Dear Margo: Funerals and Family Secrets

Margo Howard’s advice

Funerals and Family Secrets

Dear Margo: When I was in my early 20s, my husband and I visited my aunt and uncle. My uncle had been drinking and tried rubbing against me and copping a feel. I got away from him and never said anything about it to anyone, as he was married to my favorite aunt (my mom’s sister) and I didn’t want to start any trouble. She was more like a sister to me than an aunt. They moved to another state when my uncle retired. My aunt always wanted me to visit, but I made excuses.

In 2003, she passed away, and my uncle moved back to my state. He called wanting to take me out to dinner. I told him fine and added that my daughter (25) and granddaughter would love to go, thinking I would be safe with all of us. He said fine, but later called and said he didn’t want my daughter and granddaughter to come. He started talking dirty to me and insinuated that I cheated on my husband. I told him he had the wrong person and hung up.

His children are two cousins I love dearly. I’ve never told anyone any of this. I cannot stand this man. My problem is this: He is way up in years now, maybe 90, and I’m sure he doesn’t have much longer to live. I do not want to go to his funeral to show respect, as I have none. What would I say to my cousins if I didn’t attend? — Sickened

Dear Sick: “I was feeling unwell.” — Margo, conveniently

A Workplace Headache  

Dear Margo: Help! My co-worker is driving me crazy. When I was hired, she insisted on buying me lunch despite my protests. I would buy hers to keep it even. It was expensive, and I kept trying to stop it. She refused to listen. She kept calling me her friend. I did not want to be her friend. She had a nasty reputation. I had been around her when I temped for the company, and when anyone disagreed with her, she said she had worked for a large company out east, as if that made her right.

She was divorced, and the reasons for her divorce would expand whenever she heard someone else’s problems. Her life story keeps evolving, too. She was molested by a teacher; she is on several medications; she was abused by her father. She spends more than four hours a week talking to her mother at work, and the rest of her family calls her after the boss goes home. She always has a special project that keeps her from doing her share of the work. And that is the tip of the iceberg.

I am tired of the drama and of being called her friend. I treat her fairly, but would not be sorry to see her leave. We work the evening shift; the day shift does not want her, as she is too disruptive. Management is blind, as she sucks up to them. I have put up with her for almost two years and am ready to go into therapy. I am a solitary person. I don’t need the stress that working with her brings. — Going Crazy

Dear Go: Unless you are a two-person night shift, I would get a petition going with your other co-workers to present to whomever is in charge. If that doesn’t work, I would meet with the boss and lay it on the line. She sounds nuts. One should not have to be in therapy just to go to work. If you can’t get her out of there, and if you can’t find a comparable job for yourself elsewhere, tell her flat-out that you wish to be left alone, and then only respond when it concerns your work. — Margo, straightforwardly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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22 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lynne says:

    1) Perfection … you do indeed feel sick when you think of the old geez, so put it to good use. Do take the girls to lunch after you’ve recovered, though, so you reminisce over times with their mom.

    2) Switch to the day shift if you can. Otherwise follow Margo’s advice to the letter.  Management must surely know this woman is nuts. 

  2. avatar JCF4612 says:

     LW1: If he’s into his ’90s, what makes you so sure the daughters will stage a funeral? In a few years, if not already, most of his friends will be dead and gone. Could be you’re fretting about something that won’t be happening. You can’t be the only one he pulled the old Joe Kennedy moves on.

    LW2: Start shopping for a new job, or try to get on days.    

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Letter #1:  Margo’s response is perfect.  I also agree that taking time after the funeral to spend with your cousins is an excellent idea.

    Letter #2:  Management may not be blind but may believe they have few options to fire this woman without facing a wrongful termination lawsuit from her.  Her annoying personal stories and imposing her friendship on you are not sufficient grounds to fire her and she is probably doing her job just well enough to get by.  Or, maybe they are blind because she has sucked up to them…it happens.  But there is no reason you cannot refuse to go to lunch with her and there is no reason you cannot say to her when she interrupts your work *sorry cannot talk now…must work*.  The best thing to do, sadly, is for you to find another job or request a transfer to the day shift.  But in almost every workplace there is someone who annoys everyone, slacks at their job, and is a general pain in the butt and you just need to manage around it by being firm, keeping your distance and try to focus on your work and put hers out of your mind. 

