my boss insisted on calling a medium about my missing family member

A reader writes:

My uncle is missing. It’s been so, so terrible. The police are still searching, but we’re all so scared.

I’ve been trying not to let it affect my work, but of course I’m struggling, so on the advice of several people I finally told my boss. He’s high-up in my company and head of a group that does very niche work. I’m new, so I don’t really know him well and I wasn’t sure how it would go.

I told him and he immediately said, “I have a solution!”

Me: ???

He knows a medium who works with crime scenes and wanted to connect us. I uncomfortably declined. He then spent the next 20 minutes or so interrogating me about every detail of the case, asking me very personal questions about my uncle and spinning scenarios. At one point, he stopped himself partway through the phrase “if he’s found dead.” I was sort of frozen in fear and just tried to give him as little information as possible and try to maintain some sort of professional facade. I didn’t know what to do!

Not long after that, he called me back. I picked up the call and his first words were, “He’s alive!”

He had called his friend, the medium.

My boss then reported back to me everything the medium said, which included the information that the police search in progress is the wrong strategy and should be changed.

I stumbled my way through the end of that conversation and went back to work. (I screwed up something, which doesn’t surprise me.) I’ve been trying to process it, but I am really having a hard time.

I don’t know what to do. We have HR, but going to them seems like a one-way ticket to losing my job one way or the other. This doesn’t seem HR-fixable. There’s no place else to transfer to in my company that I can think of. To be brutally honest, there’s not a lot of jobs out there that I qualify for that pay enough for me to cover my mortgage. But how do I work with someone who’s said these things to me?

I’m so, so sorry. This is horrible on so many levels — first and foremost, the pain and trauma your family is going through, but then to have to deal with your boss’s callous speculation as if this were an interesting cocktail party conversation rather than a real, terrifying thing for you … it’s awful.

I don’t think talking to HR about it would result in you losing your job (unless your company is really horrible) — but it sounds unlikely that they could do anything to fix the situation. They could explain to your boss why he was out of line and ensure he never does anything similar in the future, but they can’t change that he already did, or what that means for how you feel about working for him now. I suppose it’s possible that if they helped him realize he was wrong, he might end up apologizing to you in a way that heals that breach … but he also might not, and you don’t need to take this on right now anyway, especially since it sounds like it would be one more source of stress at an already very stressful time.

Instead, I think the best thing you can do now is to be prepared to shut your boss down if he ever brings up the topic again. It’ll help to have language ready in advance so that you’re not scrambling for words on the spot. I suggest this: “This is so upsetting for me and my family that I really can’t talk about it at work again. Thank you for understanding.” If he blows past that and tries to continue anyway, repeat yourself: “This is too painful and I really cannot talk about it at work.”

If you’re afraid you won’t be able to say that in the moment, you could email him about it preemptively: “I’ve realized this is so deeply upsetting for me and my family that I really can’t talk about it at work at all. I’m sending this via email so that you know and don’t inadvertently raise it.”

And then: release yourself from having to figure out anything else about this relationship right now. You have something much bigger going on; you don’t need to figure out your boss right away. Down the road, maybe you’ll decide you really don’t want to work for him, or maybe you’ll decide it’s more manageable than you thought. But you don’t need to figure it right now; your emotional plate is more than full and this can wait. Keep your focus on your family, and assume you can tackle this later. Let yourself have the gift of not having one more thing to deal with right now.

I’m so sorry your family is going through this.

{ 222 comments… read them below }

  1. H.Regalis*

    I’m so sorry, LW. That is awful, and then your boss became the rotting cherry on top of the shit sundae. I’m so, so sorry.

    1. Lost is not alone*

      I’m so terribly sorry, OP. My spouse’s best friend/business partner went missing and it was the worst experience of our lives, really just impossible to imagine unless you’ve experienced it. We were connected to Texas Equusearch, a national organization despite the name (we are in the midwest), and they were honestly the reason we got through the experience– they coordinated the volunteer search and were a resource for the family and friends (including things like making statements to the media when that was not something we could face). If your family could use additional support, I’d encourage you to reach out to them.

  2. Good Enough For Government Work*



    W H A T


    I’m so sorry, Letter Writer. I have absolutely no helpful advice or suggestions. I just have one gigantic scream into the endless void that is where your boss’s sense of empathy and common sense should be.

