we took up a collection for a coworker to get to a funeral, but she lied about it and didn’t go

A reader writes:

A coworker’s grandchild died out of state. We all sympathized with the fact that she couldn’t afford a plane ticket to go to the funeral. I took up a collection so that she could go. It didn’t quite cover the entire ticket. We asked her if she could cover the rest but said that if we got more donations, we would cover her part also and give it to her upon her return. We also gave her two extra days off without using her sick leave. This was a few days before Christmas and people dug deep to get her to the funeral.

When she came back, we gave her another envelope of money covering the rest of the cost of the ticket plus some.

Well, I just found out that she told a coworker that she never went to the funeral. And yet, when we came back from Christmas break, I spoke to her about her trip. She said it had been a very difficult time. She never said she didn’t go, and she evaded questions. There are still people who don’t know the truth, but everyone who has found out has been shocked. Everyone who donated was doing it so that she could be with her family. When she came back and took the second envelope of money, it would have been the perfect time to tell us and hand it back. But she took it with a smile and a thank you. I completely believe that she was dishonest and that she kept the money.

I don’t know how to deal with this. It was a specific money gift to buy a ticket, not to give her extra money for the holidays. Some people gave who really couldn’t afford it, but felt so sorry for her. There is no question that she knew what the money was for. It was repeated so often to her, and we told her when we gave her the first envelope that she could book the flight that she had found. She said she would and went home. We let her leave early, and the flight left early the next morning.

How should we deal with this situation? I feel she was fraudulent in taking this money for a specific purpose and using it for I don’t know what. I want to talk to her about it and tell her how I feel. I also feel that she has ruined it for future people who truly need it, since people are now hesitant to give.

Someone should certainly say something to her — first, to make sure that the rumors are actually true (it would be horrible if people were mistaken about this but were talking about it as if it’s true), and second, because she should be called out on it if it’s true.

As for how to approach her about it … When you’re pretty sure that someone is lying about something, I’m a big fan of making it easy for them to confess, because that makes it far more likely that you’ll find out what the truth actually is. If you go into this with guns blazing, you increase the chances that she’ll lie, since that’s the easy way out for someone who’s already shown that she’s willing to deceive you. So I’d open with something relatively non-confrontational like, “Jane, did I hear right that you weren’t able to make it to Ohio for your grandchild’s funeral in December?”

Another advantage of this approach is that if the rumor is actually false (which is possible, even if it seems unlikely), you won’t be angrily confronting someone who doesn’t deserve to be angrily confronted.

Then, if she tells you that she in fact did not go on the trip, you can say something like, “I didn’t realize that. I had thought that when we collected the money, we were helping you to buy the plane ticket.” Notice that this response isn’t outraged yet; you want to give her room in case her explanation is a sympathetic one. (For example, you might feel differently if it turns out that she couldn’t attend the funeral because her husband was hospitalized the day she was supposed to leave and she was out the money for a non-refundable fare … versus just deciding to stay in town and do Christmas shopping.)

From there, it’s really up to you how you want to respond. You can express your strong disappointment, or ask her to return the money, or quietly end the conversation knowing that this isn’t someone you’ll ever trust again. You could also alert your manager to what happened if you want to; while this wasn’t misuse of office funds, deliberately defrauding coworkers out of their money is a pretty serious thing and not one that you’d be out of line to escalate to someone in a position to mete out consequences.

Related: my manager spent the money from an office collection on herself

{ 313 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Ok, is it wrong to take her court if she refuses to give the money back? (Assuming that she took it for the wrong reasons.)

    1. Anonymous

      Sympathy fraud is illegal. I think this situation might qualify, especially since the co-worker took that second envelop of cash.

  2. Andrea

    Wow, OP, this makes me angry on your behalf. It was very kind and generous of you all to help this woman, and I really hope that she actually did go or else had a very good reason why she could not (though she should have been clear about that, and since she wasn’t, it seems likely she was dishonest). Please update us, here in the comments, if possible.

    Maybe it’s true: Maybe generosity really is its own reward. In which case, it bears repeating: You and your coworkers sound like very generous people, and it was kind of you to try to help.

    1. AnonToday

      This.

      I will admit that I have been very affected by the losses I have experienced in my life and it has made me very sensitive/sympathetic when others go through similar experiences. I know I could not be calm in this scenario, so I would absolutely have to turn this over to someone else.

    2. Anne

      I can imagine that if another horrendous thing had come up which meant I couldn’t go to the funeral, and my colleagues had all raised money for me to go, I would be tempted to just say I had gone because I wouldn’t have the heart to tell them it had been wasted, or I just wouldn’t be able to deal with talking through more trauma with them.

      Not that I *would* do it – but I can see how it would be quite painful and why she might not have been up front about it. Doesn’t make it okay, but I could see it happening.

  3. Sunflower

    This is bizarre that a person would do something like this. My first thought was maybe she made the whole funeral thing up and just wanted some extra days off(right around end of the year/Christmas) and wasn’t expecting people to offer to buy a plane ticket for her.

    This would be so wrong if it was the case but I just can’t imagine someone knowingly doing something like this…

    1. AdAgencyChick

      But then why make noise about not being able to afford the ticket? She could have just said “funeral to attend” and left it at that.

      I hope for the sake of my faith in humanity that this turns out to be a misunderstanding — something like “coworker couldn’t go because she came down with a 103-degree fever the day of the flight.” But I have a feeling it’s not :(

      1. FiveNine

        Why make noise about not being able to afford a ticket? Because … she couldn’t afford to buy a ticket. Maybe not even a partial ticket. I know I certainly have been in situations where even family (my mom) knew I was broke — literally, broke — and still thought, strangely, that surely I had at least $250 to purchase car insurance for a new very used car after mine broke down. Money. That’s the first thing that jumped to mind — she probably didn’t have the money to buy even a partial ticket, and even though she told them she didn’t have the money, they still assumed she could and they told her they’d reimburse her. If that’s what happened, what was she supposed to tell them at that point? She already told them she didn’t have the money. She already told them she was broke, they didn’t totally grasp that, and as far as I can tell, she didn’t ask them for any of this. At that point she still wasn’t going to get to go on the trip.

        She should have given the money back at that point if that’s what happened. But I don’t know. I really don’t like how this thread is going, it’s making me very uneasy. She lost family, she didn’t get to see the family, if what I described happened the people at work put her in an even more uncomfortable position, and now she’s probably lost those relationships too, especially if OP is so roundly encouraged to treat this as actionable fraud.

        1. sunny-dee

          It is fraud. She told them explicitly that she was looking up tickets and then complained because she didn’t have the money. If she truly didn’t have, say, $200 to cover the gap, why look up tickets at all? Why tell people that she didn’t have the money to go, give them the price of the ticket and the flight times, and then accept money — twice — that was explicitly given to cover her ticket? And take off work to “go”? She could have not said anything, and no one would have been the wiser.

          1. FiveNine

            Strange, I see absolutely none of the details in the post that you are describing here. None. It looks like OP decided to take up the collection effort and it was OP that said they’d reimburse her for what they didn’t cover when she got back. She should have said Look, this basically doesn’t help at all, thanks so much, but here’s your money back.

            1. some1

              it’s farther downthread — AAM left the part out of letter where the coworker looked the ticket up online

        2. Rose

          I think what AdAgencyChick was saying was that if you were making up a funeral to get time off, you wouldn’t make up that you were too poor to go.

          I do think the whole thing is uncomfortable. I’ve found a lot of questions on here to be about how to deal with 3rd and 4th hand facts, and I wish Allison would focus more on the fact that this is gossip and shouldn’t be assumed to be true.

          “I just found out that she told a coworker that she never went to the funeral,” is a meaningless statement to me. Found out how?

          Maybe A talked to her and she was “evasive” (or just didn’t want to talk about it). A went and told be “the way she was talking, I bet she wasn’t even there.” B is horrified and goes and tells C “from what she told A, she didn’t even go!” C sees OP later, and tells him “She told A that she wasn’t at the funeral.”

          1. FiveNine

            Sure, if it’s gossip it could be simply someone misunderstanding that she was there for the services and the family but not the actual burial ceremony itself, who knows.

          2. Chinook

            Question – did the woman not go to the funeral or not go on the trip? Is it possible she went to visit her family but wasn’t up to making it the funeral ceremony or volunteeted to stay home with little ones (because some people don’t like bringing childen to funerals) or someone else not able to attend?

  4. BB

    What is the possibility that this is a big misunderstanding? Is it possible she did in fact fly out and spent time with the family and she just didn’t attend the actual service?

    1. Kerry

      That’s a good point. My grandfather died two years ago and a lot of people came to town for the wake but not the (very small) family service. That said, grandparent is a pretty close relation so you’d think she would go, but it’s not a totally unheard of thing.

      1. Wonderlander

        I think this is the most likely scenario – the co-worker flew into town and spent several days grieving with the family, but when it came time to actually attend the funeral, perhaps it was too upsetting for her to go. LW says “She said it had been a very difficult time.” It seems like a misunderstanding. The co-worker told another co-worker that she didnt go, but didnt really explain the details (she flew into town but was hysterical, couldn’t get out of bed, etc.)

        1. Anonymous

          I thought the same thing–I don’t think it’s far fetched to believe she backed out of a grandchild’s service.

    2. thenoiseinspace

      Or that the funeral somehow changed? My grandmother died only a few days before Christmas and making arrangements was difficult – many of the funeral homes were closed for the holidays, and most of the ministers were booked with holiday sermons, etc. The date changed at least once, and it’s possible that that’s what happened here. If the funeral was pushed up by even a day or two, it’s possible that she wouldn’t have been able to fly out in time.

      1. Sunflower

        Good point, when my grandfather died, he was cremated and there were very strict state regulations that had be to followed. It took around 3 weeks for him to be cremated so they had a very small service with a few people shortly after it happened and waited about a month later to have the actual service.

        1. Chocolate Teapot

          Where I live, it’s a legal requirement for the funeral to be held within 72 hours of death, and application for an extension (48 hours maximum) is rarely granted.

          What you tend to see are death notices in the local paper, then a separate section for memorial services. These are often 6 weeks later, or on an anniversary (e.g. a year after death).

        2. AnotherAlison

          Agreed, good point. My cousin passed away in February (a couple years ago) and they never held a funeral. He was cremated, and in May the family had a get-together and then took the ashes to a place a few hours away. In February, I had been told the funeral would be on X date a few days later, but they cancelled it because his wife couldn’t deal with doing it then.

      2. Delurking

        Another logistical hurdle: what if there was, say, a medical emergency that prevented her from attending? My mother once bought a trans-atlantic plane ticket to say goodbye to a 13-year old friend of the family who was dying of cystic fibrosis, but had a multiple sclerosis episode at the last minute and was hospitalized herself. She didn’t get to say goodbye, or attend the funeral, or go comfort the girl’s father and brother. Various comments have raised the possibility that the woman in the letter wasn’t emotionally up to attending the funeral, but what if she wasn’t physically up to it?

