Category Archives: Advice

Uncomfortable Gift Requests at Work

Recently, one of my coworkers lost her father after a long battle with a terminal illness. She took the last week off from work to grieve and deal with family business. Today, she came back to work, and one of my other coworkers passed around an envelope containing a sympathy card.

The catch? There was a note on the envelope asking for cash to be given in her father’s name as a gift to a local church.

Being the nonconfrontational person I am, I was a little irritated at first, but not enough to raise a stink about it. I simply signed the card with my condolences and an offer to lend her an ear if she needed someone to talk to, then passed the card off to the next person on the list. I considered the idea of asking her if there was anything else I could do in her father’s memory, but quickly dismissed the idea as (obviously) a little insensitive.

I’d like to make up for not chipping in on this gift, but I’m not quite sure what to do. Most of my coworkers are Catholic, and asking them for alternatives would almost certainly lead to an uncomfortable discussion about religion that I really don’t need to have in the middle of my workday. I’d talk to my parents, except that they seem to be confusing “I’m an atheist” with “I’m a nontraditional Christian who is struggling with his faith.” I figure my best bet is to toss the question out onto the web, and hope something comes up in the net: What could I do to honor her father’s memory without offending her and bringing up subjects that aren’t really appropriate for work?

Dealing with Loss as a Nonbeliever

I’ve never really been good at dealing with loss. It’s bad enough when it’s my own loss, but I never know how to handle helping people I know through their own loss. Basically every coping mechanism I had for dealing with death is based on my theistic upbringing.

Now, as a nonbeliever, I’m left without those options. I could say “they’re in a better place,” but it would be an empty sentiment since I don’t really believe that. I could say “their pain is over now,” but again, if they don’t exist anymore, I don’t think that’s really much consolation.

This all comes up now because a friend of mine recently lost her husband of many, many years, who I’d never actually met. When I lose someone myself, I know that I can take solace in the memories I have of them. I can remember the time we spent together, the laughter and tears we shared, the good times and the bad. But when it’s someone I only have a vicarious relationship with, I can’t really relate to anything but the raw emotion of loss, and I don’t handle that very well. I react awkwardly and tend to feel uncomfortable.

How do we deal with loss, ours and that of others?