Tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
December 5, 2012 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Is it wrong for me to share details about a deceased ex-boyfriend with his parents? Specifically, that he was my boyfriend at all. Snowflake details inside.

My former boyfriend and closest friend passed away three years ago in what was assumed to be an accidental death. We had dated for a year in college, and when he moved away after graduating we broke up, but still continued to see each other and sleep with each other several times a year and talked on the phone or IM a great deal- I naively assumed that we might get back together someday (I was 17 when we started dating, 20 when he died). His passing was a complete shock to everyone who knew him - he was a stellar student in a prestigious program, and one of the smartest, most responsible people I've ever met - his death was supposedly a accident. I grieved for a long time, and I still think of him often. His parents are understandably very very affected by his death, and have contacted me a couple times to ask about things, like what professors he did research for in undergrad. Today I was contacted by a lawyer to give a character statement on him, in what is apparently a wrongful death lawsuit, I don't know against whom.

The thing is, his parents as far as I know, don't know that we ever dated, only that we were friends. His family is of an ethnic/religious group that does arranged marriage and his parents personally frowned on a non-arranged marriage of his older brother (who quickly divorced and got an arranged marriage). As far as I know, I was his only girlfriend in college, and it was a pretty passionate, tumultuous relationship for the both of us. I don't know if he would care that they knew - now that I am older I think he knew that he would have to get an arranged marriage someday, and no matter what his feelings were for me, it would never work out, so there was no point to tell his parents and would only make them upset to think he would resist an arranged marriage.

I want to tell his parents that we dated, that I loved him, that for a long time he was the most important person in the world to me. I guess there is no real reason for me to feel that way, except for selfish reasons. I don't know if this would hurt them, to know that he kept a secret from them, or if knowing even a tiny bit more about this person that they loved so much would be better. I don't know if he would care that his parents knew. I'm going to call the lawyer back and give a statement regardless of whether I reveal that I was his girlfriend, but this has brought up a lot of feelings for me that I have kept under wraps for a long time, and I don't know whether I should continue with the status quo of not saying anything or tell someone. (I have a therapist, and have talked to them about him and our relationship, but not about this specifically)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do not conceal material information in a legal document.

Assume that his parents will read that statement, or hear it read in court, or whatever.
posted by SMPA at 11:00 AM on December 5, 2012 [27 favorites]

I'd tell them. It's water under the bridge now, you have a legal obligation to be honest, and frankly, I'd be relieved that my child was loved by someone other than parents in his brief time here. You may find that they derive comfort from that fact.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:01 AM on December 5, 2012 [11 favorites]

I suspect just telling us how much you loved him felt good, and that this means much more to you than it would to his parents.

I'd answer their questions when they ask, but wouldn't bring up your relationship given your description of their culture.
posted by fredericsunday at 11:04 AM on December 5, 2012

Yes, I would mention that you were together; it helps their case that you were close with him and knew him and his character as more than a casual friend
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:11 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regardless of what you want to tell his parents, you have a broader obligation to honestly state your relationship with someone if you are giving a character reference, especially in a lawsuit, and even more so if it's a wrongful death lawsuit.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:11 AM on December 5, 2012 [24 favorites]

I mean, you're saying that you at one time thought that your ex would go so far out of his way to avoid being upfront with his parents as to conceal his own cause of death, but now you want to be upfront with them about what happened years ago? Does not compute. I don't see any positives to your telling them what you have reason to believe they don't want to know.
posted by facetious at 11:13 AM on December 5, 2012

The majority of advice so far is so right - your level of intimacy is relevant to the suit and should be in that documentation, and they will read it. And telling them before they see it in the document would be kind.

You don't need to be graphic about the relationship, and you can assauge them by saying you understand this may be difficult to hear because of their culture and beliefs, but you just wanted to make sure it wasn't a surprise...and to let them know how much you treasured him.
posted by batmonkey at 11:14 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

You must bring up all material information. In addition, the depth of your relationship with him indicates that you observed him on many occasions and in the most informal of circumstances. It makes your testimony more valuable.

I am not your lawyer, although I am a lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:17 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

and frankly, I'd be relieved that my child was loved by someone other than parents in his brief time here.

This is how I would feel about it for any person on the planet that I care about, family member, friend, whatever. You don't have to tell them you were sleeping together (and that's probably TMI anyway), but I think it would be nice to know that you guys were in a relationship and you loved him. Maybe it would be easier to write this in a letter than to say it to them in person or over the phone.

I don't think it's selfish at all.