        1. Mona

          Something crossed my mind, alot of funeral homes ask for the total cost or half the cost of their services up front. Could it be that the family didn’t have enough for the funeral costs and the money she was going to use for her ticket she sent them to help with the cost of the funeral and that’s why she didn’t go? Just a thought.

          1. Kiwi

            Exactly. Tread carefully – she may have used the money to help pay for the funeral. Being overly confrontation in that situation would be, well, awkward for all concerned.

            1. ZENITHAR

              This is exactly my thinking, Grandma probably sent the money to the family to cover funeral expenses.

    3. AAA

      I have a friend who drove from California to Arkansas to attend her grandmother’s funeral (well, she was hoping to make it there in time to say goodbye, but didn’t)–and then couldn’t bear to go to the service. It was the “I’m so frozen in grief I can’t get out of bed” situation, so there could be something like that going on.

    4. iseeshiny

      This was the first thing that occurred to me, too. “Never went to the funeral” doesn’t necessarily mean “stole the money like a low-down, lying, thieving sociopath.” Not to say there aren’t people who would do that but I would make really sure that it isn’t some kind of terrible misunderstanding at play here.

    5. Brett

      This is exactly what I thought on first read…
      she flew out, but could not attend the funeral itself.

    6. Anonymous

      I was thinking the same thing. If the person is otherwise honest, I’d ignore this whole thing.

      She can’t go, so you give her money. She might have more important things to do with the money but is too stressed/ashamed to bring that up with the donors.

      If she went around asking for money for a flight, that’s one thing, but if part of the idea came from other people who just heard she couldn’t afford the flight, I think you should let it go.

      Oh, I see Dan says something similar below.

      1. Jaimie

        I completely disagree with this. She was given the money for a specific reason– to go and see her family, and when she accepted the money she knew this. It wasn’t for general bills.

        Similar scenario– you give money to a non-profit with the assumption that they will use it to further their cause. If the CEO used that money to pay her mortgage, that would be wrong.

    7. Laura

      I know that I missed my grandfather’s funeral because I was across the country and Jewish funerals happen within 48 hours after death, but I did come in shortly after, which often happens with out of town people

    8. Hcat

      That is exactly what I was thinking….she did go see family, perhaps did not go the actual funeral..for whatever reasons. Maybe it would have been too difficult, had to stay around watch the other little grandkids like the other posts mentioned. My gut is , this is a huge misunderstanding. I hope the OP sends an update,

  5. Dan

    TBH, if I was the person under suspicion, and I did keep the money and not go, I’d lie my ass off about it.

    The OP gives us the impression that they voluntarily took up the collection on their own initiative. If that’s the case, I disagree that it’s a problem that should be escalated to management, because I don’t see any real fraud intent. There’s a huge difference between “We hear you’re in need, so we toook up a collection for a plane ticket” and “Hey, can you help me out? I need a plane ticket.”

    As a manager, I’d probably say “not my problem, but don’t do that again.”

    1. Sunflower

      Exactly. If I was doing something dumb like playing hooky from work, I wouldn’t tell anyone. So the fact that the coworker admitted to someone that she didn’t go on a long funeral trip they funded is so strange.

      Also agree that I don’t think there’s much management can do.

    2. Zelos

      There might not be anything management can do, but I’d argue that this is something management should know. If the OP’s coworker did take the money without using it for its intended use (and didn’t have a mitigating reason to not do so), management should know about it because 1) this might not be a person you want to trust with sensitive information or money in the future and 2) if this person’s relationships with coworkers suddenly chills 25 degrees and no one cares for her, this would be why.

    3. BethRA

      Keep in mind, though, that the company DID give her extra time off to attend the funeral, so they have been directly scammed if the woman is making this up.

      1. Zillah

        But were they asked for extra time? If they just offered it without her asking, I’m not sure it’s the same thing.

        1. Rayner

          Accepting something like time off, which you haven’t earned and you know it, because of a like is definitely something that I would be livid about, if I was her manager. Time off is given at the discretion of the company and abusing it like that when there may be others who could have used it more, or will now be denied it because she’s ‘tainted’ the concept (like how people who don’t use telecommuting properly ruin it for others) is definitely not okay.

          To me, it would be like accepting a bonus for closing a big case, when I didn’t work it, or keeping quiet when I was overpaid. Although nobody may notice, if they do, the employee’s honesty and integrity will be questioned.

          1. Zillah

            Well, yes – but that’s not really what I meant. I can see that I didn’t explain it well, so let me take another stab at it.

            If she went to the company and asked for extra time to go to the funeral, I totally agree. If the company gave her extra time and explicitly said, “This is because you are going to the funeral,” okay. But I’m not getting that the company attached specific guidelines to the time off – my impression is that they gave it to her because her grandchild died, end of story. Unless her grandchild didn’t die, I’m not clear on how that’s fraud?

  6. EM

    This is awful! I feel so upset on you & your co-workers’ behalf, OP!

    Are you sure this woman actually had a grandchild that passed away? I hate to think like that, but the timing (right around the holidays) is a bit suspicious.

    1. some1

      Sadly, this crossed my mind as well. The receptionist at my old job called in and said her mom was in a car accident (not true) to get the day off. That’s not as horrible a lie to make up, but it’s still pretty appalling.

    2. ECH

      OP, I feel awful for you too. Could you google the grandchild’s name and perhaps find an obituary? That might at least ease your mind a bit.

  7. Anonymous

    This is barely related, but I just found out that the CEO of my company is keeping the leftover proceeds of our March Madness office pool. The top 3 winners will receive cash prizes, but the CEO is keeping the rest. Is this even legal? It seems so wrong.

    1. Juli G.

      Well, it’s unregulated gambling so none of it is really legal. I don’t know that you have any recourse.

      Is there any sort of viewing party or administration costs the surplus is covering or is it just the CEO’s cash.

      1. Anonymous

        Just the CEO’s cash! The CEO even said what it will be spent on. (I don’t want to give too many identifiable details here, but I can say that it’s definitely not a business-related purchase in any sense.)

    2. The Real Ash

      So then no one should participate and those who have already given their money should ask for it back.

      1. Adam V

        Not just that – take your money from the CEO’s pool and start a new pool where the winners get larger payouts because none of the money is being held back for other purchases.

    3. Brett

      Even when it is illegal gambling, yes, it is still considered fraud (stealing by deception). Depending on the amount of money involved, the CEO could be in serious trouble if charges were pressed. According to the law enforcement officers I checked with, $500 would put him in felony range in our state.

      Of course, the deception part matters here. If the participants know that he is keeping the rest, then there is no stealing by deception. (Still illegal gambling though, and a really bad idea for a CEO to run a pool like this.)

    4. Gene

      At least in Washington state, office pools and the like are legal as long as ALL wagers are paid out as prizes. If anyone keeps any part fo the wagers, it is illegal gambling.

      So here, yes, it is illegal.

    5. Brett

      Addendum to this from a sgt…
      “There is illegal, and there is what the prosecutors will actually prosecute.”

      1. some1

        Yeah, the only time I have heard of illegal gambling being prosecuted for pools/lotteries at work is when it’s govt workers, but that’s because there is a specific law on the books prohibiting it.

      1. De Minimis

        I don’t know if it’s illegal everywhere, depending on how it’s operated. We had one at a former job that was similar to what Gene mentions…the top three got a fixed percentage of the prize money. Our pool was “officially ” sanctioned by management, although we used Yahoo Sports to make our entries. It was the type of company that is normally hyperaware of any potential illegality or improper behavior, so I think they must have at least researched it first, but I could be wrong.

          1. Natalie

            Not quite – there are 4 or 5 states where office pools are legal. It’s not common, though.

    6. danr

      In NJ it would not be legal. All of the money put into a pool has to be distributed to the participants in a way that is known beforehand. A local paper had an article explaining this a couple of years ago. They don’t care about office pools on sports, but they do care about organizers who do this for a living and take some money for their troubles.

  8. Cally

    When you give someone cash for a sympathy-related purpose, I really don’t think you are able to dictate how it should be used. I am sure the recipient is struggling mightily with many things in her life right now, and had to make the best decision for herseld. If the money was ONLY for a plane ticket, then the OP or someone else in the office should have purchased the plane ticket themselves.

    The cash was a gift. Once a gift is given, it can’t be recalled. I don’t think the fact that this was done at work is any worse than if it were done in any other setting – anyone could lie to anyone to get money at any time. This is something we just have to look out for based on how well we know people.

    1. LV

      I generally agree that givers can’t dictate how their gifts are used, but if someone gives you cash in response to a specific need of yours and makes it clear that they assume/expect you to use it for a certain purpose, it doesn’t seem very honest to take that money when you have no intention of using it for that.

      1. Zillah

        But I feel like they put this woman in the position where she couldn’t really say no.

        If they’d offered to put together a collection and she’d said, “No, please don’t do that,” that would be one thing… but it seems like the first she heard about it was when they gave her an envelope full of money. It was very kind and very well-intended, but it was a situation in which it was difficult to say no, especially given that she was likely in a negative frame of mind given that her grandfather had just died.

        1. BB

          If this was the situation and I were the coworker, I’d probably be a little irked because I personally don’t like people doing things for me when I don’t ask and I don’t like handouts. I would have definitely felt uncomfortable if I was the coworker in this case but at the end of the day, it’s hard to argue that someone was put firmly in a place of ‘I couldn’t say no’ when you’re talking about coworkers collecting a large sum of money for you- it’s not as if they presented her with a nonrefundable plane ticket. I just find it extremely hard to believe in this case that the coworker was that stuck.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Here’s more from the OP’s email to me (there were about 3 emails as I sought clarification on details; I combined them into 1 but apparently left out this detail):

          “When we decided on getting donations she got on the internet to find out how much it would cost. She found a flight for $300.00. That way we knew what we had to raise.”

          1. Jax

            Wait, we’re only talking about $300?!? For some reason I thought we were talking about a large donation (over $1,000) since it took 2 collections and a lot of fuss.

            1. Zelos

              $300 is a pretty good chunk of money. Why would “only” $300 make any difference in our answers?

              1. Aunt Vixen

                Because it was a group collection to raise it. If there are ten people contributing, that’s $30 a pop. I’m not saying everyone has thirty bucks lying around that they didn’t plan to use for other purposes, but it’s not each person kicking in three figures, here.

                1. Zelos

                  It was a kind gesture for a grieving coworker. It may not have been as hard of a financial hardship than if the collection was $1,000, and the OP said some of the givers “dug deep” and “couldn’t afford it”. Now, people who truly can’t afford it shouldn’t be donating, but at the end of the day, it was a kind gesture meant for the OP. If the whole thing really went down like the OP described, I would be monumentally pissed off whether I donated $5, $10, or $50.

                  Most of the time, people donate to grieving coworkers without any stipulations on what the money was used for and I don’t have a problem with that. But the OP looked up prices of plane tickets and seems pretty complicit in going along with everything and the nature of the gift. If there wasn’t mitigating circumstances, I’d be pretty angry at being deceived irrespective of the dollar amount I actually donated.

                2. Colette

                  And if there were 3 people contributing, it could have been $100 each. Even if 10 people contributed, 9 could have contributed $10 and one kicked in the rest.