  4. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Margo. your response to letter #1 is very telling. What is that old saying? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” 🙂

    Well I don’t live by that adage.This letter writer has mental issues. Her uncle molested her, although she blames his inappropriate touching on him being drunk. She know that he has kids (girls) but never felt the need to say anything? Years later it is revealed he is still a sleaze, but she still doesn’t say anything and now in his death she is wondering how to decline an invite to his funeral?

    Sister, your desire for coming up with the right words to say was years ago when you were in your 20’s and he was copping a feel! But now in his death you just can’t seem to figure out what to say? Yeah, whatever you say……

    Letter #2 – I think anyone that has held a job has had to work with a version of this person. I unfortunately have had a LOT of people like this work along side me. I have the answer for you because it worked for me. Call them out on their crap and be relentless about it. When she talks about how she was abused. Ask her how she can be so comfortable discussing something so private at work? If she is caught in a lie, call her out on it. “I thought you said it was you father that molested you not your uncle?” When she refers to you as her friend gently say with a smile “It’s so funny whenever I hear you refer to me as your friend, I just see us as co-workers”

    People like this that are emotional slugs are looking for people who will be silent as they perform their life stories. These people think your job is to sit and listen. Trust me I know of what I speak, the moment you start engaging in the conversation and repeatedly calling her out on every detail, pointing out discrepancies, over and over….you will no longer be her go to person to share her life stories with. You’ll even start seeing visible frustration on her face because you’re not just quietly accepting everything she says.

    • avatar duranimal says:

      The LW was an ADULT in her 20’s when her uncle groped her inappropriately, and old enough to be a grandmother when he made the second pass at her. And we can assume his children are around the same age and can fend for themselves. It’s not like she covered for a child molester.

      • avatar Toni Jean says:

        Lw1 was sexually abused by a family member and both of you yappy witches are adding to the crime that happened to her w your small minded witchy judgementalism.
        The family member – as they often do – continued to shame her and blame her for what HE did. And here are you all doing the same. Lw1 please don’t listen to these sad yappers. You did the best you could. Find a counselor to talk to. This was NOT your fault. Hope you can talk to your husband about this. You are a SURVIVOR not an accomplice.

        • avatar duranimal says:

          Excuse you? I never said I was judging the LW, quite the opposite- I was disagreeing with Belinda Joy that it was on the LW to speak up to protect other family members from his abuse. If he had done it to her when she was a child and he was around children, that’s one thing, but she was an adult and it sounds like she was trying to spare her aunt’s feelings by not telling her about a one-time drunken incident, which is understandable. And no, she shouldn’t go to the funeral.

        • avatar butterfly55 says:

          Toni Jean, Sexual Abuse and Crime strike me as extreme words to be used in the case of LW1.  He made a strong pass at her!  If everyone who had something like this done to them considered themselves either a victim or a survivor the counselors would be so overworked there would be a long line to hire them.  Because he was a relative she was stuck with him in her life, couldn’t just walk away but could then, and can now- he’s not dead yet- ignore him.  You simply learn to be the bigger person.  And if you do not wish to go the funeral, don’t go.  In all likelihood they are not keeping track at that time of who is there and who isn’t.

  5. avatar Worthitall says:

    Letter #1: What Margo said…

    Letter #2: I worked with a kook like this for 6 years. She was a promiscuous (referred to by men on a dating website of “FDFS” – First Date For Sure) drama queen who was tearfully heartbroken at work every time a man who she slept with “broke up” with her. She had absolutely no personal boundaries regarding what kind of intimate, personal information she would share with whomever happened to be listening. If she knew anything about my life, that would be shared around as though she had somehow participated in the event. I asked her over and over to please leave me out-of-the-loop.

    After about six months I finally pulled her into a conference room and told her that I no longer would listen to any personal conversations, no would I discuss any of my personal life in front of her. I would work with her and discuss work-related information, but NOTHING personal. Management was well aware of her issues, since she didn’t leave them out-of-the-loop either. I worked with her on that basis for the next five years.

