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Will The Real Dead Marty Please Stand Up?

I work for a man named Marty Smith. At 9PM this morning, Marty left for a meeting. At shortly before 10AM, our admin assistant entered the office in tears and told us a higher level admin assistant called and told her Marty was dead of a heart attack. This was very hard to believe since he had walked out the door and seemed to be feeling OK. She left the office to confirm. She came back and said that Jimmy Johnson (a branch chief in another office) said Marty’s wife had called and he had passed shortly before.

Now this is very strange, ­ we work & live in a large metropolitan area and it’s not easy to get back and forth (Marty often takes public transportation). So Marty would have immediately headed home instead of going to the meeting, when there are medical facilities in our building. And why would Jimmy Johnson hear first? He barely knows Marty.

I called Jimmy Johnson with several of our branch employees standing around my cubicle and told him that I had heard that Marty Smith had passed and he said it was Marty Martin (who was an employee of his) who had passed according to Mr. Martin’s wife. I repeated what Jimmy said, “Marty Martin has passed…”, and those around my cubicle starting laughing in relief. I expressed my sorrow to Jimmy and ended the phone call.

Faux pas: Don’t call around announcing a death if you haven’t confirmed it.

Faux pas 2: Marty is well liked but I can imagine what Jimmy thought when I said, “Marty Martin died”, and there was cheering. Do you recommend I contact Jimmy and explain and apologize on behalf of my office? 0612-12


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  • QueenofAllThings June 13, 2012, 9:02 am

    It’s important to be careful with this sort of news.

    My husband’s first wife passed away quite young. About 2 months after my husband and I married, another woman in our group of friends passed – and she had the same first name as me. Several people thought that I had died, and that my husband had lost another wife. There was about 15 minutes of hysterics over it (and then, of course, deep grief over the loss of the woman who had passed on – she was quite young).

  • Stacey Frith-Smith June 13, 2012, 9:10 am

    Oops! Talk about getting lost in translation! Isn’t there a chain of command for releasing this kind of information? That would prevent these mishaps. (Because as much as Marty was liked, whether Martin or Smith, what good does spreading the news ahead of the fact checking curve do? It is a bit like a race for the scoop on the latest upset between news networks.) In this case, several people were upset who had no reason to be. And some who were understandably upset had their sensibilities further damaged by a call to confirm just which Marty had passed…with cheering, even.

  • Cat June 13, 2012, 9:10 am

    I had a similar situation when a custodian at my school said a former principal with whom I am friends had died. I wanted to confirm it and thought of calling her husband, but how does one begin a conversation like that, “Hi, how are you? Uh, is there anything I should know?” I have never been good at subtle conversations regarding awkward subjects.
    I finally decided it would be easier just to call her cell phone. When she answered it, I knew that either I had really long distance or that she was not dead.
    Your situation was a gross misunderstanding. with no ill intent. I do think I’d explain the laughter being relief at being misinformed.

  • Cat June 13, 2012, 9:17 am

    A second situation worth repeating for its comic content happened to me years ago.
    Just before Hurricane David in 1978, I bought a little blue parakeet and named him David after the storm. I kept him until I got a cat whose idea of a good time was making a meal out of David. I gave David to our school’s secretary, Gloria.
    Several years later, I was going into a school basketball game when I stopped to say hello to Gloria, who was taking tickets. “Oh”, she said sadly, “I have some bad news for you. David is dead.”
    The only David I knew at the time was the head of our English department. His wife had just had their second child and the elder was only five. Thinking of his young wife being a widow with two small boys, I turned white. “Yes,” Gloria continued, “I found him at the bottom of his cage with his little feet in the air.”
    I knew immediately that David, the English teacher, would not have been found in the bottom of his cage with his feet in the air and I started to laugh. I had to explain to Gloria that I had first thought of the wrong David.

  • 2browneyes4 June 13, 2012, 9:40 am

    I’m sure that was quite embarrassing for the OP. I have also had similar embarrassing situations.

    1. When I was working as an attorney in a law firm, I worked with Partner A on Client X. I needed information from BigWig #1 (a fairly young man in his early forties) at Client X and I had been waiting a few days for him to get back to me. I called his office and spoke to one of the secretaries. I asked to speak with BigWig #1, and she seemed puzzled and asked why I was calling. I was a little put off by her tone but figured that BigWig #1 was not available, so I asked to speak with BigWig #2. She said that he was not available. So I asked was there any chance that BigWig#3 was in. She said, “Well, my dear, I guess information at your firm has not trickled down to you yet, but BigWigs #2 and #3 are not available because they are at the funeral for BigWig #1.” I was mortified!! I then made the connection that it was the reason that Partner A, Partner B and Partner C were not in the office that day. I was so embarrassed that all I could do was apologize profusely and get off the phone. But I made sure to give Partner A “the what-for” (we had a very friendly rapport) when he got back from the funeral.

