Thank you
February 7, 2023 8:43 AM   Subscribe

There has been a death in my immediate family. I'm off work for a couple weeks however when I return to work the nature of my employment means I will have to endure hundreds of condolence conversations without breaking down. What are some short replies I can use to politely acknowledge the thought but minimize the length of the interaction.
posted by Mitheral to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Thank you. It's painful to talk about, but your thought/prayers/sympathy mean a lot to me." Then, pivot to the business at hand or turn back to your own work. Most of all, be as kind to yourself as possible. People know you are grieving and should give you grace when it comes to social niceties.
posted by Ausamor at 8:49 AM on February 7 [17 favorites]

That's so difficult. Maybe something like "Thank you. I really can't talk about it right now." Is there anyone you could email (your manager, HR) who could tell your coworkers in advance that it's not something you want to discuss?
posted by pinochiette at 8:50 AM on February 7 [11 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss. Is it possible for you to try and nip this in the bud with an out of office message like:

"Thank you for your email. I am out of the office until MMDDYY due to a death in the family. I have already received so many notices of condolence that I can't possibly respond to them all. Thank you for keeping my family in your thoughts. I will begin responding to all work-related email when I return to the office on MMDDYY."
posted by kimberussell at 8:50 AM on February 7 [22 favorites]

"I am not ready to talk about this yet. Please tell your colleagues."
posted by heatherlogan at 8:51 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]

Send out an email saying you appreciate their thoughts during this difficult time and would like privacy to grieve and not discuss the death at this time. Much love.
posted by waving at 8:52 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]

Seconding trying to get the word out to people in advance— if it’s hundreds of people you’re obviously not in a small unit with an informal text chain where a work friend could give a heads up, but maybe a manager can send an email letting people know you’re coming back and appreciate all their thoughts but can’t respond right now and want to get back to it. Some people still won’t read it but it’d reduce the volume.

Similarly I think a lot (but not all) of conversations can be ended with a sincere “Thanks” and then a topic change: “What did I miss while I was out?” People who say “Is there anything I can do?” can get “You know, there is actually. I’m still finding it hard to talk about. Can you get the word out that I feel their support but would rather just talk about work at work for now?”
posted by peppercorn at 8:57 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to thread sit but I don't work in an office environment so there isn't any email communication.
posted by Mitheral at 9:00 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

When my dad died, I reached out to a particularly chatty, popular coworker, and asked her to spread the word that I didn't want a big outpouring of fuss when I returned. I needed to get back to normal quickly.
posted by champers at 9:17 AM on February 7 [29 favorites]

Similar to champers' experience, when my dad died my mother asked her immediate manager to let everyone else know that she didn't want to talk about it at work and didn't want to be asked how she was doing, and he made that happen for her. If there's someone in a similar role who's an option at your workplace, it might be worth getting the word out to that person before you return, to avoid being deluged.
posted by terretu at 9:25 AM on February 7 [11 favorites]

Nthing asking your manager or someone else to tell people you thank them for all their wishes but that it's too painful to be given condolences or asked how you're doing. I did this and it helped tremendously. You still may get a few.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 9:31 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

If you have any office friends, you could accomplish the same via gossip. When a friend calls to check in on you, or call them if you must, tell them that you're worried about having to talk about this constantly at work and that everyone will want to give your condolences. Tell them to pass the word on to others that you'd rather not talk about it and that you know and appreciate everyone's thoughts, but that they shouldn't talk to you about it. Word will get around.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:32 AM on February 7

Are you on a big jobsite? My experience of big jobsites (at least in the pipe trades) is "telephone, telegraph, tell a fitter" -- as in, news travels fast. Maybe there's another electrician you can ask to run interference for you to let people know you don't want to talk about it, and thus reduce the frequency of these interactions?

As far as a script, I suggest some variation on: "Thanks. It really sucks / is really fucking hard / [whatever tone you prefer here]." Then immediately pivot the discussion to work. Alternatively, you can pivot to non-work topics by saying, "I really just need a break from it all. So how about them Cubs [or whatever you normally chat about -- sports, elk hunting, astronomy, movies, the other person's pet topic, whatever]."
posted by cnidaria at 9:50 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]

"Thanks. [short distracted smile that doesn't reach your eyes] What do we need to work on today?"

Short acknowledgement, immediate pivot.
posted by lapis at 10:00 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]

"Thank you. Let's talk about something else!"

"Thank you." //Silence//
posted by J. Wilson at 10:19 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

I've gone with something like this before:

"Thank you. Your support means a lot to me. I think the thing I need most right now is to get back into our work. So how are [insert projects here] going?"
posted by yellowcandy at 10:21 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]

Would a thank you card on a bulletin board (by punch clock, in lunch room) have any impact?
posted by kate4914 at 11:04 AM on February 7

"Thank you" is all you need in person/voice. That could be brusque in chat/message, so "thank you. we are grateful for all the support." Don't feel bad about copy and paste.

Also, anyone with any sense knows that you are not at your sparkling best and will get it if you don't want to talk further.

And many people don't want to either because *they* feel awkward about it. They have already been asking themselves "what should I say?" By shutting it down fast you are doing them a favour too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:14 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]

[You're a good person | Thanks | I appreciate it | I hear you, thanks | It's nice that you're thinking of us], but just leaving all that away from work is super helpful right now. What I truly want to do is completely focus on my life here today, and [chopping these gorgeous onions | listening to Britney while making these deliveries | hearing about your new baby | getting these shoes on some horses' feet]!
posted by amtho at 12:51 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]

Ah, so you'll be receiving these condolences in person? That is indeed quite a bit.

I'd simplify: I think it's perfectly fine to be concise, and simply reply "Thank you". Nothing more. And then turn to whatever is at hand.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 3:19 PM on February 7 [3 favorites]

When my mother died (suddenly, unexpectedly, she was only 58), we were both working at the same state hospital. Mama had been a nurse there for 30 years. Everyone knew her and loved her. Like you, I dreaded returning to work and having to endure in person condolences over and over again. I was especially dreading it because I was such a wreck emotionally, AND my mother’s coworkers were like family, so they were ALSO devastated.

I’m sorry I’m not answering your question directly, but I want you to know this: having all of those people tell me they were sorry for my loss helped me cope with my own grief beyond measure. I didn’t think I’d be able to handle people giving me their heartfelt condolences every day, but it actually helped externalize my inner state. It made my loss real. It helped me with accepting the loss. Most of all, it helped me feel less alone in my loss. If there’s any way you can make room to allow well-meaning clients and colleagues to express their condolences, you might find it a comfort. Even if that doesn’t seem possible right now.

I am sorry for your loss, and will hold you in my heart.
posted by little mouth at 3:40 PM on February 7 [7 favorites]

"Thanks. It's tough to talk about. But I appreciate it."

"Thanks. And I'm finding work to be a good distraction. So what's next with the Project?"

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by slidell at 10:16 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]

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