    She was also very adept at avoiding actually working, while somehow taking credit for projects she was on which she was a peripheral player. It was amazing to see. I went to our mutual boss more than once, even documenting the issues via email (which lives forever on the server). He is an attorney, VP of the department, not a dummy, but a very poor manager. Nothing was done. I think he was conflict-averse. The politics of the company made it unsafe to go over his head with the issues.

    Finally, after 12 years with the company, I left. It was the only answer. After I left, one of the other attorneys with whom I worked asked a coworker if I had copied upper management on that email. I had not, it was not my battle to fight, but I conveyed to my coworker that he had the authority to get the email from IT and run with it. He also did nothing, and has since left the company. I cannot imagine why she has been allowed to continue at that job. But she’s still there, still being disruptive and unproductive. I’ve been gone for a year, and I’m still angry; but at least I’m not dreading going to work every day.

    • avatar G T says:

      You answered your own question. She was promiscuous. Guaranteed she was “doing” the boss on demand. That’s why he never did anything about her. Saw it at my old job. Co-worker dated and such, but at the same time was giving our boss BJs in the stairwell, so was never fired even though she constantly made mistakes and ended up just creating more work for the rest of us, as we were always fixing said mistakes. We were a small office and our boss was very nice to the rest of us, very professional, never so much as made a pass at the me or the other female. He knew the difference between a woman with self-respect and a little gold digger and treated each accordingly.

  6. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: Out of respect to the cousins, and for *their* sake, I’d go. And don’t tell them about their father ever (what they don’t know won’t hurt them any).

    L #2: You’re going to have to switch gears fast (and fast). Stop reciprocating lunch, tell her firmly “I’m busy,” etc. If you have to get rude, give a proverbial bop in the nose, do it. What she’s doing is not much different, imo, than an obsessive person who insists/forces themselves upon someone to keep dating them. And yeah, if you have to go to Management with this…do it. But they’ll probably turn a deaf ear or look at you like YOU’VE got the problem.

  7. avatar Artemesia says:

    problems of productivity in the workplace are ALWAYS a management problem and this is a prime example. management knows but they would rather make lower level employees live with annoying and unproductive co-workers and pick up the slack than manage.

    I worked with someone like this for years, so nattered on endlessly while doing no work. I luckily was not forced to work directly with her but only caught it at the edges when she would corner me to whine and talk and I had the ability to slip out of it — and I had an office.

    Then a new boss came to town; she was gone within the month. It CAN be done, but most managers want the perks but not the responsibilities of management.

  8. avatar mac13 says:

    LW#1: Funerals are for the living. Go there and comfort your cousins in their time of need. No need to fly dirty laundry, just tell them you are so sorry for their loss. Can you do anything to help them. You can be pretty sure you aren’t the only one that he did this to. You are a grandmother now? And this first incident happened in your 20’s? Back then things like that weren’t just thrown around and discussed. You can be pretty sure they know.

  9. avatar Dawn Murphy says:

    I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to read the responses to LW2. I worked at a job that I loved for 10 years. We hired a woman who was so disruptive to my work life that I finally left a year after she was hired. For some reason, she targeted me as the person to whom she should tell her problems, life story, aches, pains, struggles, issues with other women, tried to pull me into office gossip which I had previously avoided and attempted to set up an “us against her” coup in our three woman department. She would come into my office every morning to kvetch for at least two hours. Ours was a social service agency and my boss had encouraged me to try to help her. So,I listened to her passive-aggressive BS, tried to counsel and found myself entangled in a nightmare. I won’t go into the specifics, which would take a lot more time to write about than I have now and would make for boring reading for everyone else. Yes, I should have set firmer boundaries, but this person presented herself so charmingly at first that I allowed myself to be sucked in. By the time it was too late and I was seeking the wisdom of my supervisor and the E.D., I was enmeshed in the most toxic relationship of my life. I left a job and a mission that I loved because of this person and I have been emotionally beating myself up for that mistake. Your responses to this similar situation have helped me finally see that I did the right thing. I’ve been feeling bad about being driven off. Now, I’m beginning to understand that I did the right thing for me. Whew!

  10. avatar B.eadle says:

    L.W.1 Not attending the funeral doesn’t mean that you’d be abandoning your cousins entirely. Just make an excuse for the day…migraine always works, and then comfort, share with your cousins at another time when the uncle won’t be the sole topic of conversation.