    2. I’m part of a very large family. My great-aunt’s ex-husband is “Joe” (a very elderly and frail man) and her son (my cousin) is “Joe Jr.” We have always called the son “Joe Jr.” to avoid any confusion. One day I received a call from Joe Jr.’s ex-wife. She was calling from my great-aunt’s home and said “Joe died. Can you call your family and let them know?” So I started calling my mom’s sisters and brothers. My mom is one of 8 children. I had called each one, including my mom, to tell them that Uncle Joe died. With each call, of course, there was a great reaction of grief and sadness: “Oh No! Uncle Joe! That’s horrible!” There was even some crying on some of the calls. I was on the last call letting my aunt know that he had passed away, and she was crying, and then she got a call on the other end. She put me on hold, took the call, and then clicked back over to me saying “That was your mom. She said she just found out it wasn’t Uncle Joe that died!! It was Joe Jr.!!” (betcha saw that coming, right?). I was floored!! I had assumed that it was Uncle Joe because he was elderly and the last time I saw him he was a little sickly and frail. In addition, when I got the call, Joe Jr.’s ex-wife just said “Joe” died, not “Joe Jr.” as we always called him. I had to call all of my mom’s brothers and sisters back (except the aunt I was talking to) and tell them “it wasn’t Uncle Joe, it was Joe Jr.” and then go through the reactions of grief and crying again, this time a little more sad because Joe Jr. was not even 60 years old yet. Also, it made me look like a fool. And, to top it all, I felt like a slug when I did a reading at the funeral and Uncle Joe was sitting in the front row glaring at me because evidently someone told him I said that he had died!!

  • Angela June 13, 2012, 9:54 am

    This is one reason I’m cautious about anything like this that’s posted on Facebook. Some people are anxious to be the first to tell everyone and they don’t check out the situation or the details. Then there are hundreds of unnecessarily upset people!

  • Thel June 13, 2012, 10:13 am

    OP, I would definitely recommend contacting Jimmy and explaining, especially since he may well heard the cheers and is probably very puzzled about it (I know I would, although I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that there was any ill-will towads the deceased).

    On a side note, (sadly) almost every office has its “harbinger of doom”, someone who for some reason seems to enjoy spreading bad news and being “the first to know”. Good for you, OP, that instead of listening to the grapevine you went to a reliable source to check the information!

    And lol at Cat’s story! n_n

  • David June 13, 2012, 11:23 am

    Yes, I would call and explain the laughter.

  • Vermin8 June 13, 2012, 11:53 am

    Hi, I’m the OP. Thank you, admin for accepting my submission.
    Stacey, we do have a chain of command (and a strict one). The admin who called our admin is friendly with her (ie, our admin) and with our Marty. I’m guessing she overhead when the news was going from the branch chief (Jimmy) up (and misheard the name) and immediately called our admin (or someone else overhead and told her). Emotions began to run high and proper procedure went by the wayside.
    When I first heard the cheering I motioned to them to keep the noise down but those in the office were looking at each other rather than me. Fortunately, it was the branch chief and not a family member (I don’t know any of them and they wouldn’t have called this office) so damage is minimal – it takes me back to the Osama Bin Laden discussion and is a good example of why news of a death should ALWAYS be treated somberly.

    Cat, I can see a large bird cage with a man at the bottom (dressed in a nice suit of course) with his feet in the air. I would have like to have seen the look on your face as you were processing the info.

  • StephM June 13, 2012, 12:17 pm

    When my sister Samantha was born, my grandmother had a cat named Sam. One day he got outside and was hit by a car; he died that night and my grandmother was quite upset. The next day she had to go into work and when her coworker asked how her weekend had been, my grandmother started sobbing. Finally she choked out, “Sam died!”
    Her coworker, quite understandably, thought my sister had died and so started crying too. My grandma was confused until the coworker asked when the funeral would be. Then she realized the miscommunication and, supposedly as red as a tomato, explained that she was talking about the cat. A humorous story now, but the coworker didn’t find the humor in it for a few hours.

    I think you should explain why people were cheering. It will be hard finding the right words, but it’s better than Jimmy thinking you work with heartless jerks.

