Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Finding closure after my stalker ex died: I recently learned that an ex of mine passed away after a debt collector contacted me trying to locate him. This led me to look him up online, and he came up as deceased. He died last year, apparently. I don’t know how, and it seems odd as he was still quite young. Nearly a decade ago, we lived together for two years. I knew our breakup hurt him badly, and he lost both his mother to cancer and his brother to a DUI shortly after our breakup. These tragic events intensified his attempts to reconnect and escalated to stalking. I saw his deep grief and tried to be kind, but when he broke into my apartment and threatened to kill himself if I wouldn’t take him back, the police had to intervene. Afterward, I cut off contact completely. It speaks to his loneliness that I was the name he used as a credit reference years later.
I have spent the last decade of my life looking over my shoulder in fear because of what happened. I spent years in therapy. I was fond of his family when I knew them and would not dredge up any of his bad behavior if I did approach them. There are plenty of kind things to say about him too. Would I be wrong to express my polite condolences and ask what happened for the sake of closure?
A: I don’t think there’s anything wrong in wanting to express your condolences to your ex’s family, but I’d encourage you to take your time, talk it over with your therapist, and have a plan in place to protect and look after yourself in case his family doesn’t respond or responds angrily. It’s not that I think a hostile response is the likeliest one, but given that you haven’t spoken to them in years, it will help to be prepared. But don’t press for details when you send them your sympathy. If they want to respond with more information, they can, but I’m of the opinion that condolences shouldn’t be accompanied by questions about how someone died. Your curiosity is understandable, and I’d likely share it in your situation, but you shouldn’t press them on it.
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