                  This is similar to going door to door collecting money for charity, then spending it on a weekend away for yourself, or collecting money for flowers and then picking some from your garden. It’s deceptive and unethical.

                3. fposte

                  I think it’s deceptive and unethical if she knew she wasn’t going to go and still accepted the donation. It’s perfectly ethical if she took the flight, stayed with her family, but didn’t attend the funeral service. It’s somewhere in between if she thought she was going and then something happened.

                  Yes, she should have given the money back if she was unable to leave town. But I think there’s a little slippage here in that the OP’s workplace seems to feel as emotionally ripped off as if she’d *asked* for the help, and she didn’t; there is therefore the possibility that the situation they initiated is one she sucked at dealing with, which isn’t the same thing as deception.

                4. Colette

                  Yes, totally agree that if she went and stayed with her family but didn’t end up at the funeral service, then that’s in the spirit of what the money was intended for.

                5. Liz in a Library

                  Yeah, but what’s affordable varies a lot person to person. There have been times when $30 would make the difference between buying groceries or eating rice (and rice, couldn’t afford the beans) all week for my family in the past. If coworkers donated money, even if the amounts seem small, I suspect some at least would have chosen not to give if they hadn’t thought the money was being used to send a grieving colleague to her family.

              2. Jax

                Because $300 from your coworkers is the modern equivalent of a condolence casserole. If you wouldn’t care how/when the family ate your casserole, then it shouldn’t matter how/when your co-worker spent your $50 donation.

                1. Zelos

                  I feel differently if the donation was specifically earmarked for a purpose. My reading was that if the funeral had been local, the $300 wouldn’t have happened (or maybe happened in a lesser amount?), but people really dug deep and stretched themselves to find the money so she can take the plane ride.

                  If it was a general “our condolences” with a donation, then yeah, I’m not going to ask how they spent it. But specifically digging deeper for extra money that had an earmarked purpose…that feels very different to me.

                2. Hooptie

                  Sounds kind of elitist to me.

                  Did you read the part of the post specifically stating that this happened during the holidays?

                  For some people, coming up with an extra $5 to donate is tough, but at the holidays it is 10x harder.

                3. Jax

                  I think the “dig deep” comments are exaggerated because the office feels outraged. $50 in the moment probably felt like nothing, but $50 handed over to a “liar” now feels like a lot.

                  My point is this isn’t a large amount to confront a grieving woman over. Odds are this is only going to upset her, and for what? So the office can feel vindicated for their $50? So she can cry and reassure everyone that she really is upset and their money was well spent?

                  Like the casserole, you don’t know if it was eaten or quietly dumped down the garbage disposal–but that wasn’t the point of making it. You do it to reach out to a fellow human in grief and show her love.

                4. AJay

                  If the woman could not afford the $300 (or even a portion of that amount) why do you think it was so much easier for her coworkers to donate the money? Maybe they all make minimum wage and it was a huge collective effort. $50 is hours of work for some people.

                5. Del

                  There are plenty of people in the world, and even in the USA, for whom $50 is a lot. You are fortunate in that it seems to be chump change for you, but that’s far from universal.

                6. Hooptie

                  Jax – you must be a millionaire. For the average office worker, $50 is a lot of money. For some, it could be a week’s worth of groceries. There is a big difference between a casserole and a shopping cart. Just because you can easily afford $50 doesn’t mean that you get to downplay the significance of that same $50 to someone that may be in a much different economic position.

                7. Jax

                  I make $30,000 per year (not that it matters) and I know exactly how much $50 is.

                  I gave $80 to a coworker’s friend who lost everything in a house fire. I’m not following up with him to ask exactly how my money was spent, and judging the choices made. I gave it, let it go, and hope that it helped in some small way.

            2. AJ-in-Memphis

              I was assuming that was in the thousands as well (b/c from personal experience a last minute flight costs at least $1500 from here to any-friggin-where)… *Not that it makes it less wrong* but now – in my mind – it’s not as a large a deal as it was when I read the original letter. It’s almost like it’s not worth asking for it back. And I don’t it’s elitist to think that way either, but rather just a matter of opinion.

    2. Sunflower

      I think this is different than someone who might have lost a spouse or parent and the loss of that person may bring financial hardship. Also, I think if the funeral was local, the gift would have never been given in the first place which, IMO, changes things also.

      I don’t think it’s fair for her to use the cash to pay off a car loan because I don’t see how her grandchild’s death has any bearing on her previous ability to pay it off.

      Then again, I don’t know a lot of people who give cash for sympathy-related purposes…

      1. Aunt Vixen

        When my father died, a group of my colleagues passed the hat and gave me a bundle of cash and explicitly said it was because they knew missing work (and traveling, as it happens) for his final and post-final days was a financial as well as extreme emotional hardship. I didn’t need the money, but there was no question of my not accepting it. That’s obviously slightly different than the OP’s situation, but I offer it as precedent for cash sympathy gifts.

        The same group also sent flowers to the memorial service, separately. And a different group made a donation to the hospice in my dad’s memory.

        1. Ellie H.

          If you didn’t need the money, and it was given because your coworkers understood (incorrectly, it seems) that missing work and traveling to the funeral would be a financial hardship, why did you accept it? Was the social context of your relationship with your coworkers and the moment in which they gave you the money such that you felt it would have been rude to decline the money? If that is the case, it is understandable, I am just a little puzzled by the way you described it.

          1. Aunt Vixen

            Yes, it would have been rude. I know the OP’s co-worker’s situation was a bit different. In my case, the whole thing was done without my knowledge, and given the dynamic of the group, it would have been quite rude to refuse it.

            1. Ellie H.

              Thanks for replying – like I said, that is understandable. We all like to feel that we are being helpful to someone in a time of need.

      2. Mints

        I agree with this. Generally, when someone gives cash in a sympathy situation, it can be used for anything, and in low-income communities, if a wage-earner dies, it’s completely fine and expected to use it to pay bills or groceries or funeral expenses.
        However, in this situation, the coworker was only given the money because of the need to travel out of state. With AAM’s clarification above ($300 comment) it’s feels really dishonest and gross. Out was a gift given under false pretenses

        1. Jamie

          I agree – this wasn’t a regular sympathy gift it was earmarked to meet a specific need.

          If she didn’t go she should have given the money back (and certainly not have accepted more) and let the donors decide if they wanted her to keep it.

          I’ve only given cash in instances where I know the bereaved is in financial straights due to the death (this is something I have only recently known to be a thing – giving cash) and in those cases they can use it for the funeral, groceries, whatever because the intent is just to make it easier for them in a difficult time and they can decide better than I where it should be spent.

          Earmarked donations are a whole different ballgame.

          1. rollcake

            When giving cash to the bereaved, it also stands to mention that this usually refers to those who are directly, financially responsible for making arrangements related to the funeral/memorial/other events. So in this specific case, that would be the parents of the child, assuming they are arranging and paying for the funeral. The coworker having to pay to fly does make it a very nice gesture to donate and get her to the event, but when talking about sending a donation as a gift, I think that refers more to those directly involved in funeral arrangements.

            (Still, I think it’s very likely this was a misunderstanding, and the coworker physically flew to the location but didn’t attend the funeral itself.)

    3. KJR

      “When you give someone cash for a sympathy-related purpose, I really don’t think you are able to dictate how it should be used.”

      This is exactly what I was thinking. You give someone in need money in the hopes that they use it for what you intended, but in the end, it’s up to them what to do with it – it is a gift. So it’s essentially taking a chance whenever you give someone money for a specific charitable purpose, outside of a structured fundraiser.

      1. KJR

        By the way, OP, you and your co-workers are an awesome bunch of people. I would be proud to work with you.

      2. SL

        No. In this situation it was very clear what the purpose of the money was, and furthermore, the recipient gave every indication that the money would be used for the expected purpose. If she indeed did not spend the money on a plane ticket to go out to the funeral then she should be called out on that. She knowingly mislead her colleagues.

  9. Sophia

    At first I was outraged but after thinking about it – it seems highly likely that this is a misunderstanding. I’d imagine someone who was lying wouldn’t then tell a fellow co-worker they didn’t go. So I’m thinking, she flew there but didn’t attend the actual service

    1. JustKatie

      I agree, it would be really odd for the coworker to accept money, then admit to somebody in the office that they didn’t fly out. I vote misunderstanding, also. I also don’t think much good will come of digging deeper, whatever the real story is- UNLESS this person has a history of lying.

  10. kyley

    I think it’s worth considering that people grieve differently and they respond to really intense grief differently. It’s possible that she couldn’t bring herself to go to the funeral. A dear friend of mine lost a very close friend suddenly, and she just couldn’t bring herself to attend the funeral, but chose to mourn in her own way. She received a *lot* of real cruelty from others in response to this decision, which was very painful. So maybe this woman realized that she couldn’t attend the funeral for emotional reasons, and didn’t speak up to avoid inviting judgement? Maybe she’d even bought the ticket already, before realizing this. Maybe none of this happened and she’s just really manipulative, but I would tread carefully with this one, because there is just so much potentially at play.

    1. BB

      This is what I was thinking. I think OP should maybe even speak to the person who the coworker told in the first place that she didn’t go before she confronts the coworker. It’s possible she only heard one part of the conversation or there was a misunderstanding. It’s such a touchy subject

    2. Apostrophina

      Seconded. I have no children, but knowing that my mother won’t even drive half an hour to go to places she really wants to go, I could easily imagine a situation where something like this could happen to her, and she’d really, really mean to go to the airport for the first time in 45 years and get on a plane to the funeral, but in the end … just wouldn’t.

    3. Mike B. (@epenthesis)

      Agreed. Unless she’s some kind of calculating monster who jumped at the chance to scam her coworkers out of $300, she’s in agony right now; I wouldn’t pry too hard into the reasoning that led her to do something we might otherwise consider unethical, immoral, etc.

      1. Jaimie

        Except that she took the second envelope. That was her chance to say “thanks, I have it covered.”

  11. AnotherAlison

    The only part I really have a problem with is taking the second envelope. Even then, her personal situation is really none of the office’s business, and I can see how she would rather not explain it to the OP & didn’t know what to do, so just took the money.

    Does your office know the circumstances of the death? Suicide? Cancer? Accident? This may have been a 25 year old grandchild, not a small child. Perhaps she’s estranged from the family & didn’t want to explain it to you.

    It wasn’t clear if she expressed that she was very upset that she couldn’t go or if she was matter of fact about it. The office may have presumed she wanted to go when she didn’t, but you guys didn’t leave her an “out” to say that. People might be judgemental that she wouldn’t go if she had the means.

    1. LV

      The sentence “We all sympathized with the fact that she couldn’t afford a plane ticket to go to the funeral” implies that the woman was visibly upset not to be able to attend the funeral. If she didn’t want to go, why bring up the money issue to her coworkers in the first place? If she had been planning to pretend to go to the funeral to avoid the judgment of her coworkers, she could have done that without taking the money, and nipped the whole collection thing in the bud by saying she could afford the plane fare/not saying she couldn’t.

      1. Zillah

        Not necessarily. She may have just been visibly upset, and when asked whether she was attending the funeral said, “Oh, I can’t afford it.” It may have been true, or an excuse to mask another reason.

