Dear Prudence

Help! My Co-Worker Sent Me an Unforgivable Text When My Dad Died.

Who in their right mind does that?

Woman looking at her phone with a text bubble floating outside of it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Q. Utterly Confused: I need advice on how to deal with a coworker. For the past several years I have worked with “Sarah,” who is in the same small section in our department. A couple of years ago, Sarah started texting me on the weekends (usually stuff like landscape pictures with a “Have a great weekend!”) and calling me weekly to talk about mostly work-related stuff and occasionally some personal stuff. These calls were usually anywhere from 30-60 minutes at a time. Because our work focuses on the same area and we are working on the same projects, it was nice to have someone I considered a friend. Late this past spring, my dad had a massive heart attack and passed away…

On the morning this happened, I texted Sarah to ask if she could cover my shift. We work in academia and this shift was basically the final meeting between my grad students and their clients. It was important for the meeting to take place and could easily be overseen by another staff in the department. I told her my dad had had a massive heart attack and I needed to get to the hospital ASAP as he was on life support and lived two hours away. She said she couldn’t as she had a meeting herself. I asked if she could reach out to another co-worker for me as I was trying to get out of the house as soon as I could. She texted me back with “You can text her.” I reached out to the other co-worker and got it covered.

Eight hours later, I am in the ICU with my dad and family, making the very hard decision about whether to take him off life support. Then Sarah texted me with, “Hey, sorry to bother you, are you going to be writing up a performance review for so-and-so?” I didn’t respond. I haven’t responded to her since. She has reached out for a couple of other work-related issues which I dealt with through email. I am now going to have to start dealing with her again on a regular basis. I have been so incredibly confused at how she responded to what happened. Who in their right mind does that to someone they supposedly cared about? She never asked how my dad was, what happened to him, or how I was doing.

Am I overreacting to her response? I cannot go back to the type of relationship we had before this happened. The whole thing is so weird and awkward. Do I just act like nothing happened and that all of her calls and personal text messages over the last two years didn’t mean that we were good work friends? Even other co-workers in the department who I was not nearly as close to came to my house with condolences and reached out to say how sorry they were. I don’t even know what I would say to her about what transpired.

A: You’re still mourning your father, and I don’t want you to even dedicate the brain space to trying to figure out why Sarah turned out to be a failure as a friend. It could be anything from being clueless about how to respond to a tragedy, to dealing with some personal issues of her own at the same moment and being out of emotional capacity, to simply not caring about you beyond work and landscape pictures. Whatever it is, she’s shown that she’s unable or unwilling to be a good friend (or really, even a decent colleague) to you. As the kids would say, match her energy. From here on out, communicate with her about work stuff and nothing more.

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