    I hope your uncle comes home soon.

    1. duinath*

      yep. i am simply furious on op’s behalf.

      i’m so sorry this is happening, op, and i’m sorry your boss added this on top of an already awful time.

      wishing for the best for you and your uncle.

  3. Amber Rose*


    Wow. OP I’m so sorry you have to deal with all this. HR might be a good idea just in case he tries to offer more “helpful” advice. :(

    1. pope suburban*

      I agree. I think HR could be a source of reassurance that this is Not Okay, if nothing else. And they may be able to step in to stop any further gross inappropriateness on boss’s part. OP, I know you are in a situation that most of us can’t understand, but that is not the same thing as being alone. You have people who care about you, and you have people in your workplace who can be allies to you, both as a person and an employee. There is no shame in reaching out and availing yourself of that support.

      I also really agree with Alison’s statement that you do not need to deal with this right now. You have more than enough on your plate. Set the job thing down until you have the time and energy to deal with it.

  4. CubeFarmer*

    That sounds AWFUL, LW, and I’m so sorry.

    I agree with LW’s HR assessment. In an ideal world, yes, this would not blowback on LW, but…HR. I like the advice of, “Oh, I can’t talk about it.”

    1. Beth*

      My concern is less about blowback and more that going to HR isn’t likely to help OP. What’s the best case scenario here? HR talks to the boss, the boss apologizes to OP but maybe feels weird about having been talked to by HR, OP still feels weird and upset about the situation because an apology doesn’t fix this kind of thing, everyone is kind of at an impasse? That sounds like a lot of effort for nothing to get fixed.

      OP, I think Alison’s advice here is sound. “This is too painful for me to discuss at work” should be a conversation ender–if it’s not, repeat it until it is or you can excuse yourself. (If you have to say it more than twice, tearing up and excusing yourself from the room will be sympathetic to literally any onlookers.) You don’t need to decide about your long-term future at this job now. Let your stress resilience be used towards navigating this awful situation, keep collecting your paycheck, and give yourself permission to think about your career needs later.

      1. Worldwalker*

        The big question is whether someone who took a flying leap over the line would respect “I don’t want to talk about it at work” or use his rank to insist on talking about it. I have a bad feeling that it would be the latter. In that case, having HR shut him down might be the most viable option.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, I think the boss jumped in too early to process that OP was not sharing this story for discussion but just to provide their boss with context for why they might not be performing at their best at work. It should have been obvious, but hopefully OP can clarify for them now.

        I had a similar discussion with my bosses after my brother died. I asked for a meeting with my direct manager and her manager and I told them the situation, that I thought they should know in case I was acting weird or they find me randomly crying at my desk or something, but that I really didn’t want to discuss it and I didn’t want the team to pass around a condolence card or anything.

    2. Mo*

      I would talk to someone in HR, but let them know that they don’t need to talk to boss on your behalf unless they thought it would be helpful.

      What you really need is for someone to know that this happened and you were not happy about it. Talking with someone who could vouch for your unhappiness, someone in law enforcement, someone at your church or other place of worship, should this become an issue would probably be a good thing.

      Having done a DBT program, one of the things they stress is getting on your feet and in a place of personal safety before working on emotional issues and trauma. You are certainly not there now. Please focus on yourself and your family. There will be time enough for the rest. Best of thoughts to you.

      1. Pajamas on Bananas*

        I think LW could wait to see if he brings it up again, and go to HR if he does. It’s reasonable to say you waited because you assumed that boss reaching out to the medium was the resolution to the situation. However bringing it up again makes it a pattern that needs to be addressed. I agree it’s something you want documented. If you really want to try not to involve HR I would use Allison’s script once. Then you can tell HR that after you realized it’s a pattern, you addressed it.

        I am very sorry for everything your family is experiencing.

  5. Justme, The OG*

    Holy forking shirtballs your boss is so out of line. I’m really sorry about the entire situation.

  6. Hannah Lee*

    This is like a real life mash up of Search Party an Only Murders In The Building… random people enthusiastically/aggressively wading into other people’s lives, tragedies .

    This boss is so far out of line he could fall off the planet.

