Dear Savvy Sister,
Several years ago, I received an unexpected phone call from my high school boyfriend. We literally had not spoken in over 20 years, and I was shocked to hear from him. He said he just wanted to know how I was doing, and he started asking questions about my life. I was polite but guarded, and made sure he understood that I am happily married and not interested in rekindling anything. He still lives in my hometown; I live halfway across the country. I didn’t give the incident much further thought. Fast forward to the present – I have learned that he recently killed himself amid rumors of inappropriate contact with a minor. I assumed he had been struggling with various issues for quite some time, and said a prayer for his family, and although certainly his death made me sad, I can’t say it dramatically affected me. I simply didn’t know the man beyond our teenage romance.
But more recently, I received a Facebook message from his sister. She indicated that her family has always loved me, and that her mother, in particular, was heartbroken about her son’s death and would love to reconnect with me. She suggested I friend her mother on Facebook, call her, and somehow begin a relationship with the family. I wrote back saying that I was so sorry to hear of her brother’s death, was praying for her, expressed condolences, etcetera – but that I am protective of my family’s privacy and didn’t friend everyone on Facebook. She wrote back again to say that her brother was innocent of the charges involving the minor, and then asked some detailed information about my husband and children.
Can I ignore her?
Speaking of Too Much Information, did you sleep with this guy? That’s what I really want to know. Was he your first? And was he hot?
The Savvy Sister is going to hell for asking those questions about a dead man. (But did you?) Honestly, though, that’s the main reason we connect with old flames, right? We want to recapture that time in our lives when having a little extra Boone’s Farm only led to good things and Saturday nights meant more than Netflix and lawn-mowing. I realize you didn’t reach out to him – but that’s why he reached out to you. Whatever he was going through made him dislike who he’d become. He probably interpreted that feeling as everlasting love for you, his girlfriend during what he remembers as the most fabulous time in his life, and so he must have talked about you to his mother and sister.
Now, I think we can both agree that among the most devastating tragedies that can befall a person is losing a child, whatever the age. Add to that the circumstances surrounding your ex-flame’s death, and his poor mother must be nearly insane with grief. His sister’s issues are tri-fold – she lost her brother, her family’s reputation has suffered, and now she’s watching her mother delve into a very dark place. And now both of them are desperately grasping at whatever emotional morphine drips they can pull out of the sky. They don’t want to remember your friend as a depressed fallen failure accused of something bordering on pedophilia, and they see you as an easy way to boost their recollections of the strapping young man he once was, filled with vitality and joy and promise. It’s the saddest thing, ever, really. In short, they can’t deal with what has happened, and they are looking for you to be an accessory to their denial.
But here’s the good news: it’s a NOP. That stands for Not Our Problem. In fact, it can actually be counterproductive for you to be sucked into their mournful delusions. So the short answer is yes. Yes, you can ignore her. HOWEVER. If it’s on your mind, and you want to go beyond the call of duty, the Savvy Sister advises you to write an old-fashioned letter of condolence to your ex-boyfriend’s mother. It can be personal and touching, yet appropriate. The Savvy Sister will even give you some sample language, because she’s generous that way.
Dear Mrs. McPheeney,
I can’t tell you how sad I was to hear of Junior’s death. I can’t imagine the grief you continue to feel after losing him; please know that I pray for you, and sincerely hope the love and faith surrounding you and your family will be of some small comfort to you. Although I had not seen Junior in many years, I always knew him as a kind, sensitive, joyous man, and I’m so glad we were able to share a friendship during one of the most formative times in our young lives. I also remember you as a loving, devoted mother, and I hope you will always be able to cherish how much your son adored you. Please know that you will continue to be in my thoughts. Yours truly, TMI
Send it via snail mail with a pretty flower stamp. Done. There’s absolutely nothing more you can or should do for this family. But feel free to use this unfortunate occurrence to remind yourself that we can’t always know what’s happening in other people’s lives. So the next time someone cuts you off at a traffic light, or steals your latte at Starbucks, or tries to pet your service dog without your permission – just smile, take a deep breath, and reflect on the simple pleasures of living and breathing and eating and gleaning the occasional nuggets of brilliance from the inimitable Savvy Sister. Carry on.