        I can’t speak for someone else, but I have certainly used “I can’t afford it” as an excuse for not doing something when I didn’t want to share the real reason.

        1. Anonymous

          Agreed. Sometimes there’s a lot of factors at play, and cost can be the easiest one to divulge.

      1. AnotherAlison

        I just meant that a 5 year old’s death wouldn’t likely have circumstances like suicide or a self-caused drunk driving accident or OD surrounding it. Those situations can bring out a lot of conflicted feelings – anger at the person, but also grief. You wouldn’t typically have anger at the deceased person in the case of a minor’s death as it’s almost always no fault of their own.

    2. Anonathon

      I was just thinking that too. Maybe she has a contentious relationship with the child’s parents, for example, and couldn’t attend. But everyone was being sympathetic and asking about the funeral, so she just dodged the question by saying she couldn’t afford the plane ticket. Before she knows it, everything snowballs and she doesn’t know how to stop it without sharing all this personal information.

  12. That Other Jennifer

    I’m a little confused by the “we gave her two extra days off without using her sick leave” coming from the coworker who spearheaded the ticket money collection – is the coworker also part of the management team? Is that a standard bereavement time offering or was it something particular to this woman’s situation – i.e. she was given two extra days off because of the travel required for the funeral? (I know we – I’m in HR – have approved more than our standard bereavement leave when long-distance travel is involved.) The money question strikes me as possibly not management’s problem, but if she was allowed extra paid time off for a specific purpose and then did not follow through but still availed herself of that time, that would be.

    1. Elysian

      I was considering whether there was some kind of leave donation taken, and a few people chipped in a couple hours or unused days or something to give to her.

  13. Jax

    Maybe grandma gave the cash to the parents to cover the funeral expenses rather than buy a ticket? Without life insurance on the child, paying for a funeral would be a huge burden on the parents.

    While your coworker may have stayed home, it is possible that she spent the money in a way that still connected to the death of her grandchild. And may be embarrassed to admit that the money wasn’t spent as everyone expected, but rather how it was needed.

    1. AAA

      I was thinking there could be something along these lines going on. My advice is always to err on the side of compassion.

        1. kristinyc

          My company has a similar core value – “Always assume positive intent” from people. It makes things much more pleasant. :)

          1. Lalou

            Or “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity” which is slightly less cheery but it works for me.

    2. madge

      This was my thought/hope as well. Funerals are ridiculously expensive, and I wouldn’t think most people would pre-pay funerals for their children.

      1. Katherine

        Actually, funerals do not have to be ridiculously expensive at all but like weddings, some people over-spend because they wish to appear affluent.

        More importantly, many privately-owned (read non-chain) funeral homes will provide a child’s funeral at cost.

        1. amaranth16

          I think this is an unfair generalization. With funerals, I don’t think most people overspend because they wish to appear affluent. For instance, some states and municipalities have regulations that make funerals more expensive than they need to be (e.g., requiring embalming and/or a casket even if a body is being cremated). I think many people spend more than they want to/can afford because of these legal impediments, or because they feel guilted into it – by the desire not to disappoint other relatives or “let down” the deceased, or by pushy salespeople who are exploiting their grief.

          1. Kelly L.

            This. “Don’t you want the best for so-and-so?”

            I’ve told my next of kin that I don’t need “the best” when the time comes–I’ll be dead and won’t care, and they should economize without guilt.

                1. Ethyl

                  ::nods:: After reading “Stiff” by Mary Roach, my partner talked to his mom about donating her body to the medical university associated with the hospital she was at. She passed away before she could sign all the proper forms, but luckily my partner honored her request. I’ve been to cadaver dissection classes as part of an ill-founded attempt at pre-med during my undergraduate years, and they are incredibly fascinating, respectful, quiet places.

                2. KitKat

                  1: Body farms are amazing.

                  2: The image that immediately popped into my head was an obviously body-shaped UPS package with a big stamp on the head. It gave me a nice chuckle.

                3. Cath@VWXYNot?

                  “Stiff” is an amazing book! Thanks for the reminder that I need to look into local willed body programmes (medical research, not body farm or military research though, because NO).

            1. fposte

              Do you know there are funeral societies that allow you to join while you’re alive and lock in a price? My dad did that and it worked really well.

              1. Liz in a Library

                One set of my grandparents did this too, and it helped a great deal with managing my grandfather’s expenses. Their particular one allowed my grandmother to sell back her membership (at almost complete refund) later in life when she needed the funds, so there were other options if you decided you didn’t want the service. It was run by a locally-owned funeral home in their city.

              2. Brett

                Have to make sure you investigate the society thoroughly though. They are essentially investment clubs in structure, and more than a few have gone bankrupt or even defrauded members.

          2. Emma

            I agree. Marriages are not expensive – that’s an inexpensive piece of paper – but weddings are.

            Funerals, however, don’t have that distinction – unlike a thrifty backyard wedding, you can’t just get a death certificate then bury your loved one in their Sunday best back under the cherry tree.

        2. Natalie

          On this note, I strongly recommend the updated American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford. The funeral industry is not necessarily the most upstanding, and a lot of people are manipulated into spending a lot on funerals.

          1. Zillah

            Yep. It’s also worth pointing out that most of the time, the people arranging the funeral don’t have a lot of time or energy to ‘shop around’ the way they might for other occasions/purchases.

            1. Natalie

              And likely don’t have a lot of experience arranging funerals or dealing with funeral homes. They’re sadly the perfect marks – inexperienced or ignorant, emotionally fragile people under pressure.

        3. lrs

          Actually, funerals ARE expensive. My mom is currently trying to bury someone on the cheap (it sounds horrible, but there is drama) and with no casket, cremated body, pre planned plot, its looking to be $2500. That’s a not a small stack of cash.

          1. ExceptionToTheRule

            That’s about what it cost me to handle my dad’s final arrangements under similar circumstances and that’s a lot of money to just have on hand.

          2. JustKatie

            Not to mention that if there was an extended illness prior to the passing of the grandchild, there’s medical expenses to factor in as well.

          3. JustKatie

            Not to mention that if there was an extended illness prior to the passing of the grandchild, there are medical expenses to factor in as well.

          4. Anonymous

            I had a relative die, and even with just a cremation and memorial service and no embalming, viewing, or burial, it was still at least $2000. Even with a state benefit of $1000 and every person who could kicking in cash (most people gave less than $20), it was still hard for the family to come up with the rest of the money on short notice.

    3. smallbutmighty

      That’s what I was thinking, too. Maybe she spent it on funeral or medical expenses that would have otherwise been a burden on the family. Maybe she spent it on a gift for the grandchild’s siblings or parents. I agree that none of these things is quite what was intended, but they’d all be understandable and (in my opinion) forgivable.

    4. Anon Accountant

      That’s what I thought. Maybe the family didn’t have the cash to cover funeral expenses so she gave the money her office gave her to her family to help with funeral expenses.

    5. Colette

      Maybe she did, but that’s still not what the money was for. She should have been upfront about what she wanted to spend it on if it was something like that.

      1. madge

        I see your point, but perhaps she has humiliation over the financial situation of her child to deal with along with her grief.

        1. Colette

          I don’t see anything humiliating about saying “Actually, it seems like I can best help my child is not up to having me there. Would you mind if I contributed the money towards the funeral costs instead?

        2. Colette

          I should add that I think sometimes people feel like they have to share the whole story and they don’t want to do that, so they lie instead. It’s conflict avoidance a lot of the time, and it tends to end up in a worse conflict than if they’d just told the (partial) truth in the first place.

          In other words, she wouldn’t have to say “my daughter is an alcoholic and my son-in-law has a gambling problem, so they can’t afford a funeral” – she could just say “I wasn’t able to get a flight that worked, would you mind if I contributed to the funeral costs instead?”

          1. fposte

            Going into theoretical territory here–I don’t think that’s appropriate for her to ask either, though; she has to bring the money back and let the donors suggest the repurposing, not make them responsible for the clawback. If you’re nuanced, you can pave the way for the notion a little, but people aren’t going to feel they can say no to such a request, so it still leaves people having given money to something that they wouldn’t have chosen to donate to.

            1. Colette

              I agree it would be a better approach to bring the money back (and certainly not take more).

              If I had contributed and she came to me and said, “Oh, I wasn’t able to fly out so I contributed the money to the funeral costs”, I might be annoyed (but I’d probably make allowances due to grief), but if I found out later that she contributed the money to the funeral costs and lied (directly or by omission) about it, I’d be far more angry, and it would permanently damage my relationship with her.

              1. fposte

                Yeah, totally agree–that’s a thing that you really can’t do without getting authorization. You and I are just offering up various possibilities on the authorization.

      2. madge

        I see your point, but perhaps she has humiliation over the financial situation of her child to deal with along with her grief.

        1. Anonymous

          I think the OP and everyone should just let this go.

          If they find this person lying about something in the future, maybe they can pile on. But this – let it go.

    6. Apollo Warbucks

      That’s a really good point there’ is any number of reasons the money could have been spent somewhere else that’s was perfectly legitimate and it could prose it embarrassment that means the person who was given the money didn’t explain.

  14. Ann Furthermore

    If this is really what it appears to be, then OP, you need to just have faith that karma will even things up in the end. It always does.

  15. Anonymous

    I didn’t realize that. I had thought that when we collected the money, we were helping you to buy the plane ticket.

    I like it, except for the “I had thought.” It’s not strong and you/your coworkers *know* what you were giving her the money for – there’s no thinking about it. Scratch it and just say “I didn’t realize that. We gave you the money to help you buy the plane ticket to your grandchild’s funeral.”

    1. Zillah

      The thing about “I had thought” is that it makes it more possible for the person to open up about possible reasons. A simple, “We gave you the money…” is automatically going to put her on the defensive and make her feel worse if there is a reasonable explanation – e.g., if she flew out a little later because of fare costs and missed the funeral, or was estranged from part of her family, or simply couldn’t get herself to go because people deal with death differently. If there is a reasonable explanation, you’d want to know, especially since this woman did not solicit the money.

    2. Del

      I disagree; I think I read it a little differently than you do. I read it as more like “We thought the money we were giving you would be paying for a plane ticket” – ie, expressing the belief that the donation was made under.

  16. JFQ

    Maybe this is just a twist on the end-of-semester holocausts that regularly strike the grandparents of college students.

    1. Annie

      So in college, my grandfather actually did pass away during finals one year.

      Just now I have realized why the professor I contacted was so wishy-washy and reluctant to reschedule the final I had on the day of his funeral. I had just thought that professor was a huge asshole!

      1. Harriet

        Heh, we’d have needed to see a death certificate or funeral notice before we could allow you to retake it, precisely because so many people try that trick.

      2. Leslie Yep

        Yes, the same thing happened to me! My grandfather had died Memorial Day weekend, so it was a double-whammy of suspicion about extra-long weekends and finals.

        I felt like a total tool emailing my professor (sent him the funeral notice and everything, probably verging on “doth protest too much”), but to my great surprise and gratitude my prof was very understanding and compassionate.