  • --Lia June 13, 2012, 1:02 pm

    I am reminded of an etiquette mistake on my part that turned out well. I was a regular at a small informal store/snack bar which was a hang-out for single folks in the neighborhood. I ran into the same people night after night and considered myself friendly with the employees. One was a somewhat troubled teenager that the regulars had affection for. She’d been in therapy, was still somewhat fragile, but she was pulling her life together through some difficult times. I’d met her mother when her she would pick up her daughter after work. The boss was a misfit in his own way, could be something of a jerk, but he was also the sort to give a job to a troubled kid and be kind to her.

    When the employee wasn’t at work, I heard that she’d been fired, heard someone else say “it was a shame what happened,” and then some time later learned that the girl that worked there had been killed in a car wreck. It was horrible and I expressed my sympathy. It didn’t occur to me that she hadn’t been named, only described as little. Months went by, and I ran into the mother somewhere else. We gave each other wry smiles, but I couldn’t bring myself to do the decent thing and express my sympathy directly to her over the tragic loss of her daughter. It was the usual. I couldn’t think of the right thing to say and therefore did the cowardly thing and didn’t say anything.

    A few more months go by, and I run into the poor dead girl apparently alive and well and working somewhere else. She’d gained some weight, looked much healthier, but didn’t seem much happier. It took me a while to piece together the story. Obviously it was a different “little” girl who’d been killed, one who was short and worked in the daytime, not one who’d been struggling with anorexia and worked at night. The “shame” was in the story of how my friend had been fired. I never did get the details on that and didn’t want to. The funny part was that my cowardly faux pas worked in my favor. Imagine if I’d expressed sympathy to the mother over daughter’s death when she wasn’t dead at all!

  • Shelly June 13, 2012, 1:04 pm

    What a mess! A good lesson to learn though.

    I teach English to French-speaking students (adults), and this reminds me of something that came up in class last year. One day, we were looking at phrasal verbs, such as pass in, pass out, pass up etc. When we came to the expression “pass away”, one student blushed and told us about an embarrassing faux pas she had committed with that expression when she first entered the workforce 25 years earlier. At that time, she was working for the fundraising / alumni relations branch of a university. Upon calling a prospective donor, the woman who answered the phone informed my student (after a pause) “I’m sorry. He’s not available. He’s passed away”. My student had no idea what “passed away” meant, and thought it was something like “He’s gone out for a while”. Therefore, she asked the poor woman “What time will he be back? Is there another number where I can reach him while he’s passed away?” After the poor woman (the grieving widow, it turned out) explained what “passed away” meant, my student apologized profusely. She felt so bad that the shame still lingers each time she comes across that term 25 years later.

  • Andie June 13, 2012, 1:22 pm

    A few years ago my Sister-in-Law discovered texting and thought that announcing the death of my husband’s great uncle via text message was just a super, time saver of an idea.

    Which reminds me of this exchange I saw somewhere on the web:

    Mssg: Your father died.
    Reply: Took him long enough, we buried him in ’94.
    Mssg: You don’t have to be a jerk because I dialed a wrong number.
    Reply: Don’t you think someone whose father died deserves a phone call rather than a text?

  • Snarkastic June 13, 2012, 1:40 pm


    Too Funny. I know you saw it on the good ol’ Net, but I’m going to give you credit. The breakdown of society always gives me a good laugh and brings a tear to my eye.

  • PM June 13, 2012, 5:23 pm

    2browneyes4- In the first situation, there was absolutely nothing you could have done and I think the receptionist was a little rude for speaking to you in such a frosty manner. She could have just said Bigwig 1 had passed away instead of letting you dig deeper and deeper.

    Thel- We called our “harbinger,” the “crepe draper. Because no matter minor the illness, the crepe draper was already forecasting that this sore throat or minor surgery was “the beginning of the end,” and she was already hanging the mourning crepe on the future decedent’s cubicle.

    Is anyone else reminded of that scene in “Employee of the Month” when the manager announces that the cashier from Register X has died and everyone gasped and sobs, “Mary’s dead?” The assistant manager whispered in the manager’s ear and he says, “Oh, sorry, it’s Susan, not Mary. Susan’s dead.” And everybody sighs in relief and says, “Thank goodness!”

  • Saucygirl June 13, 2012, 5:30 pm

    Years ago I was at an event with some people I had worked with previously. One of the ladies came up to me and said she was sorry to hear about my dad. He had recently had his third heart attack, so I didn’t Think her comment was weird. But then she kept talking and her comments made no sense. Finally I asked her if she knew my dad was still alive. She started to argue with me, insisting he was dead cause that’s what she heard. She argued with me for almost five minutes! I came close to calling my dad to convince her that her fifth hand information was wrong.

