think any of this is likely to upset him, give him hope that you'll get back together or something, probably you do have to let it go.
posted by BibiRose at 12:32 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Send a card to his mother or any siblings with whom you were simpatico.
posted by brujita at 12:39 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

A card with no return address if you have an address or an email expressing your condolences. Not more than that. In a time of loss a past partner can seek comfort with you, but also confuse those feelings with a rekindling of the past. And, if you have a partner, consider their feeling too.
posted by i_wear_boots at 12:45 PM on November 16, 2012

I'd be weirded out if an ex who I wasn't really in contact with sent condolences for a dead family member. I'd find it intrusive.
posted by spunweb at 12:57 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just say a prayer for him and move on.

If he calls or contacts you (for whatever reason) just say, "I heard you lost your dad, I'm so sorry." And leave it at that.

This is not the time to navigate that kind of relationship.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:03 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would send a sympathy card as I would an acquaintance and make no further contact. It is okay to act like a lady because you are.
posted by Yellow at 1:06 PM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't send him anything, give your condolences to his mother. "I'm sorry to hear about Ex's Dad's death. He was a wonderful painter and he will be missed. Best, OP"
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:16 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

He might use his grief as an excuse to contact you and a reason to push on your boundaries.

Send a card but don't add a return address.
posted by Solomon at 1:19 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're at the point where you're having even occasional contact at this point, I would weigh on the side of sending a note of some sort or another.

When I lost a family member, the incredible deluge of email was overwhelming because (as others have noted) it sort of implies a response. At the same time, I preferred that to having a conversation about it when it came up with people later. When a non-close friends brings it up, it's hard not to have at least a short exchange about it, even if neither of you really wants to. The hand-written note is a great in-between point on that spectrum that avoids the expectation of the response and shows a little more effort.

Just send a note and offer your condolences. I don't think adding a return address is really an issue; I imagine it wouldn't be that hard for him to find your address if he really wanted to. I sincerely doubt you'll hear anything back, and I do think a note would be appreciated by him and his family.
posted by heresiarch at 1:36 PM on November 16, 2012

Send a card (with no return address). Mention that you've heard, you're sorry, and tell a brief, kind story about the father; sign off with a "Wishing you strength in a difficult time," csox.

It does not encourage connection, but it does honor your need to acknowledge this loss and it does the appropriate social thing while at the same time it protects you.

Do not respond to any attempt at contact.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:42 PM on November 16, 2012

A donation in his memory to the family's requested charity, or to another appropriate organization, would be a nice gesture. Specifying that your contact information must be kept confidential is a routine request for the charity to handle.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:53 PM on November 16, 2012

It sounds like your ex is somewhat of a threat to you. Normally I would say to send a sympathy letter in black ink (from a cartridge pen) on white post-quarto sized (which is as wide as a monarch sheet for business letters, but shorter) writing paper:

16th November, 2012

Your address

Dear Ex,

I was so sorry to learn about the loss of your father. I always thought very highly of him and I know you will miss him greatly. My thoughts are with you.



But it sounds like you wouldn't feel safe doing that, even with the address left off (the postmark would let him know where you live).

If that's the case, I suggest either a donation in his memory to the charity the family has requested - IF they have requested one. Otherwise, send flowers (addressed to the deceased but a florist will know all about that) and give them strict instructions that your name can be revealed but your contact information must be kept strictly confidential (I doubt they'd give it out, but anyway).
posted by tel3path at 2:15 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I misread your question, if he did not contact you to let you know then leave it as is. If he did reach out, then I suggest the card with no return address.
posted by i_wear_boots at 2:27 PM on November 16, 2012

When my father died I didn't hear from my ex-boyfriend but I did note a donation from his family in my father's name to one of the charities that we had mentioned in the obit which I thought was a very nice way to handle things.
posted by jessamyn at 4:14 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Forgot to say, make sure that if you send flowers you emphasize to the florist how modest and unobtrusive you want them to be. God forbid they send a honking great wreath in your name.
posted by tel3path at 2:10 AM on November 17, 2012

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