Obsessing about something I said.
September 26, 2023 2:02 AM   Subscribe

A friend recently died in a tragic accident. I mailed a sympathy card to friend's partner. At the the graveside service, as I hugged partner, partner said, "I got your card." I responded, "I'm glad the post office got it to you." Now, I'm like, "Doh, that was a stupid thing to say. Complaining about the potential unreliability of the postal service at a time like that?" I keep thinking about what I said, and wishing I had just responded, "Good." Is my obsessing just a result of the stress of my friend dying, or is what I said actually inept?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total)
 
The partner won't remember what you said. Yours was one of a hundred conversations that day. We all say slightly inane or banal things sometimes when we're in a stressful/emotional situation. You didn't accidentally say something crass or inappropriate, and that would be a win in my socially-awkward book.
posted by pipeski at 2:13 AM on September 26 [84 favorites]


I can all but guarantee that someone else at the funeral said something worse, and that your friend will be rankling/smarting about something else someone said and won't even remember what you said.

People say truly awful, hurtful things at funerals like

"He's in a better place now"

"He's with god now"

"At least he's not suffering anymore"

"At least you had 5 years with him"

"You can always marry again"

that people remember for years - your remark is nothing like that.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 2:15 AM on September 26 [49 favorites]


If you said that to me, it wouldn't occur to me that you might be complaining about the postal service. I'd think you were genuinely glad that the post office carried your condolences to me.

Depending, of course, on your tone of voice -- but it's a funeral, so I doubt you went all sarcastic-sounding.
posted by amtho at 2:17 AM on September 26 [57 favorites]



If you said that to me, it wouldn't occur to me that you might be complaining about the postal service. I'd think you were genuinely glad that the post office carried your condolences to me.


100% how I would've taken it. I received just 2 or 3 real letters after my dad passed away 2 years ago. They were absolutely stars in the sky for me. What a lovely and thoughtful you did. Your concern is only related to your grief and wanting to honor your friend with your own perfection, which is of course unachievable.
posted by chasles at 3:03 AM on September 26 [31 favorites]


That is absolutely, 100% fine. Even if it did land as some scathing excoriation of the post office, which I doubt, that would be just fine. You showed up and showed your kindness and support. The partner will have understood that. Outside of quite a small number of faux pas, some of which another poster has listed above, the words aren’t super important.

I’m so sorry about your friend. I hope you’re able to take time to look after yourself and grieve.
posted by snipsnapsnoop at 3:03 AM on September 26 [4 favorites]


Nthing that this is 100% fine. Your comment wasn't ridiculous in the slightest. It was, at absolutely worst, mildly banal, which is exactly what people often need at a moment they're overwhelmed with Big Feelings coming towards them from every direction.

I've definitely said far worse by absolute accident at a similar moment, and I'm certain that the recipient's memory is some blend of: a. Most likely remembers very little at all in detail from that period of time - grief often does that to people b. Remembers some stuff but doesn't remember that comment out of the thousands of sentences that were spoken about their loved one's death. c. If, somehow, amid those thousands of sentences, they do remember that one awkward moment, they think nothing bad about it because they know that I love them and that we all say awkward things sometimes, especially at times like this, for which we're lacking roadmaps. They almost certainly have their own equivalents of times in their lives they feel they've said the wrong thing at an important moment.

It's absolutely fine, and your brain is latching onto this as a way of dealing with the overwhelming experience you're going through. We all want, in moments like this, to be the one who says the exact right thing to make everything OK again. There is no such thing to say, because things aren't all right, and so it can feel like almost anything you said would be lacking. You did fine. Take care of yourself.
posted by penguin pie at 4:08 AM on September 26 [5 favorites]


When each of my parents died, people said a wide variety of clumsy things, almost all of which became a form of background static.

Really, the only person I remember is the one who burst into an off-key rendition of "Amazing Grace" at the scattering of my very non-religious father's ashes. And that's more likely to get a giggle from me than anything else.
posted by champers at 4:09 AM on September 26 [5 favorites]


Is my obsessing just a result of the stress of my friend dying, or is what I said actually inept?