    Alison’s advice was great

    1. Annony*

      Yep. Sometimes true crime aficionados seem to forget that these are real people, with real families and it isn’t a game for them to play. I hate that people’s personal tragedies has become a form of entertainment.

      1. H.Regalis*

        It’s a tough balancing act. Death is scary, and I get why people are fascinated with it. Everyone can be a little ghoulish, and I don’t think that’s a moral failing; but then you have people like the AAM letter where the LW had coworkers talking about their favorite child murderers. This isn’t Midsommer Murders or CSI: These are real people who had horrific things happen to them.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes true crime is interesting which is why in the 19th century famous trials attracted mass audiences and hangings were popular outings.

          People have always enjoyed true crime. But they do need to remember that there are real victims at the bottom of it and you can’t treat them like entertainment.

      2. Spiders Everywhere*

        Ugh, yeah, people get True Crime Brain and then when something happens in real life they’re like “Oh boy oh boy it’s finally happening!” instead of responding remotely appropriately.

      3. anon, anon*

        Yup. After I was in a mass shooting, an acquaintance kept urging me to “write about it”.

        Yeah, so he could read it. No thanks, I’ll pass.

        1. Sage*

          What makes is sadder is that there are people who write about it because they want to do so. People like your aquitance could just read those.

  7. Elizabeth West*

    What in the actual f**k.
    We need a category for Most Tone-Deaf Boss EVER.

    OP, I’m sending my best good vibes for you and your family.

  8. Engineer*

    First the coworker insisting on sending messages from the dead, now a boss insisting on a medium. I feel like this is the start of a pattern that’s going to get *very* invasive, very fast.

    I also feel like we’re seeing a resurgence of cults and cult-thinking that categorized the 70s, what with all this focus on connecting with the dead.

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      Hopefully not the dead in this case. I don’t think it’s a resurgence of anything though – “thoughts and prayers” unfortunately has been with us for a long time.

      1. Engineer*

        Yeah but people used to stop at “thoughts and prayers.” Now they’re shoving past boundaries by insisting they have messages from the dead, that they’ve “reality-shifted,” that they have proof of an alien abduction. Stuff that used to be fringe thinking that’s becoming increasingly more mainstream.

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          It’s not new, you’re just more aware of it. My BF was murdered in the mid-90s and I remember his cousin telling me he could feel his spirit/presence and that he “just woke up” and that he was happy/at peace/whatever. God, it was creepy.

          The alien thing is the modern iteration of all the ancient BS some humans have always believed. There have always been cults, too. You only hear about them when they make the news.

      2. SickOfIt*

        “Thoughts and prayers” is a conventional, anodyne expression. “Mediums” and “psychics” are brutal grifters. There is no connection.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          They’re similar though in that those things are often used by people wanting to help (the boss in this case), even if wildly misguided.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, the only thing I am curious about here is when the boss says their friend works at crime scenes–does he mean in an official capacity like with the police?? If so I guess it’s a little better than just like “let me call the psychic I talk to about my love life every Tuesday.”

            I mean I think that medium is BS and I assume from the letter OP does too, but if that is the situation then I can extend the smallest bit of grace to see how the boss would think “hey, this person has a problem and I know someone who solves that kind of problem for a living so I’ll reach out to them.”

            It was still wildly out of line and I can understand why OP feels like they’re not sure they can really work with this boss anymore; I would definitely feel the same way. But I’d definitely hold off on making any big moves regarding potentially leaving the job right now because it might be that in the future you don’t feel as strongly about this when you’re not in the middle of it. And this is hopefully something that is unlikely to come up again, though I would keep an eye out as to whether your boss has a tendency to overstep in other areas.

      3. Antilles*

        Also worth remembering that Alison answers to a fairly small fraction of letters that come in, which itself is a miniscule fraction of workers in America. The vast vast vast majority of people are *not* encountering medium-related issues at their workplace, it’s just nobody is going to write in with a letter titled “I do not have any issues with mediums at my job”.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          And if Alison did get a letter like thst, she wouldn’t publish it, because there would be no advice to give and nothing for the commentariat to discuss!

      4. Observer*

        I don’t think it’s a resurgence of anything though – “thoughts and prayers” unfortunately has been with us for a long time.