      3. Delurking

        One weekend in high school, my grandfather passed away and I completely forgot all about my homework because I was busy with my family. On Monday I suddenly remembered I had an English paper due, and told the teacher I didn’t have time to finish it and would submit it the next day because my grandfather had died. The entire class simultaneously rolled their eyes. No, really, guys, I swear…

      4. Chinook

        My grandfather’s funeral was two days after my high school graduation ceremony (he died the week before). I had one teacher say something to my classmates about me missing classes and they told me he turned beat red when they told him the real reason (and not due to a hangover)

    2. Andrea

      I don’t know if it’s just me, but the use of the word “holocaust” in this context really bothers me.

      1. Mariette

        It’s not just you. My grandfather lost almost all of his family in the Holocaust. Let’s save that word for ACTUAL holocausts, OK? On a related note, I also get annoyed when people use “Nazi” to describe someone pushy or mean. Uh, no. Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews. A loud breastfeeding advocate, on the other hand, is not a Nazi.

        1. Anonymous

          “A loud breastfeeding advocate, on the other hand, is not a Nazi.”

          Correct. The term you are seeking is “Breastapo”. You’re welcome.

      2. Jen RO

        Actually, if you look in a dictionary you will see that “holocaust” (lowercase h) means “great devastation or destruction”. “Holocaust” (uppercase h) refers to the slaughter of the Jews.

    3. Nichole

      I once read a hilarious “scholarly” study providing evidence that finals time is dangerous to grandparents and hypothesizing that they’re so worried about their grandchildren’s grades that their health is compromised. One of the comments in the article about it was a professor who responds to students who have a death by sending a lovely sympathy card…to the home of the student’s parents.

      1. Turanga Leela

        What a great idea. If the student’s telling the truth, it becomes a really lovely gesture–who ever expects a sympathy card from your kid’s professor?

        1. Anne

          It isn’t a fool-proof idea, though. I didn’t live with my parents during university and their address would have been nowhere in my paperwork. Plus, when I talk about “my parents” I generally mean my mother and stepfather, as that’s who had physical custody of me… the grandparent who died while I was in university was my biological father’s father, so my mom and her second husband getting a sympathy card (addressed to the wrong last name, no less) would have been inappropriate.

  17. Zillah

    Ummm. So I am sympathetic to the OP, but I feel like there is another side of this story, and that the OP is being a little unfair, especially here:

    It was a specific money gift to buy a ticket, not to give her extra money for the holidays.

    Maybe Alison just shortened the letter or the OP didn’t include some details about what the coworker told them, but I didn’t see any indication that the woman said that she used the gift as “extra money for the holidays.” I’m not sure how not attending the funeral immediately leads to that, and if there isn’t some piece that we’re not getting, that assumption seems really unfair. Even if she didn’t use the money on a plane ticket, there’s no indication that she just used it to buy a new coat and earrings.

    Some people gave who really couldn’t afford it, but felt so sorry for her.

    This is their problem. I’m sorry, and some people might think that I’m being overly harsh, but this sentence really, really bothered me. If some people who gave couldn’t really afford to give, they needed to not give, especially not to a well-meaning but what seems to have been a completely unsolicited cash gift.

    End of story. Yes, I understand that they felt sorry for her, but it’s really not fair to put the burden of their not being able to afford to give on her. She didn’t bully them or badger them.

    There is no question that she knew what the money was for. It was repeated so often to her, and we told her when we gave her the first envelope that she could book the flight that she had found. She said she would and went home. We let her leave early, and the flight left early the next morning.

    This… really sounds like you have her no choice, and it honestly sounds unreasonably pushy to me. Why was it repeated ‘so often’ to her at all? Why not just once? Why did you keep bringing it up? And, why did you feel the need to dictate when she bought her ticket? It sounds a little overwhelming to me.

    Again, I don’t know the whole situation, but it sounds like you did a lot of unsolicited things, including giving her the money, letting her leave early, and giving her a couple extra days off and are now annoyed because she didn’t use them the way you wanted – and like you’re not really concerned with what was right for her.

    I also honestly dislike this concept of giving her a bereavement gift but dictating how she can use it. People need different things when they lose loved ones, and they have different reactions. As someone who recently lost a grandparent, I would have been completely overwhelmed with what the OP is describing.

    1. Andrea

      I’m sorry about your recent loss.

      And while I agree with much of what you wrote (especially the part about how people who couldn’t afford to give money probably should not have done so), the additional details posted in the comments (above, by AAM) make it clear (to me, anyway) that the women was an active participant, in that she looked up the cost of the flight and told her coworkers how much they would need to raise.

      1. Zillah

        Thanks.

        Yes, that changes my opinion on some of it, and I considered posting a comment amending this post, but most of what I said still pretty much holds. She was more of an active participant, which makes it a little sleazier if she truly didn’t go, but I still think that the OP is coming off as pushy and needlessly accusatory.

      2. Saturn9

        Was the coworker really an active participant or did the super helpful OP insist that she look up “the cheapest flight available” so she’d know how much to raise in a selfless display of compassion?

        Did the people who contributed even though they couldn’t afford it do so because they felt sorry for the coworker or did the do it because the super helpful OP badgered them into it?

        This company sounds like there may be worse things going on than the issue the OP wrote in about (and it sounds like the OP may be at the center of those worse things).

    2. Christine

      I agree with Zillah. As the coworker, I would have been overwhelmed by this response and I wouldn’t know how to handle it. I could very well go home intending to buy a ticket and find myself unable to deal with the ticket buying and packing and traveling, and decide to grieve at home instead. I could also see myself returning to work and taking the second envelope, not knowing how to explain to my generous, eager, pushy coworkers that I don’t grieve the way they do.

    3. Katherine

      Oh, my. This is a blog for ongoing conversation. (“End of Story” ???)

      If you attend a fundraiser and are told how the money you donate will be used and it turns out that the President of the nonprofit uses the money for a boat, you get to be a bit annoyed.

      1. Anne

        I’m not sure it’s fair to compare this to the President of a nonprofit using your donations for a boat. We don’t really know the situation. Maybe she took the flight, then stayed at the house to comfort some family members during the funeral. Maybe she just couldn’t face the funeral but sent the money to her child to help pay for it. Maybe she is grief-stricken and not thinking straight but has the money still sitting at home in its envelopes until she can figure out what to do. Maybe she actually did exactly what her colleagues intended her to do, and there is some confusion or miscommunication. Who knows. We don’t know that she bought herself a boat, literally or figuratively, or went Christmas shopping, as the OP suggested. (As far as I can tell.)

      2. majigail

        Actually, the president gets put in jail for fraud in this instance. Unless of course it’s some sort of boating nonprofit that you actually need a boat for.

      3. Emma

        Considering that many folks are suggesting she’s used the money for other funereal needs, just not the one she initially specified, a more apt example might be that your women’s health non-profit was given money to provide guided tours of super markets with a nutritionist but due to organizational changes, had to devote the funds to short, group nutrition classes instead.

        1. Emma

          ETA: And that change should be acceptable to the funding agency given a reasonable explanation.

    4. Jamie

      This is their problem. I’m sorry, and some people might think that I’m being overly harsh, but this sentence really, really bothered me. If some people who gave couldn’t really afford to give, they needed to not give, especially not to a well-meaning but what seems to have been a completely unsolicited cash gift.

      End of story. Yes, I understand that they felt sorry for her, but it’s really not fair to put the burden of their not being able to afford to give on her. She didn’t bully them or badger them.

      I do think that’s rather harsh, actually, because how deep you reach into your pockets when you’re struggling does depend a lot on the weighing of need.

      Hypothetically if I’m budgeted within an inch of my life and I don’t have disposable income and my co-worker asked to borrow $50 because otherwise they had no way to feed their kids I would calculate that I can eat raman and arrange a car pool to make my gas stretch, and go without my morning coffee to help someone out in a dire situation.

      If then their tax check refund hit so they had some cash, if they still used my $50 to go to dinner or get their hair done does that make it my problem, or are they are liar who took advantage of my good nature to scam me out of $50? Even if it wasn’t intentional on the outset – once you realize you don’t need it for the purpose it was given you give it back.

      I am not in favor of strings on gifts – if you truly give just to help them you give and let it go…but giving for a specific purpose out of empathy is different.

      1. Hooptie

        …kissing the hallowed internet ground that Jamie walks upon…

        Thank you for this, Jamie.

      2. anon

        TBH, the OP sounds so bossy about this whole thing that the coworkers were probably pressured into giving the money too, whether they wanted to or not. When you didn’t want to give willingly, you’re all the more resentful if you feel like your gift was misused.

      3. Dan

        One of the nice things about my line of work is that I don’t have broke co-workers asking to “borrow” money for whatever reason.

        I’ve had those jobs in the past, and my rule was always “don’t ask me for money, and in exchange I won’t ask you.” Always kept things simple, and better their feelings hurt because they think I’m a scrooge than mine because they wouldn’t pay back a “loan.”

      4. Zillah

        I don’t disagree with anything you said, but I still think that there’s something really unpleasant and martyr-y about the presentation of it, especially since I haven’t seen anything to indicate that the coworker spent it on something like a haircut.

        If that comes out, it’ll be a different story… but I still think that when you truly can’t afford to give, you need to not give.

        1. fposte

          I think there are definitely people who view it like that, and I’m probably one of them. On the other hand, there are kinder and more self-sacrificing people than me, who say “Jane’s trip to her grandson’s funeral is more important than my selfish need for meat/car repair/timely payment of a power bill”; people who really are evaluating the relative good rather than simple affordability, because they will sacrifice more for a cause that really means something to them and indicates the donee is needier than they are at the moment. They might not have chosen to delay payment of their power bill so that Jane could pay hers, and I can see them being unhappy if they found out that’s what happened.

          As it happens, right now we have no clue whatsoever what really happened, and neither does the OP. But I can see why people might be distressed if it turns out the money didn’t go to the plane ticket, whether Grandma went to the funeral or not. (I’m assuming here a real death and an absence of conscious fraud, since that doesn’t seem as likely to me.)

          1. Jamie

            They might not have chosen to delay payment of their power bill so that Jane could pay hers

            I have known people who will do that – because Jane is about to lose power and they still have a grace period.

            It’s kinder than I think I would tend to be in similar circumstances, since I assume if I were that close to the edge I’d horde nickles like a squirrel afraid that an emergency would happen.

            But since there are people like this I do think it’s even a higher moral imperative to not abuse their selflessness. Not that I’d be thrilled that someone took cash from me under false pretenses, but it wouldn’t have quite the sting as it would if it were a personal sacrifice to give in the first place.

    5. Anon30

      I mostly agree with this. While I can sympathize with the potential dishonesty, I have a few thoughts –

      1/ While you and the colleagues did gift money, the whole experience is PERSONAL in the end, sensitive, and none of your business unless she chooses to share more. She may have gone and circumstances may have changed somehow – Or maybe she gifted the money to the family for other funeral-related expenses in lieu of going to help the nuclear family that way.