I don't think it's at all inept. I think it's an appropriate remark, especially off-the-cuff, and rooted in the fact that the USPS loses, or mis-delivers, mail a lot more often than they let on.

This fact is relevant only insofar as your interlocuter thought "postal" was a problem in the first place, and there's no reason to think that. The only reasons to think that's the case come from your imagination, rather than the real world

Don't worry about this at all
posted by BadgerDoctor at 4:12 AM on September 26 [4 favorites]


Unless the deceased or the partner worked for USPS, it didnt even register. The card did. Accept that you are hitting above average. Call the partner is there is more to say, but what was said was OK, no downsides.
posted by drowsy at 4:22 AM on September 26 [5 favorites]


At my mother's funeral four years ago and a few years before that my father s funeral Lots of people Said something to me at the grave side.
Honestly, right afterwards i remembered none of what anyone said. I could not even tell afterwards who was there. The one memory of any weird comment i have is someone sending a very tasteless and stupid WhatsApp which i ignored. But a comment like yours i think is completely fine and i suspect that they will not remember it or If they do, not remember it as hurtful.
posted by 15L06 at 4:29 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


I agree that your action of sending the card speaks louder than your words (which read to me as just fine, if dorky.)
posted by earthstarvoyager at 4:32 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


As a fellow obsessive over Stupid Things I Have Said, I agree with you that that was a weird and awkward thing to have said. In your position I would probably also ruminate about it.

But in your friend's position I would probably barely have registered it. It was weird not insulting and awkward not offensive. Which puts it miles ahead of other stupid shit people have probably said related to this death in the family.

I learned long ago that people almost never remember the specific Stupid Things I Have Said that I ruminate about even if they were angry about them at the time. And your friend wasn't noticeably angry at the time.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:37 AM on September 26 [5 favorites]


It’s worth remembering that no one wants to get good at funeral small talk, either as a grieve or a member of the family. Minor non sequiturs do not even register in almost any cases. For example, I cannot remember anything said to me at my father’s funeral, and it was a bit charged. People tried, to the best of their ability, to be nice and the family tried, to the best of our ability, to be gracious.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:45 AM on September 26 [3 favorites]


I don't think it was weird (or "dorky", wtf) at all, and taking some of these replies seriously would only make me potentially second-guess anything I might have said to anyone at any time.

The truest sense of it was, "I'm glad [you got my card, which carried my feelings of sympathy to you]." Which is a perfectly fine thing to say both in form and meaning.
posted by theatro at 5:14 AM on September 26 [3 favorites]


Sorry, i only meant "potentially awkward in a very minor way."
posted by earthstarvoyager at 5:30 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


You are 110% percent fine. It might have even been a relief to hear a mundane little complaint, a reminder that they're still a person.

Adding to the litany of terrible things I've heard in that context: "He came to me in a dream, he's been trying to speak to you" *shudder*

YOU are fine. Not even a little inept, I think.
posted by stray at 5:33 AM on September 26 [5 favorites]


Honestly, the very worst thing that your friend might have thought of what you said was that it was a slightly "grand" way of speaking - almost like you were saying "lo, I am glad the fine postman was able to bring you comfort in my stead, forsooth" or something like that. And maybe they chuckled at it a little - and even there, that's a good thing, because someone made them chuckle for just a moment at a sad time.

I am 100% certain that your friend is not thinking ill of what you said - either they didn't notice or they thought you were trying to cheer them up, and either way they are grateful.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 AM on September 26 [3 favorites]


This is completely anodyne AND I’m not sure how you could have responded much better in the moment—you basically just said “good” with more syllables, and there’s nothing else you really could have said. “You’re welcome?” SO much worse. They conveyed that the post office delivered your card and you responded that you were glad the post office delivered your card and it was perhaps a slightly repetitive conversation but absolutely nobody fucked up even a little. Please let yourself off the hook for this one, and I’m sorry for your loss!
posted by babelfish at 6:46 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I think your response is better than "Good!", like, nobody here is glad you had to send it or that they had to receive it, so while what you said might not be Extraordinary Oratory and you would want to polish it up if you'll be speaking to heads of state or the media, you did fine.