        Totally different thing. Thoughts and prayers doesn’t get into your business. They ar just an expression of “I feel bad, and I wish I could help.” Now, if someone said “I spoke to my pastor / Imam / Rabbi who said you should do such and so.” *That* would be similar to what the OP is dealing with.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          I think they’re similar in that if people don’t want someone to pray for them, and they still do it or share the info with their priest/rabbi/etc that’s a big overstep in the way that the medium is, even if they think they’re helping.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Dictating what other people pray for or seek spiritual guidance on in their private lives is a huge overstep.

            Boss going to a medium was not inherently inappropriate. It would have been fine… if Boss had done it privately, without bringing it up to LW or pressuring her for information, and had also kept the results private. Similarly, someone praying for me is fine as long as they don’t force me to participate (even passively). The issue, of course, is that there’s no point for Boss to go to a medium unless they plan to share the information with LW. Whereas most types of prayer don’t require the person you pray for to be involved or even aware of the act.

            1. kalli*

              Boss going to the medium after LW specifically said they didn’t want to consult the medium was inappropriate and a massive overstep, as was the 20 minute questioning session and the detailed recounting of the medium session. HR absolutely can have a word with him about that and leave the actual medium thing out of it.

            2. Caroline*

              How absolutely dreadful for you to lose someone to murder. I’m so sorry. I suppose the only thing re the cousin and the whole ”feel the spirit” situation is that it was a family member rather than a rando weird over-stepper sharing nonsense.

              Those types of senseless losses are such a shock though, the world stops making sense.

        2. Cyndi*

          Of course this is super dependent on context and the people involved, but a lot of people will take “thoughts and prayers” as “I’m going to do something that makes me feel like I helped, but can’t be bothered to do anything concrete for you.” I think I hear it referred to derisively more often than used in earnest.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            For me, thoughts and prayers started with the Sandy Hook school killings. Politicians said it a lot, but did almost nothing. So yes, it is said derisively, and well deserved.

        3. Ex-prof*

          Indeed. “Thoughts and prayers” are the equivalent of “I’m outta here.” Every family dealing with cancer knows that “I’ll pray for you” can be translated as “If you’re looking for someone to run errands, set up a CaringBridge page, or sign up for a MealTrain meal, count me out.”

          1. Jasmine Tea*

            Many people feel terrible but don’t know what to say when they hear bad news so they don’t say anything. Unfortunately, this boss it was not one of them.

    2. FitPro not Fitspo*

      I’m fervently hoping OP’s uncle is in fact alive, but mediums and spiritualism tend to have a moment any time there is an event that causes death on a massive scale, like wars or global pandemics.

  9. el l*

    Also suggest, “I need to focus on work and professional topics right now. Please don’t bring this up again.”

    Don’t blame yourself for your boss’ reaction. The reasonable reactions you could’ve expected were anything between, “Well, don’t let it affect your work” to “Take the time you need.” But not this catastrophic loss of perspective.

    Someday you’ll need to decide whether you want to work for this guy. But not today. You unfortunately have something else more pressing.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Exactly this — not today. Just like Alison said you have bigger things to deal with right now. Right now your focus should be on your family. If you have any leave saved up, you might want to take some, or see if you can reduce your hours for a bit or something. Then later, when you have the energy to focus back on work, you can deal with your boss.

      I am so very very sorry your family is going through this. Sending all good vibes (of whatever belief system you have) for a good outcome.

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      And, honestly, I wouldn’t even categorize “Well, don’t let it affect your work” as reasonable. Possibly unsurprising, but I wouldn’t call it reasonable.

      1. Good Enough For Government Work*


        My response to “Don’t let it effect your work” in these circumstances, even if it were not directed at me, would be to jobhunt. Hard and fast.

      2. BubbleTea*

        It’s not a reasonable thing for someone to say, but it’s not unreasonable to brace for the possibility of it being said. No one would be expecting the medium suggestion.

      3. el l*

        Inappropriate but if manager was stressed, understandable. That’s the “at worst” comment that could be reasonably foreseen.

        Not this.

    3. Smithy*

      10000% this.

      Along the lines of not blaming yourself OP, just find ways of giving yourself lots of support in finding not just smart next steps, but next steps that are kind to you. And realizing that HR isn’t going to be a place to help is a case of you being smart and kind to yourself.