(Completely separate from the legal business, which, of course, you should tell the truth for.)
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

I knew a fair amount of exchange students in college, and several f the men were fairly promiscuous, even through they were from cultures and religions where relationships were traditionally arranged. When I asked about this, the guys told me that it was commonly accepted for young men to sow their oats, so to speak, and then to settle down for the arranged marriage later.

My point is, just because he was supposed to have an arranged marriage someday, doesn't mean that the parents would be shocked to know he dated (and slept with) you.

Tell the whole truth. It's not on you to protect their feelings.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

You shouldn't omit that very relevant info from the character reference for the lawyer, definitely.

With regard to the parents... speaking as a parent... if God forbid anything were to happen to my children, to hear later that they were loved and cherished and missed would be a small comfort, even if it was by someone who I wouldn't have imagined them being close with.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:21 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think you should. His parents are grieving. Obviously you're grieving, but it's best if you reached out to a therapist instead of compounding their grief by revealing a secret life he had.

You were friends with benefits at best because he concealed you from his family. Is that something his parents need to deal with after their son has passed away? Please be compassionate and share your grief with the appropriate people---the ppl you guys knew in common and a therapist.

But DEFINITELY tell the truth where lawyers are concerned. Do not lie about having dated and hooked up casually afterwards. But don't go to his parents.
posted by discopolo at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds (to this lay person) as if your testimony, if it ever came to court, could completely torpedo his parents' chances of winning their lawsuit. In those circumstances, i think you owe it to them to make as clear, frank and detailed a statement as you can to the lawyer.
posted by Azara at 11:23 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to the legal advice, but it sounds like the consensus is that you mustn't withhold it in your statement to the lawyer. In that case, it would be a great kindness for you to personally tell his parents about your relationship just the way you told us here. (Omitting your speculation about suicide, though.)
posted by desuetude at 11:27 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend getting a lawyer of your own before speaking to the wrongful death attorney, especially if they are going to take your deposition. My dad had to give a deposition for a wrongful death suit and it helped enormously to have a lawyer with him in the room, so he had someone watching out for his rights.
posted by parakeetdog at 11:32 AM on December 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

Be totally honest in your legal statement. Also keep in mind that you don't know what happened. You're stating some pretty contradictory things, such as:

B never got drunk in the whole time I knew him (literally NEVER, sometimes he did drink but he never got intoxicated)

You realize that if you say something like LITERALLY NEVER in a sworn statement and then on cross-examination admit, "sometimes," your credibility is in the toilet, right? Just tell the truth, and don't let your own theory of what happened get in the way. An autopsy will know better than you whether there's evidence that he was drinking.

As for whether you tell his parents before they read about it in the court documents, that's up to you.
posted by Dasein at 11:39 AM on December 5, 2012

If his parents come from a background that is highly traditional, they are highly likely to assume that their son's close relationship with a non-familial woman is sexual.

I vote tell them, but don't necessarily expect your status as important former girlfriend to be acknowledged as such.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:46 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have two issues of disclosure here:

1. What you tell the attorney. Be 100% honest, answer all questions, volunteer no more information than is asked for.

2. What you tell his parents in a separate communication. You may wish to write to them, as his friend.

Dear Parents of my former BF,

I hve been contacted by an attorney about X and this has brought back many fond memories I have of him. I miss him every day and think of him often. I wrestle with knowing what to say to you, but if you'd like, I'd like to share what he meant to me with you. Please call me at 555-555-5555.


From there, the ball is in their court.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:50 AM on December 5, 2012 [12 favorites]

In his parents' universe, the concept of dating doesn't exist, so if you were to reveal that to them, they would probably hear it as "I used to have sex with him." The part where that shows how much you loved him? They will miss that. You're better off just telling them that you were once very close friends and he was a very important person to you.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:51 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the early questions in your deposition is likely to be something like "what was the nature of your relationship with the decedent". You would have to lie under oath to keep this from his parents. Never lie under oath.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:54 AM on December 5, 2012

Those ethnic /religious cultures and families come with a warning. If he kept you from them, that means he knew more than anyone what type of reaction they would have, and what they would think of you. This is not a case of ".. Oh he loved and was loved, that warms our heart." The person doing the loving makes all the difference.

In other words... There is a good chance they will hate you for what you reveal, at the least. Be careful and look out for yourself first.
posted by Kruger5 at 11:55 AM on December 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you think his parents will contact you again? If they do, you could ask them whether they would be interested to know more about the relationship you had with their son and how much you admired him. If you leave it general like that, you have not revealed much, and they can then decide if they want to know more or not. I think as you have a conversation like that you'll quickly be able to gauge the situation better.
posted by Dansaman at 12:10 PM on December 5, 2012

I'm sorry for your loss.

That said...

