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A few weeks back, I learned that my coworker and good friend "Jill" was pregnant. I knew some people were throwing a baby shower for her, so when a card was circulated around the office, I wrote something like:

"Congrats!!! Although there will be a lot of crying and sleepless nights, you'll love this new stage of life! Call me when I can bring over dinner." (Jill had brought over a meal for my wife and I when we had our first, so I was fully intending to repay the kind gesture).

A few days later, I was confused when another card went around for Jill. My coworker claimed this was the only card that was circulated. I eventually figured out that I must have actually signed a card for another coworker "Mary" without realizing it. Mary had just lost her spouse, and this was a sympathy card.

I was horrified when I thought through what I had written. My writing wasn't just irrelevant, but could probably be taken as extremely offensive and crude. I like Mary and certainly didn't mean any harm. The card had already been mailed, so there was no getting it back. I went into all out panic mode for the next week.

When Mary returned from bereavement leave, I apologized profusely. I explained the mixup and told her how stupid and sorry I was. She just looked at me said "I do not accept your apology", and walked away.

I feel awful about this situation, but I'm not sure how to proceed. She's understandably upset with me, but I need to fix things between us, especially since Mary is someone I work with on a regular basis. How can I repair our relationship while being respectful of her current circumstance? I feel terrible about this, but I don't know what I can do.

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    Really, nobody who signed the card afterward noticed the "Congrats!"?
    – Jay
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 17:17
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    @JoeStrazzere The times when I've signed a card like this, I tried to not read any other message as I considered them a private message to the receiver of the card. I've also never considered that other people might read what I write in these cards, so I would expect my message to be likewise treated somewhat privately. There is also the possibility that if others read his message, they might assume it's intentional and think badly of him for it but leave it as is. This is still a pretty wild coincidence, but as they say "truth is often stranger than fiction." I wouldn't asume OP to be lying.
    – JoL
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 19:01
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    @joestrazzere, all corporate cards look sort of the same and they’re passed around far too frequently, someone could easily mix up death, birth, marriage, sickness or whatever.
    – teego1967
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 19:51
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    @JoL i read the messages others write. it is a publicly shared card, there should not be an expectation of privacy. nobody who read that message would just think "oh classic Meeple, publicly hitting on my bereaved colleage I totally think I should sign this and send it on"
    – bharal
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 20:20
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    I'm getting serious deja vu off this one - I'm thinking of the characters Frasier Crane, Ros Doyle, or maybe something involving Larry David. Truth may be stranger than fiction, and coincidence is possible - but perhaps that's the way to think of it : as something that might have happened in a sitcom. It's one way to feel better about it. Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 7:31

4 Answers 4

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Nothing to be done about it now, I guess. Give it some time and see if she'll be more receptive in the future. For now you're just going to have to live with it.

Next time pay closer attention to the contents of the card before you put anything on it.

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Oh dear.

The pervasiveness of signing cards in the workplace these days means that getting it wrong occasionally happens. Most of the time this sort of thing is pretty innocuous and gets laughed off by both parties - you've just been incredibly unlucky in having that particular message in that particular card.

At this point though there really isn't anything you can do - you didn't mean it but that message is likely to have been incredibly upsetting to Mary. Losing a spouse or other close family member is something that most people grieve over for quite a long time and her refusal to accept your apology may well have been driven by that grief.

You've said your piece and now all you can do is give her space and wait. Her stance may soften with time or it may not but there's nothing you can do to hurry that along.

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Time.

Give her time and space she needs. You might want to talk to your management and/or HR people, so they can move you or Mary to different projects and she can cope with the situation at her own pace, without being forced to have everyday interactions with you, which she might find difficult at the moment.

Also, as I've already suggested in the comment below your post, you might want to consider asking the same question on Interpersonal Skills SE, as this is a problem you probably would like to resolve not only in your professional environment, but also on a personal level.

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    in addition to Time, I would also try to limit personal contact > email, chat, and indirect communication would probably help here too and show that OP is at least trying to be respectful after the blunder, which might help speed up the professional recovery time a bit.
    – RandomUs1r
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 22:48
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Well for one, always read the name on the card, before you sign it, you learned this lesson the hard way.

As for dealing with Mary, you should write her a personal note, explaining the mixup again in words, and telling her your true sympathetic thoughts about her spouses passing. If she doesn't accept that, then there really isn't much you can do, the ball is in her court to repair the relationship at this point.

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