Dear Carolyn: I’m introverted and can be a little socially awkward generally. My parents are the same, so this is partially my personality and partially that a lot of social customs weren’t modeled for me. I have a group of friends from college, and they are usually pretty great with this.
A few months ago, one of them had a baby girl who died at five days in the NICU. I sent a personal email immediately saying how sorry I was. A mutual friend told me about the wake and funeral, but my friend didn’t invite me. I knew my friend and her husband have large families, and I’m not great with big groups of strangers, so I didn’t go.
Afterward, a few mutual friends asked where I was, and I gave my reasons. They basically said it was really important that I attend the funeral, and our friend was hurt I didn’t go. I asked them why they didn’t tell me it was that important. They responded that they didn’t think they had to.
Ever since then it’s been a little chilly between us all, and I think they are phasing me out of the group. I’m really hurt because I feel like I made one mistake and now I’m being kicked out. I like these girls a lot and I’m sorry I hurt my friend, but expectations were not clear to me and I never intended to hurt anybody.
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This situation is really distressing to me, and I don’t know how to apologize and get back on track. I also was wondering if you have any resources for people who don’t know much about social skills.
Terrible situation, I’m sorry.
It was really important that you attend, yes; in fact, calling it “one mistake” sounds inexcusably excuse-y.
It’s also understandable, though, that you didn’t know the rules because there’s a tough intersection here: unspoken rules, plus cultural awkwardness around grief. Even people who feel socially adept can lose their confidence in managing the rituals of death.
You don’t have to be “invited” to a funeral – a funeral home usually publishes any arrangements and the people close to the bereaved help by spreading the word. So, you were told in the proper way about the funeral, but as a socially awkward child of socially awkward people, you weren’t taught this the way people are taught this, through community experience.
I think your best avenue for repairing things is to talk to the friend you’re closest to. Explain that you’re clueless about funerals and the proper response to a death, you’re heartbroken that you did the wrong thing without intending to, and ask if this friend would help you out in the future with social cues.
Then you tell your grieving friend that you are devastated about her loss, and horrified that your clumsiness added to her pain.
The Compassionate Friends is a group that supports parents who have lost a child, and there’s also information for people in your position of having a friend who is in mourning.
Do this because it’s the right thing, too, for your friend – not just because you’re afraid you’re losing your friends.
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