Dear Aspie: Offering Condolences to an NT Coworker

Dear Aspie:
‘A coworker’s husband passed away last week from cancer; today was her first day back. I’ve only worked here for a short time so I don’t know her that well, but I want to offer my condolences. I don’t want to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But if I say nothing, she might think I’m cold-hearted and don’t care. What advice can you offer?’

–SunDevil

Read on for GroovyDruid’s response!
Dear Aspie:
‘A coworker’s husband passed away last week from cancer; today was her first day back. I’ve only worked here for a short time so I don’t know her that well, but I want to offer my condolences. I don’t want to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But if I say nothing, she might think I’m cold-hearted and don’t care. What advice can you offer?’

–SunDevil

People behave in crazy ways around loss, so I think you show good judgment by being careful in such a situation. We aspies seem to lack the instinctive mechanism that allows us to pick up on how another person is feeling or know what that person has in mind.

The anatomy of loss stems from a very basic urge to have. When a person loses something?especially such a valued entity as a spouse?an NT will grasp for something to have in the place of what was lost. For example, you?ll find that the dead person?s belongings all the sudden become imbued with sentimental value, and the place were they lived or the car they drove together become difficult to leave behind or part with. Some spouses take this ?need to have? to the extreme, and keep photos, belongings, cars, etc., for years and years to substitute for having the person alive.

If you understand these phenomena, then you can approach your coworker armed with the basic anatomy of her dilemma. If it seems appropriate to you, I strongly recommend taking her a small bouquet or a potted flower when you offer her your condolences. The reason stems from what I explained above: she?s lost a lot of ?have? all at once, so someone coming by with something for her to ?have? will almost surely be quite welcome. She won?t know why, but it will make her feel much better.

You can also prepare some message to deliver to her. This message can be said in person, or you could leave the plant while she?s away and write the message on a card, if you feel shy or nervous about speaking with her directly. Something simple and sympathetic communicates well:

I was very sorry to hear about your husband. If there?s anything I can do to make this time easier, please let me know.

I?ve been thinking of you during this difficult time, and it was just crushing to hear about your husband?s passing. Don?t hesitate to ask if you need anything.

I recommend that, if you are giving your coworker the plant in person, you do it with only the two of you present, and at some quiet time during the day. I also recommend that you avoid a long face or lugubrious tone. Not flippant, but not mournful either. She?s surely had enough sorrow, and someone offering good will in a respectful manner will find the warmest reception from her.

So to answer your question directly: yes, I think in your circumstances you can offer your condolences without violating the dictates of good taste. I?m confident that your good wishes will be taken as offered and much appreciated.

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