They are conducting a lawsuit, certainly their attorney has advised them they may uncover information about their son that will surprise or sadden them.

I get where you are coming from, but I don't think B's conservative parents will embrace you if you, person-to-person, disclose what they must undoubtedly already know, yet wish to ignore. Plus, I see some legal concerns you need to address, first.

Are you legally compelled to give a statement? Because I think you need to consult with an attorney before you do or say anything else.

I could easily see the reason for B's death being attributed to suicide over emotional issues, including what you describe as a "tumultuous" romance with you.


I'm saying that before you give testimony and get yourself stuck in between these two parties in a lawsuit (and you don't even know who the other party is!) that you have a consult with an attorney.

Are you still in college? Start with student legal services. Better yet, if you have a trusted family friend who is an attorney, start there.

As for the parents....

Why would you say anything to them directly about the intimate nature of your relationship with B at all?? If they don't ask you directly, please don't bring it up to them.

They are conducting a lawsuit, certainly their attorney has advised them they may uncover information about their son that will surprise or sadden them. Show them respect and stay away from the drama. Let their attorney break potentially troubling news to them, that's what they are paying for. Don't you do it.

While you and B loved each other, his folks would never be in contact with you if B had not tragically died. I see no value to you by disclosing your intimate relationship with their son. Again, likely they know or suspect, but they are ignoring the true nature of your relationship with B. Instead of acknowledging what they already must know about you from access to B's computer and other electronic devices, they are pointedly ignoring the intimate nature of your relationship with B, and instead using you for information and testimony in their lawsuit. By involving you in the lawsuit and pumping you for information, they're not really helping your grieving process - are they? The lawsuit, should they win, only benefits them, not you. (Not that $$ eases grief, at any rate, but you see what I mean, I hope.)

I find their choices here kind of distasteful, actually, since if B had lived, these people would have absolutely rejected you as a suitable partner for him. As per their wishes and decree, he was never free to date you in the first place.

These people have not done you any good in the past, nor are they doing you any good now. Yes. I'm sorry they lost their son. Annnnd grief sometimes brings out the worst in people. These people would have rejected your love with B had he lived, and now that he's dead, they've been leaning on you for help and effort. Something is not right about all of that. Think carefully about how far you want to go out of your way for these people. Frankly, I think they are using you.


Talk to your own legal counsel, first. Talk to their lawyer if you must, second. Do not lie. And whenever you talk with B's parents, be kind and keep the drama to a minimum by keeping your mouth shut on deeper issues and truths that are at odds with their conservative culture and beliefs.

I'm sorry for your loss. This is not a normal grieving situation, AND it involves a lawsuit and lawyers, to boot. People telling you his parents will appreciate your personal disclosure, I fear, are not taking the entire situation into account.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 PM on December 5, 2012 [24 favorites]

I would think very hard about getting involved in legal proceedings of this type. If it were me, I'd not do it.

Their lawsuit will not bring your boyfriend back, but it would put a lot of personal information about you into public record. I would seriously recommend talking to a lawyer before you agree to do this formally.
posted by winna at 1:00 PM on December 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

You know, revisiting the question, I see I misunderstood it the first time around. His parents already know that you were a good friend to him and that they've come to you for info about him already. I think that while you do need to be honest about the character reference, it would probably be TMI to point out to them specifically that you were romantically involved. It'll be in the record if they want to know about it.

Talking to a lawyer about what to expect is never a bad idea.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:09 PM on December 5, 2012

What winna said, I would never, ever commit to providing information for a lawsuit without having the situation evaluated by my own attorney first. You need to tread VERY carefully regarding this now that you've been told (rightly or wrongly) there's a lawsuit involved.

Next thing you know you're dragged into a trial at your own expense. The parents want something for themselves, not you. What that might do to you is unlikely something they care about. Or worse, would gladly make everyone else's like worse as a result of their legal crusade.

I mean, think about it, you're the shameless tart that was shacking up with their assumed-to-be arranged-married son. Just how much of their world is going to get turned upside down when the other side of the lawsuit starts casting your relationship in THAT light? To say nothing of how it'll make you feel?
posted by wkearney99 at 1:26 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

As for persons advising not getting involved, this is a court case, OP. You are a witness to behavior which is relevant to a court case. You are likely to receive a subpoena. This means you are compelled to testify. Keep that in mind. I would contact legal services at your school to figure out the best way to handle the situation.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:37 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you know if the lawyer is hired by the parents and not the defendant?
posted by fontophilic at 1:38 PM on December 5, 2012

You should tell them, but due to the ethnic differences in relationship customs, not expect them to thrilled or happy. They may or perhaps just one will be, but just don't expect both of them to be. Prepare for the worst, hope the best you know?