And they won't remember any details of this interaction. Fourteen months from now they'll snap awake at 3am thinking, "wait, did I ever acknowledge I got that card from X?? Ugh, god, I think I mumbled something about it at the funeral. What if they think I didn't appreciate it??? 'I got your card', really, sounds like I was complaining."

If you have other symptoms of social anxiety, you may want to beef up your toolbox for dealing with these kinds of thoughts so they don't torment you. Most people are not paying nearly as much attention to you as you fear/assume they are, and that goes 100x at their partner's funeral.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:06 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


My mom died recently, and if someone had said this it wouldn't have registered as even kind of awkward. It would have registered as earnestness and a sign of caring. Don't agonize over it.
posted by rednikki at 7:11 AM on September 26 [9 favorites]


It sounds entirely innocuous to me and I doubt it was noticed, especially at that moment. I know the feeling but I think you can let this one go.
posted by less-of-course at 7:22 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


if you'd just said "good" you might be worried that it sounded curt or like you were grading her on opening her mail.

What you said is fine, perfect - innocuous and unmemorable - and sending the card was the right thing to do. Good job being a good friend.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:47 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


When I called my mom to let her know that my dad, her ex-husband of 45 years, had died, her first response was to say that it was "for the best." Now, I know she meant that he wasn't suffering anymore, but it was absolutely the #1 wrong thing for her to say to her son, who was grieving the loss of his father and looking for comfort. She really, really sucks at that.

What you said is fine and anodyne.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:49 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


Truthfully, even if what you said was a little off (it wasn't, IMHO), they have a lot more stuff going on in their lives right now.

A few years back I went to a memorial for a friend. I spoke briefly with her widowed husband. A couple of months later he bumped into me and didn't even remember that I'd been there because he had other things on his mind at the time (like trying to get through the day without having a breakdown).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:52 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


You are doing a good job.

I suggest you translate your rumination into action. Text your friend and tell them “thinking of you and partner today, and how partner [enjoyed potato chips during that one trip / needed that morning coffee / always made you smile / wouldn’t cut their hair]. Sending you good thoughts!”
posted by samthemander at 10:20 AM on September 26 [2 favorites]


You're fine; if they noticed, they likely thought it was, at most, slightly offbeat. All the stuff around death can make articulation difficult. What they really noticed is You sent a card. At some point, when visiting, mention that you said that and later found it kind of inexplicable. You didn't commit a faux pas, you were just a tiny bit random. If it were me, I'd laugh.
posted by theora55 at 10:29 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


You're fine.

The service was about the dead guy. Your casual remark made quietly to the bereaved probably didn't rise above the ambient gravity of the moment.

You may be experiencing the retro-editing of a remark after realizing what you might have said instead.
posted by mule98J at 11:21 AM on September 26 [1 favorite]


People say truly awful, hurtful things at funerals like

"He's in a better place now"
"He's with god now"
"At least he's not suffering anymore"
"At least you had 5 years with him"
"You can always marry again"


and

Adding to the litany of terrible things I've heard in that context: "He came to me in a dream, he's been trying to speak to you" *shudder*

Add to the list:
"Be strong, don't cry"... what the fuck.
posted by Taro at 2:29 PM on September 26


I don't know if this makes you feel better about what you said, or perhaps just that your phrasing was not uniquely awkward, "I'm glad it made it to you!" is exactly what I always say whenever someone thanks me for sending a card. So if it's inept, we are both inept, and I don't even have grief as an excuse.

You sound like a very good friend. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by assenav at 2:37 PM on September 26 [1 favorite]


“I'm glad the post office got it to you."

The implied here is: I’m glad you got it in time / on time / quickly. I’m glad you received it at all (post office can lose these things).

What you said is absolutely fine. You’re glad your expression of sympathy and support arrived quickly enough to be of comfort. That you didn’t leave anyone hanging or feeling unsupported. Subtext: I’m here with you and I care.

You did great. I’m sorry for your loss.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:43 PM on September 26 [4 favorites]


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