      2/ Those people who ‘really couldn’t afford it’ probably shouldn’t have given (or this point shouldn’t have been brought up – they made that decision to give, they weren’t forced – they are adults). Not trying to be hard on the OP – Just expressing that these other co-workers weren’t forced to give.

      Yes, it’s beyond frustrating to find out that she ‘may have’ not used the money for exactly what she was given it for, but I think you are being judgmental too early in assuming that this co-worker took advantage.

      That being said, I agree with Alison that the OP can and probably should ask (maybe as a concerned follow-up), but she should be prepared for perhaps not receiving a full answer to such a personal question, even with being gifted money for the situation.

    6. AJ-in-Memphis

      I just wonder how many of the cowrokers “who couldn’t give but ‘dug deep’ ” were pressured to do so? This post screams that. To me.

      1. Zillah

        Ditto. Maybe I’m just biased against the OP because the tone of the letter comes off to me as quite pushy.

      2. Jamie

        I agree that pushing anyone to give for anything is despicable – I have zero tolerance for that. I am just not getting that read off this letter. It’s possible – I’m just not seeing it from the information we have.

      3. Turanga Leela

        I don’t see that here at all. I would absolutely give money in a situation like this without being coerced, even if money was tight. Losing a grandchild is devastating–a lot of people probably wanted to help.

  18. Anonymous

    I went to a funeral a couple years ago for a friend who died unexpectantly in her mid-twenties. Being young and still so connected to her high school, college, and vocational school friends caused the number of attendees at her funeral to be extremely large.

    I parked about a half mile away on a residential street, as closer street parking (and the parking lot itself) was already taken. After the crowd filled up the standing room in the church and its entryway, it spilled out the doors to the exterior of the building.

    It’s possible the grandparent intended to go to the funeral, but wasn’t prepared for a crowd like this — either emotionally or mobility-wise.

    I agree with the advice to start from the idea that this is could be a grief-stricken misunderstanding, and work from there.

    1. sunny-dee

      I think the issue is whether she went at all. If she went to Colorado or wherever, and then spent the actual funeral time with her other grandkids or relatives, or something, I doubt anyone would have a problem. The point of the money and the ticket was to be with family during a rough time. If I gave someone money to go to a funeral, and they flew out and spent the whole time with relatives and missed the actual service, I’d be cool with it. The point is to be with family and find comfort there, not the actual location of the service.

      If she stayed home, I would have a huge problem with it. They didn’t give her money to stay home — they gave her money so she could be with her family (presumably with her own CHILD) at a time of grief.

  19. Anda T

    It’s also possible that after booking the ticket, the family told her not to come. The parents could have decided to keep their grief private. I can’t imagine a scenario where that wouldn’t hurt or be awkward to explain.

    1. Lia

      This happened to us recently. A family member died, and the surviving spouse decided not to have a funeral, and asked that no one visit as they wanted to grieve privately. The death was not unexpected, but the survivor is a private person and had no desire for a funeral.

    2. Rayner

      But the correct thing to do is to approach the co-worker who gave you the money, and explain that “while I couldn’t go, I gave the money to my [relative] so they could help prepare a better funeral etc.” Also, you don’t accept a second envelope of cash AFTER the fact, and say nothing at the time. That, for me, tips it over the edge into bad co-worker territory.

  20. Katherine

    This happens more than you want to know. My husband owns a funeral home. Once, he waited patiently for payment of a bill – a fundraiser was planned to help the widow pay the bill. The fundraiser came and went, still the bill remained unpaid. Months later when asked by attendees of the fundraiser what happened to the excess of donations after the bill was paid, my husband admitted that the bill was never paid. Yes, she kept the money friends and family had donated for the funeral bill. The bill was never been paid; she moved away.

  21. nyxalinth

    Assuming it is what it looks like:

    This is why we can’t have nice things, and nice people who help others.

    If it isn’t what it looks like:

    I am sorry for her loss, and as someone above suggested, she might have decided the funeral itself was too much for her, and spent time with family, instead. People are quick to jump on things and assume they are bad. Mind, by not elaborating further it could indeed look bad to others, but as long as she wasn’t ripping others off, it’s her business.

  22. Poohbear McGriddles

    When booking airline tickets, $300 can turn into $900 pretty darn quick. Maybe when she tried to book the flight at home the price had changed, and she didn’t want to ask for more. However, it seems like she would have returned the money and not accepted more in that circumstance.
    Relying on second-hand information is a bad way to judge the situation. Asking the questions directly but in a non-threatening way may get you the answers you are looking for.

    1. Meg Murry

      I was wondering this as well. Its possible that in the time it took from looking at the flight to collecting the money to actually booking the flight the price changed dramatically. If it was a collection from the whole office, its not like it could be easily returned to each person, so chances are she used the money in another way related to the grandchild’s death – giving it to the parents, a donation to the hospital, etc.

      I agree with others to err on the side of kindness, and to shutdown any gossip that you hear. As in “Did you hear it directly from [the woman’s] mouth? If not, its gossip and hearsay and I would suggest you stop repeating it.”

      1. JustKatie

        The price can also balloon when you factor in other costs: transport from the airport/ rental car, perhaps she also had to get a hotel room because her family in the area couldn’t accommodate her, at least a few meals out, etc.

    2. MR

      While wild flight price fluctuations certainly happen quite often, if this indeed is the case, then she should have shown up the next day at the office, explain that the price doubled/tripled/quadrupled/whatever, returned the money and moved on.

      Instead, the money was pocketed, as well as a second donation after the ‘trip.’

    3. Windchime

      Yes, I’m trying to figure out how anyone can get a plane ticket to anyplace on one day’s notice (and during the holidays!) for $300.

      1. Turanga Leela

        I was wondering that too. Maybe a bereavement fare? It could also be a short flight on a common route (e.g. NYC to Albany).

  23. Joey

    Alison, I’m a little unclear on what you’re actually recommending after getting the facts.

    Do you think they should ask for it back, drop it, or raise it to a manager?

    I’d be a little weary of being the enforcer mainly because I don’t want employees to think they can come to me to fix their non work related problems.

    1. A Cita

      Do you mean “leery” or “wary”? Not grammar checking, just trying to get your meaning. That it’s too much work/tiring? Or that you wouldn’t trust being in the role?

      1. Apollo Warbucks

        I read it as wary, as in if the op sorts this problem out they’d always be asked to sort out these types of problems.

      2. Anne

        “weary” gets used very often by my colleagues as a portmanteau of leery and wary. I have to admit that it drives me nuts. But that’s because I don’t think it’s intentional – they also say “Pacific” instead of “specific”.

    2. Del

      I think the answer to that depends very heavily on what exactly the actual situation is, and it’s hard to say what the OP should do without knowing that.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I left it open ended because I think any of those options are reasonable, and it just depends on what feels right to her.

      If I were in her shoes, I don’t think I’d raise it to a manager unless the coworker is in a position where she works with money. Or where integrity is especially important (of course, that’s all positions, so maybe that doesn’t work).

      But I think any of the options are reasonable, and it’s less about the type of workplace advice I usually give and more about what feels right to her.

  24. Lanya

    I would like to add a point of view that I don’t believe has been addressed yet: maybe there was never going to be a funeral for the girl in the first place. Some folks/religions don’t have organized funerals or even memorial services – they instead gather at the home and remember the deceased person, and take visitors for a few days. Maybe it was just easier for grandma to tell her coworkers a white lie that she was going out “for the funeral” instead of trying to explain how her family planned to honor the granddaughter. Unfortunately, no matter what happened, I don’t think anyone can expect their money back in this case.

    1. sunny-dee

      Again, though, I think that’s too strict a reading on “attending the funeral.” I mean, would anyone be like, “oh, we thought it was a funeral, but it was a memorial instead. Totes different!” No — the purpose for any of those gatherings is the same — for family and friends to grieve and remember someone’s life and loss. I think the question isn’t “what kind of service was there” or “was she in the funeral home for the 2 hours of a service” — it was did she use the money to travel to be with family at all.

      1. fposte

        That’s my take–the money was for a plane ticket for travel in connection with her grandchild’s death. If she used the plane ticket in that context, that’s the end of it.

        1. Jamie

          I totally agree with this. Attending the service itself is irrelevant if she used it to travel to be with the grieving family.

          I know no one likes funerals, but some people get something out of them. Honestly, I don’t – they freak me out and I get no comfort. Even with my parents – I adored them and if I could go back in time I wouldn’t have gone to either funeral. Well, assuming time traveling me cared less about becoming a social pariah than real me.

          I did get a hi-larious story out of my dad’s funeral and nothing is a waste of time if you make a fool of yourself and get a funny story out of it – but if she traveled to her family and just couldn’t bring herself to go to the services that’s her business. And sometimes someone stays back with the little ones. Just being all devil’s advocate here.

    2. LV

      Well, either she needed to travel (and therefore get money) to where the funeral/memorial/whatever was being held, or she didn’t. If she was planning to honour the deceased in the comfort and privacy of her own home, the moment her coworkers presented her with an envelope of cash for the plane ticket was her cue to explain that it was a touching gesture but she didn’t need it.

  25. LBK

    What I’m curious about is how the rumors started that she didn’t attend the funeral. Did someone see her outside of work when she was supposed to be gone? Did she check in on Facebook at a local restaurant? Did she accidentally let it drop to a coworker? The story is so vague that unless OP just left out details, I have a hard time believing she didn’t actually attend.

    1. Celeste

      My guess? She failed to write the office a thank you note, or when she returned after the time away she wasn’t forthcoming with big, emotional details about the event.

      I definitely got the impression from the OP’s letter that they were over-investing themselves emotionally. It was almost as if they wanted this woman to go to the funeral more than she herself did.

      I agree with everyone else who said there’s more to this story.

      1. sunny-dee

        I dunno about over-invested. There are some regions of the country and some ethnic or religious groups where funerals are a HUGE deal. I’m from the South, and you move heaven and earth to go pay your respects at a funeral. If I walked into my office and saw a coworker upset because she couldn’t go to her grandchild’s funeral, it wouldn’t be emotionally invested of me to pitch in money for her to get a ticket. It may not even be someone I like or care about at all. It would be a goes around / comes around kind of thing — I would want someone to do the same for me, and a funeral is An Important Thing.

        If the coworker didn’t go, she could have accidentally let slip something that she wasn’t supposed to. My company has 3 days for bereavement leave, so let’s say that she got that plus her 2 free days — 5 days total, a full work week. Let’s say she was supposed to be gone from Monday through Saturday, and then let slip something that she did in town on Friday. That could have been the kind of thing that tipped off the coworker — “wait, wasn’t Jane in Other State on Friday?” I mean, she may not have intentionally outed herself — and she may not even realize she did.

        1. EvilQueenRegina

          Even then, it could be that she’d come home earlier than planned for whatever reason, hadn’t told anyone that, and so people were reading into “I did X on Friday” as her outing herself accidentally when it really wasn’t.

          1. TrainerGirl

            I hate to belabor the point, but if she was so strapped in the first place that she couldn’t buy her own ticket, how would she afford the (ridiculous) change fees the airline charged to come home early? That doesn’t really fit.

