How to Ruin a Dinner Party

By guest writer Melissa Silvetti

I’ve tried to drop hints. I promise, I’m the last person who wants to repeat my story, but sometimes people can’t help it. They have NO idea where the conversation is headed so they keep asking questions. It’s innocent curiosity, getting to know someone….until finally you drop some seriously sad knowledge on a table of unassuming people.

This was especially hard to avoid when my husband and I got engaged. In the role of blushing bride to be I was meeting all sorts of new folks, getting introduced to family friends and relatives, going to engagement parties, and it was a blast, but it had a downside. As a bride you’re asked about your mom and dad more regularly because marriage is about two families coming together, so when you meet new people they’re curious about where you come from, what your family is like, etc. It always starts as a nice introductory conversation….asking the basics…

Stranger: What do you do?

Me: I’m a buyer

Stranger: Where are you from?

Me: Miami

We’re still good….moving right along…

Stranger: Oh I love Miami, great weather!

Me: Yep, the beach is beautiful, really warm water

It starts getting hairy with the next logical question…

Stranger: Do your parents still live there?

OK, I can still save them…

Me: Yes most of my family (note the usage of the term family) still lives in Miami, I have a sister in Mexico and a niece in LA

Stranger: They must be so excited about the wedding!

Phew, I think I’m gonna get us through this

Me: Yes, my family can’t wait!

Stranger: Has your mom been helping you organze it?

EEK…nothing I can do at this point…..

LAUNCH FIRST GRENADE

Me: Actually, my mom passed away

KABOOOOOM….the person is devastated, the mood of the dinner has officially shifted gears…..

Stranger: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, how’s your father doing?

Whoopsie, launch that second, more devastating GRENADE……

Me: My Dad also passed away

KABOOOOM….completely take over the mood of the party, start to feel the sting of tears in my eyes ….

Stranger: Oh my goodness, that’s so sad, how did it happen?

At this point I can go lots of ways. I can give them the extended version, I can let the tear ducts open wide, or I can save them the grief and keep it nice and clean. I go for the latter…

Me: They both passed from illnesses

Word to the wise: This is where it needs to stop. Though I can’t speak for all those who have lost a loved one, in my opinion if in a social setting, STOP ASKING QUESTIONS. I realize you care about me, being that I’m young with no parents, I immediately take on the look of a sad orphan. I totally appreciate the sympathy, but it’s not fun to go over the details of my situation, especially when I live it everyday.

You’re hearing this story for the first time so you’re curious, and you mean the best but really, not the time or place. I’m happy (that’s an over statement, lets say, I’m better) discussing it in a more intimate setting, perhaps a quiet night at home, just the two of us drinking some tea (not a huge fan of tea but it sounds cozy), but not in a festive, social setting. It’s just not fun rehashing these emotions for a brand new group of people. It’s also not fun to be the party pooper when everyone is out to celebrate a happy occasion.

I think that if you’re in a social setting and you happen to ask someone about a family member/friend that has passed away, it’s probably best to express your condolences and unless they offer up the information on their own, just leave it at that and think of a quick change of subject. A few good choices – discussing current weather, compliment about a piece someone is wearing, drawing attention to the silverware, etc.

Read more from Melissa Silvetti at www.alifeafter.wordpress.com

Photo Credit.

18 Comments:

  1. S.C. said on June 3, 2010 at 2:24 pm ... #

    I lost both of my parents at a young age too and I can totally relate to everything you are saying here. I have found myself in these situations so many times …now I have gotten into the habit of being the one to change the subject as quickly as I possibly can… “My mother passed away when I was younger – it’s funny I was just thinking how much she would have like that dress you have on -where did you get it?”
    haha- it really might not be so subtle but at least it offers the person who brought up the subject a way out. You know, we just have to do what we can when we are put into these situations.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Good luck to you!

  2. Alisha said on June 3, 2010 at 4:11 pm ... #

    Melissa – I read this article on your blog a few months ago, and was laughing out loud. I guess it’s only funny if you’re in the “I’ve got a dead parent club”…but in any case – well said, and thanks for sharing it with us here.

  3. Nancy said on June 3, 2010 at 8:47 pm ... #

    Now in my 50’s, I am finding it REALLY hard as friends’ parents die at ripe old ages. (My mother died at the age of 41 when I was 11.) I don’t know how to react to their grief- I have to be very careful as I want to say “At least your mother (or father) lived their natural life and you had your mother all of these years!” Intellectually I know it is hard at any age, but on the other hand, I think: how lucky that parent was to see their child grow up, and how lucky the adult child was to have their parent for so many years.
    For sure I can’t say I know how one feels; perhaps it is harder if you’ve had your parent all these years…..No, I don’t think so…..

  4. Jen said on June 4, 2010 at 9:53 am ... #

    Alisha – it is funny because we have all had this conversation, I call it ruining someone else’s day. My son just drops the bomb and walks away, I am kind of proud. He doesn’t get uncomfortable so he makes the questioner uncomfortable so they will stop. You have to find humor in the little things or life is just too hard

  5. Lisa said on June 8, 2010 at 11:07 am ... #

    yes, yes, yes…. at 47 with a fabulous 4 and a half year old and a great husband — I am looking now for the joy. I lost my mom at 13 months and my dad a few years ago — but the lifelong search for who she was and why he couldn’t tell me about her — is beginning and hopefully soon ending. I must find the peace and piece that is for me in this story… and I am on the journey to do so. Thanks for all fo the wisdom and kindness in these pages… Lisa

  6. Chuck said on June 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm ... #

    It is good to see that other people have had the same experience. It is certainly something that no one knows how to talk about or what to say when it does come up. I guess it makes us feel isolated in a way and we learn to live with it over time.