      I’ve always had jobs that due to the nature of my work are very often some of the smallest teams at my employer. Transferring would almost always be akin to starting over professionally, and maintaining a positive reference very often means having my supervisor (who may be the source of strife) still like me when I leave.

      So when life at home is hard, making the choice to not make life at work hard is an act of kindness to yourself. Getting a new job takes work, fixing a difficult a job takes work – and all of that can wait until home is a little more manageable.

    4. Project Maniac-ger*

      I’m reiterating that this is so beyond the socially acceptable things your boss can do when you are suffering a tragedy. The boundaries are miles away. Therefore, any response from you can be unconventional, and no reasonable person would hold it against you, and you don’t have to put his feelings in consideration because he sure as hell didn’t consider yours. I say this to release you from guilt here – I do not recommend you go nuclear since he’s your boss, but I don’t want you to think any of your actions past or future deserve what you might get from this deranged boss.
      I know we like to have witty comebacks here, but I’d have probably just sat there blabbering in shock as well. This is not normal, your feelings are valid, your boss is not a good boss.

    5. amoeba*

      I’d add – unless you want to decide right now! I mean, it would also be perfectly fine to keep your mind off the horrible things you experience by job searching, if that’s something that feels right to you. Don’t let anybody dictate what is or isn’t the appropriate response.

  10. HailRobonia*

    Unsurprisingly, Alison provides fantastic wording: the “Thank you for understanding” pushes it back on the boss in a gentle way, suggesting “of course you would never intend to be harmful or upsetting”

  11. Sloanicota*

    This is difficult, and tells you something about your bosses’ judgement (it’s … not good). In future you’ll know to keep it briskly professional with this person and never share personal details, but that doesn’t help you today. I hope they find your Uncle safe and sound.

  12. cabbagepants*

    How awful. I’m so sorry, OP.

    I have to disagree with Alison, though. I think your boss has already shown that he sees your missing uncle as a fun puzzle to solve, and not as a terrible ongoing tragedy in your life. Telling him that the topic is upsetting to you probably won’t change his course, since his goal is to amuse himself feeling helpful and important rather than to take care of your feelings.

    I’d advise instead a course of being a gray rock. Give your boss no more information about your uncle. Be very boring about the topic. Don’t even make eye contact when your boss starts talking about him. Give vague and bland answers about why you don’t want his “help.” Channel Bartleby the Scribner as needed.

    Signed, the daughter of someone like this.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      Yes, absolutely do not tell your boss any further details, no matter what they ask. Practice saying no to them in the mirror if you need to. They cannot be trusted with any information.

    2. Zarniwoop*

      Not certain he sees it as “fun puzzle.” It may be he’s a sincere believer in spiritualism and genuinely thinks he’s being helpful.
      If anything that makes it harder to figure out how to shut him down.

      1. Caliente Papillon*

        I don’t think LW- or anyone else – has to figure out a way to shut someone down no matter their intentions. Even if he thinks he’s being helpful, he is not to LW, so she is well within her rights to ask him to stop. Like if someone offers you a candy bar cuz they are so nice and THEY love them, doesn’t mean you have to take it if you don’t want it and you’re well within your rights to say, no thanks.

      2. cabbagepants*

        The first thing the boss said when learning the awful news was “I have a solution!” This is someone who is excited to problem-solve and who is obvious to OP’s feelings.

        If the boss both was being kind and really believed they could help, they would express sympathy to OP and then quietly call the medium and share their “findings” with the police without looking to OP for validation.

        1. linger*

          Boss’s response fits the gender stereotype whereby an Emotional Issue is taken as a man’s Practical Problem to Solve, which may allow him to feel useful by acting rather than empathising, but which unsurprisingly utterly fails to solve the Emotional Issue.

      3. a trans person*

        This is why I think HR *could* be helpful, because the boss is unlawfully pushing a religious practice and viewpoint on the LW. He’s being evangelical about his Spiritualism, no matter what he thinks is going on, and that is not ok.

        1. XF1013*

          Yes, I thought the same while reading this. And even if HR declined to intervene about the proselytizing, it might be helpful just to get this on their radar. If there becomes a pattern of inappropriateness by this boss, they should be aware of this incident.