Definitely tell them before giving testimony. There may be more legal questions once the depth of your relationship with him is revealed, depending on the situation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:42 PM on December 5, 2012

[at the request of the poster, removed a bunch of identifying details from the orignal question]
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:53 PM on December 5, 2012

I bet dollars to donuts the parents already know about the nature of the relationship via B's cell phone and computer records. They must. There is a lawsuit on, and this sort of personal information has been uncovered, considered, and documented. So telling or not telling the parents is a moot point. They know already.

Ironmouth, I don't think anyone advised the OP not to get involved, rather that this is a serious situation, and having a lawyer advise her will keep this from turning into a disaster. There is a general concern that the OP should get familiar with her rights and protections as she proceeds.

Honestly OP, I don't think the principles involved have your interests at heart. Get someone to assess this from your position.

Ah! I see from the mod update that the OP realizes this isn't just about a human relations issue, serious legal matters are in play. Good for you, OP.

Good luck. I know this is difficult and tragic. I'm glad you reached out for perspective.
posted by jbenben at 2:03 PM on December 5, 2012

Since you are acquainted with the parents and need to give a legal statement, I think the diplomatic thing to do would be to contact them to say "Your son respected you very much and had every intention of honoring your cultural tradition of arranged marriage. But, as a courtesy, I wanted to let you know ahead of time that my legal statement brings to light that we were more than just friends. I do not want you to hear that first in court." And proceed from there depending upon how they react.

If it is mentioned in your statement, they will likely learn of it, like it or not. But how they learn of it is something you have some control over (assuming they don't know already). They may not take it at all well. Doing the right thing often is not a warm fuzzy experience. But they might take it better than if they hear it first in court. The thing is, you won't ever get to compare the two things. You get to pick one and only one option and hope it was the lesser evil. So even if it is less embittering, you may never be, oh, thanked for your honesty and effort to be considerate.
posted by Michele in California at 2:08 PM on December 5, 2012

If you are going to go forward to give a character witness, then it seems absolutely relevant to disclose the nature of your relationship. However, I would tell the parents first before giving your testimony, and ask them if they would still want you to participate.
posted by snufkin5 at 2:10 PM on December 5, 2012

Whatever you do, don't lie, and umpty-times never lie in a sworn statement.... if you don't already know why, look up the word 'perjury'.

What you could do is contact the parents' lawyer now, before you make that character statement; explain the situation to him, and ask if he still wants you to make a statement --- and if he does, then fine, tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
posted by easily confused at 2:53 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am sorry for your loss, but I would consult a lawyer for yourself before you do or say anything.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:18 PM on December 5, 2012

Do you know if the lawyer is hired by the parents and not the defendant?

Quoted to make sure you see this, and make sure you ask the parents this.
posted by cairdeas at 9:39 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with jbenben that they almost certainly know about your relationship, though they may not know the exact extent or details. Parents tend to be very good at sensing these things, especially in conservative cultures. The fact that they have contacted you is itself an indication -- I think they would be unlikely to contact a casual female friend. So I didn't think it's necessary to tell them directly.
posted by redlines at 3:49 AM on December 6, 2012

IANAL, thank goodness, but I just came out of a round of mock trials where the witnesses had hidden/secret information. If asked directly while under oath, you must answer truthfully. Bad for you, since "what is the nature of your relationship" is likely to be one of the very first questions. On the other hand, part of the counsel's job is to guide the questioning such that what they want to show is shown and what they want hidden stays hidden. Of course, the opposing counsel also has the same job... Finally, remember that even the friendly counsel's motives won't necessarily align with yours--they are being paid to represent someone else!

You need to talk to his parents first, in order to find out what this lawsuit is about, exactly, and who is representing which side (as mentioned above, this is super important--always know exactly who a lawyer is speaking for!--there may even be more than two parties, with separate counsels!). "I need to know more before I feel comfortable submitting a sworn statement." Also, ask about why they decided to bring suit. If the counsel approached them with the idea of suing, then tread very carefully. Often in that type of situation the counsel also has a hidden agenda, and, for example, might be perfectly happy to lose the trial so that they can win on the appeal and create a more binding precedent!

After that you should get formal legal advice. Depending on the vibe you got from the parents, you will probably know how much/how expensive advice you need.

What I suspect your lawyer/legal adviser will tell you is to first verbally talk to the friendly counsel, tell them that you believe his family doesn't know you were dating, and ask them if they want your testimony after all and if so that you will need to tell his parents outside of your statement (before trial). Then do not lie while under oath.
posted by anaelith at 5:46 AM on December 6, 2012

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