  • kingsrings June 13, 2012, 7:11 pm

    Social networking has also added to the confusion of announcing deaths. Recently, a woman in my industry of work passed away from cancer. All of a sudden, I see these “R.I.P. (very common first name)” all over Facebook profiles. Since it was a common name, I had no idea who it was and desperately wanted to know, obviously. I politely asked on one of the statuses and sent a private message as well, but she refused to answer me. Why would someone post a status for all to see, yet refuse to answer someone’s question on who it was? I don’t think inquiring who it was is a faux pas.
    What I’m afraid will happen sometime is that someone, using whatever social networking tool, will erroneously announce a death. Through misinformation received or whatever. Many, many people will see it, and it will set off a Pandora’s Box of trouble. I know people want to spread the news, but make sure it’s accurate before you post it!

  • Vermin8 June 13, 2012, 7:27 pm

    Thanks, everyone. I’ll talk to Marty’s (other Marty’s that is) supervisor tomorrow. I’ll tell him to excuse the “noise” in the background since we were under the impression our coworker had died so if he couldn’t tell people were cheering I won’t tip him off that they were.

  • Cat Whisperer June 13, 2012, 8:39 pm

    Wow. Never had a situation like that happen at work. But the part about people cheering brought me back to the day that we heard our much-detested division manager, a man whose meanness was legendary, was retiring. It was was announced at our staff meeting and people started spontaneously singing “ding, dong, the witch is gone” from the Wizard of Oz. (And nobody felt like apologizing, either!)

  • ilex June 13, 2012, 9:16 pm

    This reminds me of something that happened when I was in high school. A schoolmate was killed in a car accident, and it was announced over the loudspeaker in the morning, followed by a moment of silence and many tears. I knew the student fairly well; he was in one of my classes that year and I’d always liked him. Imagine the shock when he walked into class a couple of hours later! As it turned out, there were two students with the same name, and I had no idea that there was another “Bill Smith” in an upper grade (neither did our stunned teacher). As sad as that day was, I admit I was overjoyed in those first few moments when I realized he was still alive. I didn’t cheer, but it was a happy moment — and then of course it turned somber again, because we had still lost a schoolmate. It’s very intense to be told a friend has died, only to discover he’s OK. I think the faux pas is forgivable, but I agree it should be explained.

  • Jenn50 June 13, 2012, 11:13 pm

    Social media has a way of letting the cat out of the bag in a really unfortunate way. I work in emergency services, and I can’t tell you how often a grieving family has found out about a loved one’s passing via a “RIP Steve” status some insensitive clod posted. Last year, one of my 14 year old son’s younger schoolmates was killed in an accident. (12 years old) A neighbour called at the crack of dawn to tell me, so that I could get to my son before he found out on facebook. When I went to tell him, he had known about it since a mutual friend had texted him at 1:00AM.

    Another time, a woman came drunkenly careening in her truck to the scene of a motorcycle accident where her husband had, indeed, just died. She nearly killed a crowd of onlookers and emergency workers. Some friends had seen the wreck and called her to say that they thought “Mike is dead.” Even though it was true, it wasn’t a great way for her to find out. In her grief, and impaired state, she put a great many people at risk, rushing to a scene where she could do nothing but watch us pull a sheet over her husband and load him into the medical examiner’s van. It would have been so much better if they had either gone and spoken to her directly, where they could stop her from driving in such a state, or better still, left it to the authorities to break the news. We are trained to have these conversations, and to deal with the fall out safely and get the appropriate supports in place. Now, she has a terrible mental picture of his traumatized body as her last memory of him, and could have killed herself and a lot of other people on the way there. I have grown to really dislike people who are so driven to be the one in the know that they spread rumours or even facts without sensitivity.

  • Laura June 13, 2012, 11:57 pm

    “At 9PM this morning, Marty left for a meeting.”

    I like to think Marty left in the DeLorean for this 9PM morning meeting.

  • kingsrings June 14, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Jenn50 – there was a terrible incident a few years ago near my town where a teenage girl and her prom date were murdered at her house by the girl’s crazy ex-boyfriend. Her mother was the one who found them. She or someone else informed the son, who lived in a city many hours away. He immediately hopped into his car and sped there, only to crash his car in his impaired state and die. So the woman lost both her kids. In those types of cases, it’s best to let someone know, and then to take their car keys away from them so they don’t add to the tragedy by driving in such an emotional state.
    I think that people, the “town criers” like you described, foolishly think they’re helping the ones affected by the tragedy by doing things like that. And they’re afraid of being accused of, “How could you not tell me??” type of thinking. But one needs to think of the ramifications before they act. I’ve found out about several deaths through Facebook statuses of people I’ve known, and I haven’t been upset about the way I was notified – yet. If it was a close friend or family member, of course I wouldn’t want to find out via Facebook!