          Then again, LW is new on the job and doesn’t have a sense of the people yet. A company that tolerates someone this tactless in a high-ranking role might have bees in HR or the C-suite. Ignoring it is the safest option.

          I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through this, LW. I wish you and your family the best.

      4. I Have RBF*

        I don’t GAF if he’s a sincere believer or not. The boss here is trying to impose his religious/spiritual practice on an employee who does not want it. That is the part that is very, very, very wrong.

        “I’m sorry, that’s not part of my religion and it makes me uncomfortable. Please stop any medium related contact on my behalf.”

        If the LW or their family wanted the involvement of a medium, they would seek out their own.

      5. DJ Abbott*

        If he is a sincere believer, he sounds like the fundamentalists I grew up with. Always talking about how their religion solves everything and trying to make people come to church.
        It’s disrespectful and boundary-trampling when they do it too.

  13. Mztery*

    Just a small note, and not for the OPM – I hope this is not included in “worst bosses” at the end of the year, as I would hate for the OP to have to reopen any

    1. Sherm*

      There have been worse bosses this year — fortunately or unfortunately, whichever way you’d want to look at it.

  14. Momma Bear*

    I agree to have a script and stick to it. “This is not something I will continue to discuss. About that Llama report…”

  15. Nea*

    The medium told the boss to tell LW to presumably tell the police that their search was being done wrong? The words I want to say and the amount of capital letters I want to say them in would keep this comment from ever being posted! What was LW supposed to do with this? Why didn’t the medium contact the police, since apparently they’re all working buddies?

    So, I like the suggestion to send an email to boss asking them to never bring it up again, but personally I’d add one bit: “It is especially upsetting and distracting to be given information I can’t take action about. If the medium feels the police need to know something, they need to contact the police directly.”

    1. Emmie*

      I would leave that piece out because it may encourage the boss to become more involved. I support the email, which is really an unearned kindness to the boss. I would recommend adding things like “quite respectfully, I need you to permanently stop” the discussion of mediums or psychics. Instead, “we can focus on work related items, an important distraction at this time.” Sometimes giving people a way to help can divert their natural, albeit misguided, attempts to help in difficult circumstances.

      The boss needs f*** all the way off.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Agreed. The last bit is trying too hard to show the boss you thought his heart was in the right place. The boss’ intentions are irrelevant. He did something so out of line that no amount of good intentions changes that. So any encouragement that good intentions are appreciated will only encourage more bad behavior.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I used to know a hardcore Christian proselytizer. His intentions were good… he didn’t want me to be tortured for all eternity because I wasn’t a member of his specific sub-religion … but his actions were not good, nor appropriate for work. And that’s what mattered.

      2. Emikyu*

        Personally, I would cc (or bcc) HR on the email as well. I realize the LW may have good reasons for not doing so in their particular case, but unless their HR is horribly dysfunctional I think it would be good for them to have this email for context if the boss doesn’t stop.

  16. Cyndi*

    Hey where’s your boss? I just want to have a very polite and reasonable conversation with him about some things.

    I’m so, so sorry this is happening and that someone you need to be able to rely on is making it so much worse for you.

  17. Pippa K*

    Oh that’s awful, OP. Maybe it’s a product of the common human impulse to want to help and (less admirably) to be the hero who solves the problem, but your boss is doing this without any regard to whether it *is* actually helpful or comforting to you, and that’s inexcusable. I hope he gets distracted by some shiny new situation soon and drops it. And I hope your uncle is found safe.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It’s not an excuse whatsoever, but I do think people jump into this weird “crime solving” mode when they recognize a tv-style plotline; it’s common in people who watch a lot of procedurals or listen to a lot of true-crime podcasts. It’s like you have this script in your head telling you this is what people do when they encounter these types of situations – totally skipping over the part where the most important thing is to be thoughtful and sensitive to the people closest to the tragedy. Again, zero excuse for the boss though. I wonder if OP could try to say something like, “this isn’t a mystery podcast, this is a family member I care about” – but I think just being really neutral and avoidant is still the better course of action given the letter.

      1. Observer*

        I wonder if OP could try to say something like, “this isn’t a mystery podcast, this is a family member I care about” – but I think just being really neutral and avoidant is still the better course of action given the letter.

