Ask Helen

Grieving and gratitude both deserve handwritten notes

A Nosh of Jewish Wisdom:
Don’t argue with people you do not respect.

Dear Helen:
My father-in-law died very unexpectedly. It was a huge loss to everyone. I went to help for a week and while I was there, my boss’s mother died. She was a matriarch just as my husband’s dad had been the patriarch. My boss sent flowers and refused to let me use vacation time, paying me full salary. How can I acknowledge and thank her?

Dear Grieving:
Write her a very personal note. Handwritten is best. Here’s a start:
Dear (Boss): Thank you so much for the flowers, salary and most importantly your support during the recent death in my family. I was terribly sad to learn you were undergoing the very same grieving process after (mother’s name’s) death. She was a great person. Whether the end comes quickly or after a long illness, we who are left to carry on are no more prepared for coping with the forever absence of those we love and who were so much a part of making us who we were. As a wise friend told me, “You’ll have good days and bad ones, and no idea when you wake up which it will be.” Grieving is not linear and tears can sneak up on you when you least expect them. Don’t be shy about saying “My mother just died.” Everyone has been there or will be. Sometime when we’re all in a better space, let’s go have drinks and toast our departed loved ones. May their memories be a blessing. Empathetically, (your name)
Then, in a few weeks, send her an email and ask when’s a good time to go out for sharing memories of the dear departed. Bring family pics and ask her to do the same. Share food and drinks, and absolutely pick up the tab graciously and appreciatively.

Dear Helen:
What can one say to someone who is unconscionably rude about weight issues? I am fat. I admit it up front. I am on a medical program and on Weight Watchers. I have taken and kept off almost 100 pounds. But the reasons that make it hard for me to lose more weight faster are no one’s business but my own. I work out in an aqua-aerobics class and there is a woman in the class who lost weight with a radical medical procedure, and is now very critical of everyone who’s not a skinny-malink. She told a man in the class who is planning a 1,000-mile tandem bike trip with his zaftig wife to “get another partner or she’ll strand you by the side of the road!” She hasn’t made rude remarks to me directly, but I can feel her eyes on me all the time.
On Track

Dear On Track:
People who are rude, judgmental and confrontational rarely respond well to having the mirror turned around on then. While you may be sure she is saying bad things about you behind your back, unless she does so to your face, you probably shouldn’t engage her in a battle of who’s ruder about whom. Your judgments about her rudeness might be construed as equally offensive, certainly by her and perhaps by others. If you know for sure that she has said something about you, you can talk to her. But be very sure that you do so with other people around whom you believe will be reliable and articulate witnesses.

If she does say something to you directly, you can say something akin to this: I’d heard that you have no boundaries, especially about people who look like you used to. To be clear, my relationship with my body is none of your concern. I do not give you the right to judge me, nor will I internalize any of your opinions. Please keep them to yourself. Then turn and walk away. It may not stop her, but it might quiet her down.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to and check out the blog at

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