Answer Lady: April 2010

This month our wise and witty expert takes on birthday-party etiquette, e-mail misfires, and a grieving friend who may need professional help.
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Q. I recently e-mailed my cousin to complain about my sister-in-law. It turns out that I accidentally sent the e-mail to my sister-in-law! Now she's barely speaking to me. What should I do?

A. Darn that lightning-quick "send" button! It's amazing how much family drama one little tap of the finger can cause. To get back on good terms with your SIL, write her a note and apologize profusely. (Since she's giving you the silent treatment, you may not have much luck getting her on the phone.) Say something like "I'm so happy that you're part of our family, which is why I hope you can forgive me for sending that e-mail. It was a rude and immature thing for me to do. If I had something to say, I should have come to you." Then tell her how much you value your relationship with her. It probably won't be an instant fix but it may lead to a gradual thaw. And I'm sure I don't need to tell you to double- or even triple-check the address in the "to" line before you send e-mail from now on.

Q. My friend lost her mom to cancer last year, and she's very depressed about it. I want to suggest that she get counseling but I'm not sure how to say it when she's this fragile.

A. Even though it's not unusual to mourn a loved one for a year or more, a counselor or support group could help her work through the pain. However, she might just want "permission" to talk about her feelings with you. People who are coping with a loss like this may worry that their friends will get tired of listening to them grieve, so they keep their emotions bottled up. So invite her over for coffee one day and ask her if she still feels sad and how she's been coping. Wait until later in the conversation to casually say, "Have you thought about joining a support group or something like that?" If you don't think she can afford individual counseling, you might mention that hospices, hospitals, and churches often sponsor bereavement groups. Just keep in mind that sometimes there's no way to speed the healing process. If you can accept that it takes as long as it takes, you're a true friend.

Q. I'm throwing myself a 40th-birthday party and I'd like to invite a few work friends. However, there are only about a dozen people on staff, and I'm worried the rest of my coworkers will feel left out. What should I do?

A. In a situation like this you're better off putting all or none of your coworkers on the guest list. The only other option -- inviting only the people you're closest to and asking them to keep the party a secret -- is a bad idea. The excluded people will probably find out about the party somehow and may feel hurt. If you have enough space and can afford to do so, why not invite everyone? I'm sure your coworkers will appreciate the kind gesture, and chances are that only a few of them will show up anyway.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2010.

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