        I agree with the sentiment. But I also think that the neutral and avoidant route is far and away the better path for the OP right now.

      2. higheredadmin*

        a) why my mom, who went through the experience of having a family member murdered, will never watch any TV crime shows and b) what you can provide people in traumatic situations is to actively listen, and validate that yes this is awful. Don’t try to problem solve, don’t tell them about something that happened in your life that is similar (exception here being that examples are often comforting to neurodiverse folks), keep the focus on the person and what they are telling you they need – and then do the thing they are saying they need. If they need space, give them that. If they want you to quietly sit nearby, do that. (And if there is nothing they say they need, and you really feel the need to do something, give them a gift card for a hot meal.)

        1. H.Regalis*

          I used to watch a lot of true crime stuff, but after my best friend’s brother murdered two people, I couldn’t anymore. My partner does watch those shows, but now they just make me sad. The loss of the life, the people grieving their missing or dead loved ones, the pain, the senseless violence. I don’t begrudge people watching those shows, but it’s like the old saying, “Don’t talk of rope to one whose father was hanged.”

      3. Bast*

        Again, no excuses for the boss, but I wonder if he is a “solver.” You know, one of those people who no matter the situation needs to find a solution, even when it isn’t their situation to solve or sometimes the other person just wanted to vent. They usually mean well, and take a firm “I am not looking for a solution, I just need to vent” or a “No, really, please do not do that.”

        1. Observer*

          but I wonder if he is a “solver.”

          It could be. But there are two types- people who *genuinely* want to help and have some boundaries. Those are the ones who respond well to a clear pushback.

          This guy is type 2 -the one with terminal Main Character Syndrome. They blow past boundaries – as this guy did – at the drop of a hat. The only reason I think that he might back off here if the OP is explicit is because it’s a workplace situation. But I’m not 100% confident. In which case grey rocking and having a script to refuse to discuss it any further is what the OP is going to need.

        2. Irish Teacher.*

          I think that’s possible but I also think he belongs to a particular “group” of “solvers.” In my experience, “solvers” fall into two categories, those who genuinely want to help and will ask what they can do and genuinely try to support you in the way you need and then there are the group who think they know best, ignore body language or even being told straight out “this is not what I want” and who, I suspect, at some unconscious level, are more invested in seeing themselves as the “solver” and hero of the story than in actually helping the other person.

          There’s a comment I read about how, to help people, we have to be willing to help them with the problem as they see it, not as we do.

          I do believe the boss genuinely wants to help, but I also think that at some level, he believes that he is better placed than the LW to decide what help is needed, that he alone has the answer.

          I suspect the medium probably is manipulating the boss. Telling anybody to ignore the police and follow their ideas instead is horrifying and dangerous and while I presume the boss believes what the medium is telling him, he is passing on a message that could actually harm the search under the belief that he knows better than the LW or the police.

          I think most people would like to solve others’ problems, either because most of us don’t like seeing people unhappy or for the kudos of being the one to solve the problem, but I think it is kind of selfish when people prioritise their need to solve the problem over the needs of the person who actually has the problem.

    2. coffee*

      It reminds me a lot of how some people respond to hearing someone has cancer or other serious illnesses – they don’t have a good framework on how to cope with the news, or the reminder of their own frailty and mortality. And then they centre themselves and their own feelings in how they respond, and come up with solutions so the bad thing goes away.

      It is of course very stressful for the person who is living with the bad news, and who knows there is no easy solution, and has just had to spend more time thinking about the bad news rather than being supported. I’m so sorry for the OP and I also hope their uncle is found safe.

    1. Daubenton*

      Also, “jerks”.

      OP, my heart goes out to you and your family. I’m so sorry you’re going through this and your boss has added to your distress in this unforgivably crass way.

  18. SGPB*

    If your office is so dysfunctional that going to HR with THIS ABSOLUTE BONKERS BOUNDARY CROSSING BEHAVIOR will get you fired then…. this job is not salvageable and you need to get another one ASAP. I literally cannot imagine an HR that would not take this seriously. It is one of the most f’ed up things I’ve ever read. I’m so ANGRY on your behalf!!!! Worst boss of the century, ugh.

