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  (#1 (permalink)) Old
Counted Heart. Offline
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Casual interactions. - May 27th 2018, 12:06 PM

I'm not the best at interacting with people to begin with, but recently I've come across a new, grief-specific issue.

For context, I work at a supermarket in a town I lived in for the first few years of my life. I haven't lived there in over a decade, but it's a small enough town that people tend to know each other. And, somehow, people still sometimes recognise me. A couple of times recently I've had customers come up to me and strike up a conversation because they knew me or my family when we lived there (the name badge helps too; my given name is fairly uncommon). That's fine, except it invariably gets awkward because they proceed to ask something that, for most people, would be entirely innocuous: "How's your family going?"

For obvious reasons, that leaves me in a really weird position. The way I see it, I have three options: tell the truth, which would be "Both my parents are dead and my sister won't talk to me"; lie, and say they're all fine; or say something vague and hope they get the message, like "They're as well as they can be". And to be honest, none of those answers seem... right. If I tell the truth then it all becomes a Thing where I'll get upset and they'll get sympathetic and it gets even more awkward because they were expecting light smalltalk. If I lie it not only makes me feel uncomfortable but it also puts me in a weird spot should I ever come across them again (which, considering the size of the town, isn't out of the question). Last time I tried to say something non-committal but the person didn't get the hint and just kept asking.

So my question is: how should I respond to this situation? Given the circumstances I feel like I need to come up with a kind of stock response that won't make things even more awkward or make me upset. Since the interactions are so brief and I'm usually in the middle of something when it happens I need to have a response ready to go so I'm not fumbling for words in the moment. Do any of you guys have any suggestions? Is it okay to just say something like "I don't really like talking about my family", or is that rude and evasive? What about "I don't really talk to my family anymore", which is technically true but also probably misleading?

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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Re: Casual interactions. - May 27th 2018, 04:18 PM


I am so sorry that you are having a hard time with this right now, and I hope that you will be okay soon.
When a lot of people know about you and you're family and they are always asking different questions, it is hard to deal with and to be okay. And it's hard to figure out what you want to tell them and what you should say, the truth or make something up. Sometimes when something horrible happens to them or something in the family and they do not want others to know they will make up a lie or a story about what really happened because it hurts too much to talk about it. And that's how they get through it.
So, I understand what you are saying about this. It is totally fine that when someone comes up to you and starts asking you all kinds of questions about you're family to say that you do not talk with them a lot, or you haven't seen them in a while, or you just do not have a lot of time right now to talk with them, or I do not want to talk about this right now or I'm very busy and have to get back to work. You can tell them anything that will help you to be okay with this and so that they do not ask a lot of questions. I hope you will be okay and I'm so sorry about this and hope that you will be okay soon. Hugs.

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Re: Casual interactions. - May 28th 2018, 02:25 PM

It must be difficult when you're asked those questions, especially when you feel like the possible answers you can give aren't the right ones. I know you could plan a reply now and while that would probably work you could also decide to reply based on how you're feeling at the time; you could have several 'programmed' replies based on your current feelings.

What if you say that you just haven't heard from them in a while so you're not sure how they're doing? It's not technically lying because you haven't talked to them in a while. You could also answer their question with a question so the spotlight isn't on you.

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Re: Casual interactions. - May 28th 2018, 03:24 PM

I think Cynefin gave a good tip as to what you could do.

Let me tell you something. I have a young family member who got sick back in the fall, so I was forced to create a new Facebook account shortly after deleting the one I'd had since 2014. I originally created it to keep up with this young family member's parents' (they don't have Facebook) friends and family. I got all the "usual suspects" ie, the sister-in-law, the mother-in-law, best friends, etc.

What I did not expect was to get requests from people I haven't heard from (and thanks to my Swiss cheese brain, can't remember) in a couple decades, since I was really young. They were like "Oh, I am so sorry to hear about [name] being ill." and without my asking them, they preceeded to tell me that someone close to them in their family (that I knew as a young child) had passed away a few years earlier.

I didn't ask them for this information, but at that point in time it was relevant, I guess. Because they both suffered the same general illness (but different types) as my young family member, so it was the right time for them to tell me what had happened.

I don't know what happened to your mum and dad, what they died from, but that doesn't matter. If you don't want to tell them, then you don't have to. For me, I felt like I didn't deserve that information, I guess? I don't know. In a way, I wish I had been the one to ask; but Swiss cheese brain and all that.

Again, I think Cynefin has a great idea/tip for you.
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Re: Casual interactions. - May 28th 2018, 04:15 PM

Hey there,

I think that having a few different programmed responses could be helpful. I know that I have a few different programmed responses for certain things simply because there are times when a typical programmed response doesn't work well and having a back up helps with that issue. I also don't think there would be anything wrong with saying that you haven't heard from them in a while so you do not know how they are. If the person you are explaining that too tries to ask more questions you have the right to tell them that you aren't comfortable talking about it.

I am wishing you the best.

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Re: Casual interactions. - May 28th 2018, 04:33 PM

I don't have suggestions but wanted to let you know that I feel for you and this is something I haven't quite figured out for myself yet. I agree with program responses and havw tried that for myself and it works sometimes. Sometimes I would say I dont know; I don't live with my mother anymore. So it isnt lying but vague enough. The thing is that even if I were to say the truth, some people don't have limits and will keep asking questions like how?how long ago? Etc and it sucks to be in the position. Not even an "I'm sorry for your loss" and switch topics, just pressing for information. And asking me invasive questions and didn't even know my mother...anyway.

Since from what you said, they ask how your "family" is doing and not a specific family member, maybe building am answer about your sister can help. That way you don't have to mention your parents. Maybe something like "We haven't spoke in a while, we have both been busy" and like Cynefin said, ask them a question. So you can say "How about you? How are thinga going on your end?" and this will hopefully get easier with time as you learn more information about them, seeing that right now they know more info about you then you of them
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Re: Casual interactions. - May 29th 2018, 07:40 AM

Thank you all for the responses. I really like the idea of giving a noncommittal kind of answer and then asking them a question so the attention is off me. I'll leave this open in case anyone else wants to chime in, but thank you all again for taking the time to reply, I really appreciate it.

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Re: Casual interactions. - May 30th 2018, 06:21 AM

I'm sorry to hear that you're being put in difficult situations at work.

This happened to me several years ago, but I was the one asking the question. Sometimes people ask because they are genuinely concerned or interested, and not just making light conversation. She was honest and told me that her father had passed away. She got a little upset and I gave her a hug, and I think she really appreciated that. I wouldn't have been able to offer some warmth if she hadn't told me.

Being candid about your experience could help people to understand, and therefore less likely to ask the same question again; you might even find that they have been through something similar. Avoiding the truth could be counterproductive, especially if you see them again, maybe a few weeks later and they ask the same question.

"I know that's probably not the answer you were expecting. How are things with you?"

Also, you could adapt your response based on who is actually asking. I think that older people would be more experienced with managing this kind of conversation, while younger people may not know how to proceed.

If you don't feel comfortable about replying, you could say that it's complicated and you don't feel like discussing it. That's totally fine too (I don't think it's rude), and they should respect that.

"I appreciate your concern but it's complicated and I don't feel like talking about it."
"Sorry I can't stop to talk, I need to get x done by x amount of time."

Each interaction will be different, and there is no harm in having stock responses ready in case you need to use them. Don't overthink it though, I think you'll do what feels right in your heart at the time.
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