The husband of someone in my office passed away suddenly and I said, “I’m so sorry, but he’s in a better place now.” She was offended by this and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. What did I do wrong?

The best words of comfort are simply, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” or “Please know I am thinking of you.” Saying “He’s in a better place,” or “It’s God’s will,” are not comforting and are about your belief systems, not necessarily about those of the widow. It’s also a good idea not to say, “I know how you feel,” even if you think you do, because you really don’t know how she feels and this is not comforting and, in fact, is a statement about you, not about the person mourning the loss.

 

We recently attended a colleague’s wedding and had a wonderful time. We took some great pictures of various groups and posted them on Facebook. Boy did we hear about that, and not in a good way. What was wrong with sharing photos of a great time?

Not everyone wants his or her social life shared with the world, so when you’ve captured images of others, it is best to ask permission before you post pictures of them or the event on social media.

 

My girlfriend and I just broke up. She now wants me to return gifts she gave me for my birthday, Valentine’s Day, and other events. Is she right that I need to return them?

No, you don’t need to return them. They were given as gifts, not as collateral contingent on a continued relationship.

 

I was recently hospitalized because of an emotional problem. I’m fine now, and back at work, but people keep asking me what was wrong. I prefer not to tell them and have said I required therapy for a back problem. I now feel bad that I basically lied to them, but still don’t want to reveal that it was an emotional problem. How should I have handled this?

Citing back problems was not a prevarication that harmed anyone, and took away the stress of having to detail the real issue, but it would have been fine to say, “Thanks for asking! I’m all better and so glad to be back!” If someone persists in wanting to know what was wrong, you can just say, “Oh gosh, I really don’t want to talk about any of that, but I appreciate your concern!” And change the subject to a topic that isn’t you. This may lead to all kinds of nosey speculation on the part of your co-workers, but the reason for your absence is none of their business. It may be that you tell your boss, if necessary, particularly if your absence required an approved leave of absence, and ask that he or she keep the cause of your absence confidential.

Questions for Catherine? Send them to [email protected]