  7. Amy said on June 15, 2010 at 11:36 pm ... #

    Wow! I lost my father at 16 years old…..and have had similar experiences to the above. I couldn’t help but start laughing while reading this article. It’s always such an awkward moment!

  8. Keith S said on June 24, 2010 at 7:55 am ... #

    Imagine when the cause of death is suicide…
    Q: “How’d she die?”
    A: “She killed herself”
    (long pause…)

  9. Allie said on June 24, 2010 at 6:33 pm ... #

    I just lost both of my parents a few months ago and I am 25 years old. I am sure I will have so many situations in life like the one you just wrote about. Thank you for sharing, it is nice to know I am not the only young person in the universe who has lost both parents and has to deal with these awkward moments.

  10. Kim said on August 11, 2010 at 9:02 am ... #

    You perfectly articulate what I call the “show stopper.” While it was not my parents, I lost my son at age 9 and then five years later my sister at age 34. When I was grieving the loss of my son, I would make myself feel balanced by telling myself, it’s my loss – he was here to be loved – at least he didn’t have someone like a child counting on him to take care of them. (I never wanted to fall into self-pity). Then my sister dies and leaves a 15 mo old son. When people ask me how many kids I have, I don’t want to drop the bomb – one alive and one died at 9. But I don’t want to pretend he didn’t exist. And now, when they ask about siblings here’s another bomb – I had a little sister. ? Never an easy thing to answer. Thank you for writing your article to help other people!

  11. Kimberly said on September 4, 2010 at 12:27 pm ... #

    Yep – been there, done that. Depending on my mood I often help the person out & change the subject, but you gotta wonder about the people who don’t hear the past tense/hints & just keep asking…..
    “What does your husband do?”.
    “Actually, he passed away a few months ago.”
    Correct response: “I’m sorry to hear that.” and changing subject.
    Instead, it’s often: “How”.
    “He committed suicide.”
    That usually brings any conversation (and all surrounding conversations) to a screeching halt. But it’s the unfortunate truth.

  12. Claudia Hall Christian said on February 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm ... #

    I got this when I was wedding dress shopping – “Where’s your mother?” the stupid salesperson would ask.
    “Dead?” I’d respond.

    They never returned to help me. Jerks

    I’d like to say this would/could change but it seems like we face to face talk to people so rarely now – when would we learn the skill?

  13. Deborah said on February 3, 2012 at 10:02 am ... #

    When people ask me if I spent time with my family over the holidays, I politely say that we were with my husband’s family. When they push and ask if my parents don’t live nearby because I didn’t see them, I explain that my Mother passed away unexpectely five years ago and that my Dad passed away ony months later. The next comment usually is something like this “oh, your Father couldn’t live without your Mother, so he died too.” I respond something like this – “Actually no, he begged me to move him to another hospital to look for a miracle because he didn’t want to die. I had to be the one to tell him that there were no more miracles for him and that it was OK for him to go. I will never forget the look on his face when I told him that.” This usually ends the conversation.

  14. hope said on August 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm ... #

    Very interesting topic. I lost my Dad when I was 8 and my Mom when i was 28. One thing that has been very challenging in my grief process is how isolating it can feel b/c of the taboo associated with talking about death, dying, illness, grief, pain. In a way I feel relieved when folks inquire b/c it’s nice to be able to share what happened. I often don’t like how people treat the subject matter of death like a hot potato, left alone, to be dealt with in private by the griever. I have spent so much time and energy in my grief process and it’s such a big part of who I am that I usually welcome the conversation. I also like to let people know I’m not afraid to talk about it, when they have lost someone. A good question to ask is “is it ok with you to talk more about her/him or would it be better at another time?” If they say at another time, I will leave it to them to bring it up in the future. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they are relieved that someone asked and it interested. I am always curious to know how the grief process has been for others and discuss healing/spirituality, etc. I am very respectful if people aren’t up for those conversations as well. There’s so much more I could say, but I’ll leave it here, just to throw another view point out there. I do agree timing and setting are important, but to know me, is to know my grief.

  15. Noelle said on September 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm ... #

    I can totally relate. My mother died when I was 8. I was recently having a glass of wine at bar on the day that happened to be my mother’s birthday. Out of the blue, the nice couple that I had struck up a conversation with (They were about my parents’ age.) asked me about my mother, and I started crying. I couldn’t help it. The couple bought me another glass of wine before they left.

  16. peaceNlove said on April 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm ... #

    That made me laugh as did the comments. I used to dread explaining that I lost my only child and son to homicide. You bet the conversation stops OR they completely ignore what they just heard me say and go blathering about their own losses; dog, gerbil, job, Great grandmother… Bless their hearts..

  17. Drew Alexander said on April 30, 2013 at 12:44 pm ... #

    I told my story so many times, it almost became a compulsion with me. I’ve learned since that people who are bereaved often internalize that status as part of their identity, it’s as if people need to know that about you to “get” who you really are–so you overshare, even without being prodded. That is a tough place to be, and I spent quite a few years there. I heard a line in a song by Tom Waits once, that brought me up short. It said, “A solitary sailor . . . spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers. . .” I thought, “Is that what I’ve been doing? Yikes!” Then it occurred to me that *those* facts of my life are precious, and not just anyone gets to hear them. After that, it was much easier to stop myself short of the point of no return. Thanks for the excellent and helpful piece, Melissa.

  18. Michelle said on June 2, 2013 at 9:46 pm ... #

    I feel your pain. I lost both of my parents too. My dad when I was 10, my mom when I was 13. I’m about to start high school without my parents. The high school I’m going too is the same one my mom went too, and I’m only 14!!! I am feeling what you are feeling. You are so brave to live trough this.

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