Q: My ex-girlfriend and I were together for about two years, but the last six months were not great. We moved in together and we were always fighting and sometimes very cruel to each other. The breakup was ugly and I regret a lot of what was said. I would assume she feels the same way. Fast forward to now, not quite a year later. Through the magic of Facebook and after confirming with a mutual friend, I found out that her grandma has cancer and is not expected to pull through. She was very close to her grandma and I got to know her, too -- a very cool lady.
I feel like I should do something for my ex, but I don't know what. I doubt she wants me back in her life, and I don't think we were a good couple, but isn't it worse if I don't say anything at all? I don't want to be an a-hole and not say anything, but I don't want her to think I'm trying to put myself back in her life.
A: That's sweet of you to be thinking about your ex-girlfriend's feelings while she's going through such a tough time, so ... way to be a good person. Some people would rather jam an 8-inch serrated knife into their eye socket than let an ex know they still cared, especially after an epically awful breakup.
I'm going to assume that your ex-girlfriend probably has enough support around her in the form of family and friends. Reappearing in her life might be an unwelcome intrusion during an already stressful time, so stay away for the time being. You are likely the furthest thing from your ex's mind, as she probably wants to focus on spending time with her grandma while she still has the chance.
I know you don't want to think about her grandma's passing, but her inevitable death will be a better time for you to finally say something. Ask one of your mutual friends to keep you updated on any changes in her grandma's condition. When she does pass away, get the necessary information regarding the funeral service or memorial. This way, you can offer your condolences in the form of flowers, an appropriate gesture that the family will appreciate. Choose a simple message for the attached card that extends your sympathy, but does not address your girlfriend directly, and sign it with your first and last name. "My deepest sympathies, Don Johnson" is kind, brief and unintrusive.
A few days after the funeral, you can send a more personal message to your ex-girlfriend in the form of a sympathy card or short letter. Don't make it about you and her, and don't say you wish there was something you could do for her. That type of sentiment can easily be misunderstood in your ex's heightened emotional state, and she might even get angry with you for trying to insert yourself into her tragedy. Instead, tell her that you thought her grandma was a really special lady and that you were very fortunate to get to know her, and share your favorite memory of her. Sign the card or letter with another simple message of your condolences like, "She is gone but your love for her will never stop" (or something faith-related if it's appropriate to your ex-girlfriend's beliefs) and your first name. Seal, stamp, mail and don't expect to hear back from her right away.
You might not hear back from her ever, but that's OK. Even if your ex would prefer plucking out her toenails with a pliers to having a conversation with you, you still did the right thing by acknowledging the death of a very important person in her life. You loved the girl deeply for at least a year, right? It's natural for you to want to reach out to her when she's hurting.