    L.W. 2 Bring your lunch to work, along with a good book to prop up in front of you. Tell her you just can’t afford to be buying all your meals anymore (make no mention of the ones you buy for her) and if she offers to buy for you tell her it isn’t necessary, as you’ve brought your own.

    If you do go to management you have to stick with things that are fire-able offenses, not just that she is annoying. Bosses often know who the cancers are in the office but they need solid ammunition to fire them. If she is spending as much time on personal phone calls as you have indicated, that is something for which she can be put on probation or fired…start there.

  11. avatar K Coldiron says:

    LW1: The uncle sounds like a class-A creep. Like, a really super-aggressive, super-creepy creep. Which makes me wonder whether he was a creep to other, more vulnerable people than the LW. Which makes me wonder if maybe airing the dirty laundry to the cousins is the right idea, if they have, er, memories they need to resolve. I’m a stranger and such a choice depends on a lot of factors that I don’t have access to, but it’s just a thought. Don’t go to the funeral if you don’t want to.

    I admit, nosily, I’m dying to know how a class-A creep snagged a terrific wife and raised kids the LW likes. Really interesting!

    LW2: I wish I could sit and have coffee with you about this. You must feel awful. Working with toxic people is the absolute pits. I think talking to a boss is the only possible answer other than finding a new job. If there’s no boss, or the boss can’t/won’t do anything, you are stuck in a terrible position.

    Another commenter noted that you can’t legally fire someone just for being a pain in the tail, but it’s possible the boss could plead hostile work environment or dig up some concrete evidence that she’s a poor worker.

  12. avatar Kathy says:

    LW1 – Am I the only one who thinks it odd to be fretting over whether to attend the funeral of a somewhat distance relative who isn’t dead yet?  If the guy will continue to creep you out even when he’s dead, don’t go.  Or go to the visitation so you can see your cousins and won’t have to listen to a tribute to the uncle.

    LW2 – Not sure how long it’s been since Margo was in “the workplace”, but it is simply not appropriate for employees to circulate a petition to get someone fired.  That constitutes  a “hostile work environmenT” and the petition circulator would likely be the one to get fired.  Every work environment has one irritant.  Wear headphones … always be too busy for lunch … when she starts complaining, say,  “I’ve got to get something done – catch you later.”  And say it every time.  Or, as everyone has suggested, start looking for another job and be honest with your boss about your reasons when you leave.

    • avatar Worthitall says:

      Kathy’s input is right on the mark…except for being “honest with your boss about your reasons when you leave”. All that will do is mark you as a malcontent, thus “burning the bridge.” When leaving a job, the only way to do it is GRACEFULLY.

      “Thank you for the opportunity I have had to work here. I have found a better-paying position/a different career path/ I’m moving to Antarctica) and my last day will be (at least two weeks away).

      And there is absolutely no benefit to being honest during an “exit-interview” (at least no benefit to you). Just as in an initial job interview, NEVER say anything negative, lest you be the one that is labelled the problem-child. You never know when you might need to use someone in your past as a professional reference. Always leave them wanting more.

    • avatar Lourdes says:

      Kathy, about LW1, you’re not the only one who thinks it odd…

  13. avatar Toni Jean says:

    Isn’t it odd that people heap judgement on a woman sexually victimized by a family member at 21 (too old!! she should have STOOD UP!! — but all join in on the pity party of an older more mature employee who doesn’t have the balls to stand up to a gossipy co worker. You all need to Think.

    • avatar mac13 says:

      Toni Jean, please seek therapy quickly. A pass does not constitute being sexually abused or victimized. Your little rant diminishes all the victims of real sexual abuse. Shame on you. Realize please, that you are certainly part of the problem and not the solution.

  14. avatar Anonymous says:

    This actrually happened to me, my husband’s uncle gave me hugs which turned into “hugs” standing behind me when the family was not around. It make me uncomfortable and I was scared to tell because it was my husband’s favorite uncle, but I told my husband (we had a young daughter and I wanted to be “courageous” for her). He was furious and ended up going to his mom (his uncle’s sister) and she made sure it never happened again. His wife, unfortunately never knew, but she would not have done anything anyway so I saw no point in ruining a family.