            Ultimately, the information the OP reports is second hand at best, so she really shouldn’t be blustering about this unless she knows it to be fact. But by taking the 2nd envelope, the coworker put herself in a bit of a bad position if she didn’t go. I think everything would be kosher if she didn’t go, but by accepting that 2nd envelope and maintaining that she went to the funeral, that’s a bit shady.

    2. Delurking

      This! “Well, I just found out that she told a coworker that she never went to the funeral” doesn’t tell us much. How did the OP find out? Did they overhear the conversation directly? Did the OP hear it from the person who spoke directly to the bereaved coworker? Did the OP hear it from someone who heard it from someone who saw an email over someone’s shoulder…?

      “There are still people who don’t know the truth, but everyone who has found out has been shocked.” It sounds like everyone in the office is gossiping about the situation but no one has taken the trouble to find out what really happened.

      1. Saturn9

        It sounds like the OP was going around getting “advice” from coworkers on how she should handle this and when that wasn’t enough attention/failed to earn her a mob of support/didn’t give her the response she wanted, she wrote to Alison looking for the validation she so desperately needs.

    3. Windchime

      Yeah, I’m a little bothered about this whole thing being based on what seems to basically be gossip. Until the OP hears directly from Grandma herself that she didn’t attend the funeral, I would just let it drop if it were me.

  26. NameChangedToProtectTheInnocent

    OP, you need to find out the real story so that you know who you’re dealing with- but that money is gone. A deliberate scammer isn’t going to make restitution, and someone who used the funds honorably but not as expected shouldn’t be hounded. A sick child racks up mind-bogglingly enormous medical bills, never mind the more voluntary costs of a funeral.

    These situations bring out the best and worst in people, as I have seen. When my child was gravely ill, people we barely knew came out of the woodwork trying to assist us, with food, chores, gas money… Meanwhile, my mother apparently collected and kept what might have been large sums of money from others who believed they were helping with his medical bills.

    It sucks. There’s no way to make it right. I don’t know who out there is thinking that they helped me and then went unthanked, but instead were defrauded. But now I know who my mother really is, so I still got something pretty valuable out of it.

    1. some1

      Funerals are certainly expensive, but we don’t know that the child was sick beforehand — it could have been sudden.

      Also, I’m so sorry about what your mom did. What a huge breach of trust.

      1. NameChangedToProtectTheInnocent

        Good point, the grandchild may have passed suddenly. I’m definitely seeing this through my own dirty lens.

        And yup, my mom sucks. But my kid is fine, and she won’t get another opportunity to disappoint me, so life is good.

  27. Elizabeth West

    What does “didn’t attend the funeral” mean? Does it mean she went and didn’t go to the funeral or that she didn’t go at all?

    Apologies if this was answered earlier, but it was bugging me.

    1. Mints

      Elizabeth! This is completely off topic, and I’m sorry about the thread-jack, but I saw an app that just came out that’s a calculator for people with dyscalcula (the words are written out and stuff). Have you seen it?
      When I saw it, I thought “cool!” and then “I know someone who could use this!” and then “man, in my head, AAM commenters are actually people I know”

        1. Emma

          Hey, I’m seeing all this hullaboo about the new Common Core curricula for schools…and I’m seeing that they’re teaching addition and subtraction differently. I’m wondering if the new way of doing it would have been helpful to folks with dyscalculia? I will get more details when I’m home so I can explain what I mean! But it looks to me like the new way is pretty much how we’d do sums in our heads.

          e.g., old way is 20-14.5 = 5.5 (with all that carrying over stuff, moving decimals, whatever) but the new way is “14.5 is closest to 15, 20 – 15 = 5, plus the 50 cents I took off, so the answer is 5.5. bam.”

          1. Loose Seal

            The second way you describe is way worse to me because I don’t have any real idea how close numbers are to each other. That example just reads to me like a visual representation of white noise.

            There have been some recent studies that show that the lack of the ability to estimate numbers of objects could be an early indicator of dyscalculia. As it stands now, you have to wait until the child has sufficient math instruction — generally around fourth grade — before determining the diagnosis. But in this study, they showed very young children two piles of beans (I can’t remember the exact numbers (because, well, they’re numbers!) but let’s say there was a pile of four beans and a pile of six beans). Children that could not consistently determine intuitively which pile was larger or smaller had a much greater chance of being diagnosed with dyscalculia after they entered school.

            (Sorry for continuing the hijack. I’m fascinated by this topic because I wasn’t diagnosed until very late; I was already in college. I’d actually love to do a paper about adults with dyscalculia since so much of the research is being done on children. If I can get to the next open thread before it fills up, I may continue this there.)

    2. fposte

      I don’t think it was answered, and I think that’s a key point. As far as I can tell, all we have is the word of a co-worker that the recipient says she wasn’t at the funeral. So there’s both the risk of message garbling and the possibility that it’s true, but that she still flew out to be with the family.

  28. JustMe

    Maybe it’s just me (no pun intended…ha!) but I was always taught that if you are going to give/do something to/for someone, then do just that and with no strings attached. What they do with whatever money you give is on them. You have the peace of mind knowing that whatever you did, you did from the heart.

    It sounds like you wanted to call the shots on how the money should’ve been spent. You should’ve given her the money to use however she wanted to, and leave it at that. That, to me was a mistake on your part. If there is a next time, and you feel compelled to do it again, just do it and quit prying. If grandma is anything like me, it would absolutely drive me insane if I had to ‘answer to’ a coworker when I’m grieving.

    1. Elizabeth West

      This. Although it is very annoying when you give someone something and they ferp it all up. I gave (yes, gave) an older-but-still-operable car to someone who had the resources to fix it up but no way to buy one outright. They then failed to register it, drove it, and it was impounded.

      I found out when I got an impound letter from the local PD. I called and they told me I wouldn’t be liable, thank goodness, since I had paperwork proving that I had gifted it to them. The salvage company also called me because they never picked it up. I told them as far as I was concerned, consider it abandoned and do whatever the hell you want with it.

      Now if the recipient (who was originally extremely happy to get the car) then decided she wanted to bash it into a million pieces with a sledgehammer, then that’s her business. I was more angry that I got dragged into it than anything else. Also, like NameChangedtoProtecttheInnocent’s comment above, I know for sure this relative won’t do what she says she’ll do (part of a long-term pattern, but now set in stone).

    2. Anonymous

      In theory, I want to agree with you. In reality, I do have an expectation that the money will be spent as previously discussed. For example, I would be annoyed if someone took my money “to feed their kids” and then spent it at the casino.

      1. jmkenrick

        Yeah. I think the point to be made is that there is no legal obligation for someone to spend a gift a certain way, so if it doesn’t go as planned, you can’t exact and “punishment” so to speak.

        But there is definitely a social obligation, so if someone doesn’t spend that money as you discussed…you can choose to not spend time with them, or think of differently, or not give them gifts in the future.

        I think JustMe is sort of saying what NameChangedtoProtecttheInnocent pointed out as well…that money is gone, no matter how she used it and it’s best to understand that when giving the gift.

        1. fposte

          Good point–you have to let that go either way. And unless the OP does decide to find out a little more about what happens, I’d say let go of the co-worker report as irrelevant and assume that the gift was used in the spirit intended. Right now it’s really not at all clear that she didn’t, and if you’re not going to be surer of it than this, good faith needs to be assumed and the topic dropped.

          (In other words, there’s no “I’m not going to ask her, *you* ask her” but nobody asks her, and people keep fretting about the possible wrong. Clarify or dump it.)

          1. Anonymous

            The clarity thing could go both ways. If there’s a reasonable explanation, great. But if the co-worker conned the office, it’s going to be hella awkward.

            And when I say “con,” I’m including possibilities such as:
            * There is no dead relative, and it’s all a big fraud.
            * There is a dead relative, but the co-worker knew up-front they wouldn’t be spending that money on a plane ticket.
            * There is a dead relative, the co-worker intended to spend the money on a plane ticket, but something else happened. To cover it up, the co-worker accepted more money and perpetuated the lie.

            1. fposte

              It’s awkward now, too, so I think that ship has sailed. If it’s awkward-leaning-toward-fraud, I also think management should know.

              But clarity isn’t instead of letting it go–whether they get some clarity (I’m avoiding “closure,” because I think that’s a myth) or not, they’re going to have to let this go. It’s just what they choose to do and who needs to be involved before that happens.

    3. KJR

      Maybe she used the money and sent it to the child’s relatives to pay medical bills/funeral costs? So many different possible scenarios here, I would be really interested to hear more.

      1. sunny-dee

        Another thing — at this point, would anyone believe her if she said that? She took money, twice, for a plane ticket. If someone says, “did you actually buy a plane ticket,” and she said, “no, I used it for funeral expenses,” I wouldn’t believe her. She already lied twice about what she was using the money for. If she were my coworker, I wouldn’t believe any excuse she gave at this point. If she didn’t go on the trip, I would assume everything else was a lie, and I would have a very hard time working with someone willing to use a dead grandchild to scam money.

  29. smallbutmighty

    It’s also possible that something incredibly awkward happened, like she missed her flight or her family told her she wouldn’t be able to stay with them (because if you can’t afford a $300 flight, you sure can’t afford a hotel) or her account was already overdrawn and she still couldn’t charge the flight to her card even if she deposited the money, or some equally humiliating human error or poverty-related circumstance. If something along these lines happened, she probably already feels ridiculous and doesn’t want to tell the whole story to a bunch of colleagues who felt great about having done this good deed for her. So she dodges the question. I could totally see that happening.

    I remember when I was just out of school, working a low-paying job, and trying not to get further in debt. I had no credit cards and no savings, and I was frequently literally penniless until my next payday. I often found myself telling small lies or omitting details because I didn’t want any of the people in my life to know how desperate my circumstances were.

    I can’t think how awful it would be to still be living paycheck to paycheck, unable to find $300 for an urgent travel need, when you’re old enough to be a grandparent. I can only guess that being in these straits is the result of career underachievement, poor judgment, lack of budgeting ability, and other such factors that might place the OP’s colleague in one of the scenarios I’ve described.

    1. Jamie

      That’s an interesting point. It doesn’t excuse not giving the money back, imo, but can you buy a plane ticket with cash or a debit card?

      I know you need a credit card to rent a car and I truly have no idea but it’s possible it was something too embarrassing to admit. And had she given the money back a vague couldn’t go but thanks so much for the thought would have been fine – no details needed.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule

        I googled buying an airline ticket with cash and yes you can, but you apparently have to either do it AT the airport counter or from a travel agent. I’d imagine it’ll get you a second look from TSA, too.

        1. sunny-dee

          Yep, to both. Although you can buy it with a debit card, and it’s the same as using credit (e.g., you can go online and TSA doesn’t care).

      2. smallbutmighty

        Totally agree that if something like this did happen, returning the money would have been the right thing to do.

        But I’m also in favor of her colleagues not digging into this situation too deeply, because, honestly, the very idea of someone’s grandmother being so financially wrecked that she’s allowing her colleagues to raise $300 for a trip to her grandkid’s funeral–yikes. There are levels of sadness and desperation here that just bum me out to think about. I hate that a late-career adult is in this kind of financial condition and/or is desperate enough to lie about something like this to get money.

