Eight months ago, my colleague “Andrea” lost her husband. They were married for 20 years, and have two children under 18. It’s obviously an awful situation, and Andrea still understandably struggles a lot with her grief. We are fortunate enough to have a great workplace that is very flexible—Andrea took three weeks off paid, and another three weeks unpaid. (Yes, I know I said they’re great, and they are—they are a small company that cannot afford to give someone 1.5 months off paid. They did tell her that her job would always be there for her if she needed more time, and they’ve also been completely supportive of her changes in schedule now that she’s a single parent.)
A little over two months ago, my cousin suddenly died. She was the same age as me, and we grew up basically as sisters. We were extremely close, and went through a few tough situations in each other’s’ lives together. I was (and still am) devastated. I took off a week to mourn, and am planning on taking another week soon to go with family members to my cousin’s lake house to celebrate her memory. Andrea found out, and confronted me, basically saying that I’m a terrible person because I “only” lost my cousin, while she lost her husband/father of her children, and I should be donating my paid time to her, instead of “taking a nice vacation” while her whole life is turned upside down. I was completely caught off guard, and had no idea how to respond, so I said, “Andrea, I’m so sorry you’re going through this, please know you’ve always had my full support.”
Well … she took that to mean I was agreeing to give her my vacation time, and I had to stop her, because she literally turned around to walk to our boss’s office to tell them. I said that wasn’t what I meant, I’m sorry she misunderstood. She called me a bitch, and now I’m public enemy #1. Around our boss, she dials it down by just not interacting with me, but otherwise, she’s pretty much openly hostile, and a couple of other colleagues have confided that she’s been trash-talking me up and down. I honestly don’t even care about that. They haven’t taken sides, and I don’t expect them to—as long as they’re still civil and neutral towards me at work, I don’t care if they let her vent in private to them. But, I cannot keep working with her blatant hostility. I don’t know what to do—I really don’t want to involve our boss (who, I do think suspects that something is up), but there’s no way I can talk to Andrea. For clarity—I don’t think Andrea would get in trouble if I reported this, I just don’t want my boss to have to play mediator. So, what’s the solution here?
— Grief is a Curious Thing