  • SJP June 14, 2012, 8:30 pm

    I have a deadbeat cousin whom I loathe for many reasons, one of which was calling her father long distance to inform him that my father (his y0unger brother) had died after she heard a rumour. My poor uncle was devastated and called my mother sobbing. We could hardly understand him at first until we realized that he was relaying condolences and asking how it happened. We handed the phone to my stunned dad who spent the next half hour on the phone crying with his big brother and reassuring him that everything was okay.

    I wanted to kill my cousin for not contacting us to confirm whether or not the rumor was true. She loved to create drama and actually enjoyed relaying the rumor as fact to her dad just to hear his reaction.

    Just one of the many reasons she is dead to me. Trust me you don’t want to read the rest of the list of the crap she pulled on my family over the years.

  • jess June 14, 2012, 11:08 pm

    The police here in Oz decided to create an awareness stunt once to highlight the horror of dangerous driving. With the cooperation of student A who was very popular and well like at the school the police announced at morning assembly that the student had died after driving dangerously on the saturday night (this was announced monday morning and the student had been unreachable since saturday night) of course the students were horrified, full of grief for a few hours until the student turned up at school later and the police called another assembly to explain. There was a lot of anger at the police for this but in my opinion to show these kids just how traumatic it can be for people left behind and how much they suffer, it is a great wake up call . If it made even 1 teen think again before driving dangerously then the brief moment of grief was worth it.

  • Kimberly June 15, 2012, 12:11 pm

    We had the opposite problem at work. Our principal will not announce what he considers personal information, sometimes even if you ask.

    So my teammate is out. We have a bunch of people show up after school wanting to know were she is because they need their tickets to an event and teammate hasn’t replied to their e-mails. So Team Leader and I had to tell them that teammate’s brother had died, and that she would be back the next day. The event was 3 or 4 days away.

    Another time I was assigned to tutor some older kids – and the aid that was supposed to take my class didn’t show up. So my teammates were had to split my class – and had sent another coworker on a hunt for me. They knew I was in the building and couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t in class.

  • Mabel June 15, 2012, 3:03 pm

    At my exjob last year, we had an employee who died in his sleep over the weekend. When I came in the following Monday, the general manager came up to my desk and told me himself. We were all very upset; he was the maintenance assistant, and there wasn’t a single person there who didn’t like him. Of course it was a small company, and he was the only person there with his name. We had 2 Tonys, 2 Dales, 4 Marks, and 3 Daves! So you can imagine the confusion if something had happened to one of them.

  • Enna June 16, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Oh dear, sounds like miscommunication to me. Very important to have facts right before passing information like this.

  • JL82 June 17, 2012, 12:51 pm

    In the early 1990s, several musicians and crew people touring with country singer Reba McEntire’s show were killed when their small plane crashed. One of those was the road manager. There were actually a total of two or three planes transporting everyone involved in the show; only one crashed. McEntire’s husband, also her overall “career manager,” was not on the plane that crashed. But McEntire says in her book “Reba: My Story,” that media announcements of the crash phrased it something like, “musicians and the manager from the Reba McEntire show,” leading to her step-children (childeren of McEntire’s husband with his first wife), temporarily thinking they had lost their father! (And this was WAY before social media, so I suppose many forms of media are fallable this way.)

  • DDawn23 June 19, 2012, 9:28 pm

    My second year of college I happened to move into a dorm room that the previous year had been occupied by my friend Dawn 22. One day I got a call. “Hey, Dawn, it’s Grandpa! I wanted to call you on your special day.” I was confused because it wasn’t like my grandfather to call, and his voice seemed a bit off, but it wasn’t until a good minute into the conversation when he referred to his wife as “Granny” (a name my grandmother never goes by) that I remembered it was Dawn 22’s birthday. I remember thinking “Why is Grandpa calling me on Dawn 22’s birthday?” and then another moment passing before the light bulb came on.

  • Ashley October 2, 2012, 10:31 am

    In high school, getting ready for History class, a student came in and announced very solemnly, “Mr. Rogers died.” We all turned in silent sympathy to the student, Ryan Rogers, and the room got very quiet. “Yes,” continued the student, “I loved his TV show.” While we were relieved to learn that our classmate’s father hadn’t just died, I was sad all day over the wonderful Mr. Fred Rogers’s passing.