        If she didn’t go at all (and I really hope the speculation upthread about her making the trip but not actually attending the funeral, or something along those lines, is correct), I just can’t think of too many explanations that aren’t really sad.

        If her colleagues do somehow confront her about this, I hope they’ll bring some compassion to that meeting. It might be needed.

        1. Celeste

          This is the answer to the problem…don’t dig. The woman has already come out and said it was a difficult time. The thing to do is be glad you were in a position to at least TRY to help, and that you did what you could. For a little while there, she got to feel that the office had her back. The money is gone, and now all that can be done is harm to the relationship. Who wants that?

    2. Carpe Librarium

      “I can only guess that being in these straits is the result of career underachievement, poor judgment, lack of budgeting ability, and other factors…”
      I just wanted to point out that many factors beyond the supposed ineptitude of the colleague could lead to dire financial straits.
      Using examples that suggest a failure of the colleague to work hard enough, or to make appropriate decisions–financial or otherwise–based on her own personal situation seems uncalled for.

  30. Rachelle

    This is somewhat off topic, but a decent enough excuse for a PSA: Many airlines provide bereavement flights which can be much cheaper than the listed internet price.

    1. Aunt Vixen

      Disappointingly, American Airlines just ended that practice, and I would be shocked if the other biggies didn’t follow suit.

      1. fposte

        Of late, I’m hearing that bereavement fares are often more expensive than discount economy rates anyway–they’re basically a percentage off full fare, and most people don’t fly full fare.

        1. Jamie

          I flew full fare…once.

          When we got the call my dad wasn’t going to make it we jumped on a plane from DC to Chicago last minute. My husband at the time, a pregnant me, a 3 year old, and a 1 year old.

          Kids flew free which was awesome since we paid $1200 each. Talk about sticker shock – and I had no presence of mind to check other airlines…first flight out was the only option.

          Longest flight of my life. If not in hours, certainly in the years it took of the end of mine.

        2. Anonymous

          Eh, bereavement fares may help when you’re booking at the very last minute and the regular fares are outrageous. It just depends on how booked that plane is and if the airline is offering last minute deals or not. I’ve only done a bereavement fare once, and it was through Delta. The big advantage was that I could change my return plans without fees.

      2. Rachelle

        Yeah, I saw that United ended theirs three five days ago. But Delta still has theirs listed on the website.

    2. Colette

      When my dad died (4 years ago), WestJet didn’t offer discounts (I got the lowest price at the time I called), but they did allow changes with no fee, so I was able to book the return flight before I knew when the funeral was going to be.

    3. Celeste

      Bereavement fares are becoming a thing of the past. A good way to try to get a cheaper ticket at the last minute for a funeral is to look on Priceline. It’s hit or miss, but it’s worth a try.

  31. Anon

    Reminds me of an incident that took place in Moscow several years ago when I was traveling there regularly. I was in the airport waiting to check my bags on the way back when an older woman came up crying and talking fast in Russian. My friend translated that her husband had died and she was trying to get enough money to go to where his body was. I gave her some money and then came home. About 6 months later I was at the Moscow airport again, waiting to check my bags when, you guessed it, the same woman came up crying with the same story. I started laughing which got me shocked and annoyed looks from the Russians around me and from my friend, who didn’t remember her. I had my friend ask her if it was the same husband that had died the previous December. Once that was asked in Russian everyone around started laughing and she turned red and scurried off.

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      A similar thing happened to me in Barcelona at the airport when I arrived this man told me he missed his coach and asked if I could give him some money for a new ticket, so I gave him five euros . A week later when I was flying home I saw him again asking people for money so I asked if him if it took all time to raise the money for a new ticked he was really embarrassed and walked off .

      1. fposte

        I guess the difference between people like that at the airport and people like that at train and bus stations is that I’ve never seen the train or bus people embarrassed.

      2. Delurking

        There’s a guy in Vienna who would walk up to people in a panic asking for directions to the airport and explain that he got separated from his tour group, and their flight leaves in less than an hour. Eventually he would find a Good Samaritan to give him taxi fare so he could make his flight. Funny thing is, he’d be back downtown the next day with the same routine. Guess he just keeps missing his flight!

      3. Jen RO

        It’s oddly good to know this happens in civilized countries too! My first experience was with a little old lady in Bucharest who was “missing” a couple lei for her train fare. The second was in Paris at Gare du Nord where a very well-dressed gentleman was “missing” a couple of euros for the Eurostar…

  32. Celeste

    I say give what you want to give and let the chips fall.

    I don’t bake or bring in donuts, but I do sometimes buy a round of bottles of nice hand soap for the ladies’ room on our floor. A few people have said, people will just steal them. Well, so far that hasn’t happened. My attitude is, how can somebody steal something from me that I have already given to them?

    1. The Clerk

      That’s not really a great analogy. When you bring in soap or doughnuts, it’s with the aim of making a whole bunch of people’s day a little brighter. If one person takes the soap or the entire box of doughnuts home, they might feel satisfied (I hesitate to say happy because people like that usually aren’t truly happy ever) but that wasn’t the aim of your gesture.

      I always wonder why the person being cheated always gets shamed harder than the one actually doing the cheating. You can lie, cheat, and steal with impunity but God forbid anyone be honest about their feelings.

      1. Delurking

        “I always wonder why the person being cheated always gets shamed harder than the one actually doing the cheating. You can lie, cheat, and steal with impunity but God forbid anyone be honest about their feelings.”

        I agree. I hate how strength is fetishized and weakness demonized such that to be a victim is a sin in itself.

      2. Celeste

        It is a good analogy, simply because at no time do any of us have control over something once we have given it away.

        1. sunny-dee

          No, but we do have control over our relationships, and that is really what’s at stake here. If this woman lied (and let’s assume she did for this argument), she was willing to lie from her colleagues, take extra time off work, and use a real or imagined tragedy to get money for herself at the expense of her colleagues. That is a huge betrayal, and part of the reason that the OP seems so impassioned, I’d wager. The idea that a friend and colleague could be that conniving is horrifying. If I knew that about a person, it would fundamentally alter my relationship with them. It has less to do, really, with the money itself.

          (And, also, this wasn’t a general collection, like a wedding gift or condolence gift. If it were, there’d be no issue. It was for a specific reason, a specific need that she claimed she had. That does make a difference.)

  33. EvilQueenRegina

    There’s just so many possibilities here. I did wonder whether it was something like her flight was delayed meaning she missed the funeral, and someone’s only got half that story and interpreted it as she never set off at all. (It could happen – I only just made it to my grandmother’s funeral myself because of travel problems). She could have been taken ill, it could be that it’s all a mistake and she did go, she could have felt too upset to go. Based on what we know, it could be just about anything.

    I’d be inclined to agree with going to the person who first said she hadn’t gone and trying to find out exactly how that story started before I’d even think of going to the coworker with it. Going on the assumption that the dead grandchild is real, it could just upset her a whole lot more than she needs to be to accuse her of accepting the money under false pretences (and even just to tell her that there’s a rumour doing the rounds that she did!)

    1. Nina

      I agree, the possibilities are endless. There needs to be more clarity and I hope the OP updates.

  34. MR

    I’m curious to know if there is a history of deception/theft/dishonesty with this employee.

    I say that, because this is a hell of a first case of something like this happening. If this is indeed just a made up story and pocketing the cash, then this person has most likely done other things in the past, and most likely in the workplace.

    As a result, this likely fits an established pattern, and it’s unfortunate that the OP and coworkers were swindled. This is likely grounds for termination as far as I’m concerned.

  35. Anonymous

    “Well, I just found out that she told a coworker that she never went to the funeral.”

    That sounds an awful lot like gossip.

    Before starting to stone somebody else, make sure that you yourself are without fault.

  36. Rk

    I think this goes into the ‘let it go’ column. While the results were not what those who gave money had hoped, no one knows why she didn’t attend the funeral, and in truth it’s no one else’s business. If someone accepts a piece of cake from me, I don’t ask for proof that they ate it. I simply hope that they accepted the gift. Once given, it’s out of my hands. If I see them throwing the cake away, I just have an extra piece for next time.

  37. Anonymous

    There is no way to become involved in this without coming out of it really mucky.

    If this person is a fraudster, they are probably skilled enough to turn it back on you and come off even more sympathetic. If they are genuine, your social credit is FUBAR. Sounds like the gossip mill will bring this unholy mess to a head anyway.

    Keep clear. You won’t regret it.

  38. Delurker2

    Have to comment here. First, what a great group of people who would do this for a co-worker! Second, the co-worker they donated to must be someone special for people to do that for her. I am a big believer in having all the facts before passing office judgement because if you give someone a label (thief, fraud) it sticks whether it is true or not and clouds everyone’s perception about you going forward.
    Losing a child is terrible and the scenarios suggested above would really take a terrible person to do it. Maybe she didn’t go, but maybe she really needed the money or was too embarrassed to give the money back or maybe it wasn’t ENOUGH money. It was a donation. I would want someone to ask me or at least give me the benefit of the doubt. Donating the money in the first place was a great thing to do for someone.

  39. Kathy

    Maybe she used the money to give to the parents (he son or daughter) of the deceased child. Maybe they all decided that this was a better use of the funds. I would think in this day and age it would be easy to see if the granddaughter actually passed away. A simple google search on the co-workers name should show up in her granddaughter’s obit. If it has been established the granddaughter passed away, I would leave it alone.

  40. OP

    Surprising ending to this question. It has been a difficult week.
    The coworker had a lot more things to hide than not flying out to be with her family. The department chair and I sat down with her. She admitted that she did not fly out at all. Actually, she never even looked for a ticker. She took the money and the time off and stayed home.
    She never met the 9 year old grandchild, but the child did die of a rare disease. We asked to have the money returned. If we do receive the money we are then going to donate the money for research of the disease that the child had. It was never about the money, but the fact that she didn’t go and didn’t at least tell us. Now we know that she never intended to go.
    Also, to add to this, she is on the essential support personnel council, as treasurer, in our school district. They have been having meet and confer meetings for the last 8 Thursdays. She was taking the entire day off for these meetings, but the meetings only lasted 2-3 hours. She works a 7.5 hour day at school, so she had a lot of time off with pay that she wasn’t at the meetings.
    This person was let go this morning.

  41. Lmb72111

    Hi OP-
    We recently encountered an eerily similar situation at my workplace.. Falsification of familial deaths, preying on the past experiences of loss by her coworkers, the whole gamut. I’m curious to know if this is I fact the same person. We found out and eventually terminated the employee in November. The timelines sync.

    Please respond if you’d like to talk!
    Julie

  42. jackson

    when you take a collection up for someone, you have to accept that, that money is gone and the recipient will do what they want with it. just because you designate it to go to plane tickets, when someone owes rent or whatever, why be shocked? I work in a big department, and I have to say the collection people get annoying after a while. every week it’s the same people taking up collections for this one or that. these people walk around with an envelope full of money being a bit persistent about collecting. I worked another job with the same problem, finally, a group of people went to HR about the constant collecting of money because the collector was not trusted. it ended there.

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