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His mother died and I never called. Can I fix this?

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to bintel@forward.com.


Dear Bintel,

At Rosh Hashanah services this year I saw a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and we joyfully caught up in the hallway, like old times. My synagogue had a well-organized indoor service with social distancing, and it was SO nice to spontaneously see friends again!! But then as I walked away, I realized with a gasp that I had never called this friend when their mother died earlier this year. The shiva was a Zoom shiva right around when my state started shutting down, and with all the craziness going on we just…never followed up, my husband and I. This person is the kindest, most gracious human, and I’m sure they would be nice about the lapse, but I feel awful.

How do I call now and apologize? It really was a crazy time, with the pandemic and some things going on with my children, and I want to let them know how sorry I am that I didn’t reach out. His mother used to sit a few rows behind me in synagogue, and I remember her with so much fondness. And now before Yom Kippur, I have to do something, right?

Signed,
Friend From (Too) Afar

Dear Afar,

You should definitely call to follow up, but not to apologize. Instead, you should deliver the condolence call you never made.

This person lost their mother, and I’m sure it would be nice to hear from someone who has fond memories of their mom, especially during the holidays. You can give one or two sentences of context, for sure, but don’t make your guilt the focus point of the conversation. That would just result in them comforting you for feeling bad, instead of you comforting them for their loss!

Given the feelings of mutual friendship, a simple, “David! I am so sorry I didn’t reach out when your mother died. Sam and I were keeping you in our hearts, but somehow with everything going on we didn’t reach out, and I feel awful. But I was so sorry to hear the news. Your mother meant so much to me…” would be totally appropriate. And then focus on your memories of the mother, and why you miss her in synagogue, etc.

The High Holidays are a natural time to reach out to old friends, so don’t let this opportunity slip by. The call, from everything you’ve written here, will be appreciated, and it is the right thing to do. But make it about the mother, and not about your guilt.

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to bintel@forward.com.

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