    1. CherryBlossom*

      I agree that OP should get another job, in theory, but in practice I wouldn’t blame them if they may not be in the right frame of mind to start a job hunt on top of everything else they have going on. This boss is so awful, and this is a place to run away from, but when OP feels ready to tackle that.

      OP, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Sending well wishes and hoping you hear good news soon.

      1. Bo Peep*

        If I were OP even if I could find a job matching my skillset that pays what I need and is actively hiring… I don’t think I’d be particularly hireable right now. I can’t imagine interviewing well right now. Especially if they ask why I’m leaving my current position.

        1. metadata minion*

          Agree. Depending on how someone reacts to stress, having a problem that you can *actually solve* can be really, really helpful in this sort of situation, but for plenty of other people it’s just another boatload of stress, and even positive stress like learning a new job is going to be way too much to deal with.

    2. Bear Expert*

      “ASAP” here might be next year.

      I think doing something that could end in a blaze of glory isn’t going to be helpful for someone who is already overwhelmed and would still like to pay rent and shop for groceries reliably.

      The situation is F’d, but jettisoning a paycheck would F it up more.

      … if there is an EAP available, adding some mental health support or basic logistical support might be really good for the duration though.

      1. Festively Dressed Earl*

        At times like this, I really wish I was a millionaire so I could fund OP quitting and taking a mental health break.

    3. Spargle*

      “To be brutally honest, there’s not a lot of jobs out there that I qualify for that pay enough for me to cover my mortgage.”

      LW has considered that and ruled it out.

    4. Kyrielle*

      Oh, I would hope going to HR with this wouldn’t blow back on the LW, but…what can it accomplish? HR cannot make the boss have not done this, and LW doesn’t need to deal with sorting things out with the boss while still dealing with the stress. Going to HR might be a good move if closing the boss out of personal things and focusing on strictly job stuff/grey-rocking doesn’t work, because at that point it’ll be an ongoing situation and some help shutting it down might be good.

      But unless that happens, HR can…tell the boss he shouldn’t have done that? Dollars to donuts, even if that doesn’t result in any job hardship for the LW, it will *still* probably involve at least one more discussion with the boss about it, which is another conversation and another load for the LW to deal with. If they *wanted* to take it to HR and get him properly Told Off, I would 100% support them. But in this case it sounds like it would just waste more of their time and energy.

      1. a trans person*

        Hopefully they could tell the boss that this is illegal religious discrimination. I don’t know if that makes HR any more helpful, but at least there is one specific thing that I think the boss could be told sternly and *might* listen to.

          1. allathian*

            Maybe not religious discrimination, but it could certainly be seen as unwelcome religious proselytizing. Granted, the LW doesn’t mention her religious beliefs. Lots of people are vehemently opposed to any attempts to contact the spirits of the dead, whether that’s because they don’t believe in an afterlife, because they think that all mediums are charlatans, or because their religion simply forbids it.

            That said, I think putting the manager on an information diet and gray rocking him whenever he starts talking about this subject should make it less interesting for him to talk about it.

    1. metadata minion*

      There are no words in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men for this cruel bananapantsery.

  19. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

    That’s horrible, I’m so sorry. Some people have no sense, respect, or tact. I’m reminded of the woman on TikTok who accused a random professor of committing the Idaho murders. This supernatural nonsense can ruin lives.

    I wish you had more options, it’s awful and unjust that you have to continue to deal with him.

    1. UKDancer*

      Similarly a woman went missing in England and the small town was inundated with amateur detectives who all thought they could do a better job and airing loud suspicion of her partner. They turned up in droves, got in the way and one YouTuber got arrested.

      None of it helped and it all made it worse for her family.

      1. Sage*

        John Oliver had a segment in his show Last Week Tonight where he explained about mediums, their BS methods and how they harm people. It was heartbreaking.

  20. I Am On Email*

    OP I gasped when I read this title. Your boss is so very very very in the wrong.

    I am really sorry you and your family are going through this, you will all be in my thoughts.

  21. What’s In A Name?*

    I’m so sorry you and your family are going through this, OP. Your boss was way out of line – I can’t even imagine what was going through his head to make him think this was okay. I wish the best for you and your family, and hope your uncle is found safe soon!

  22. BellyButton*

    I am rarely speechless, but even picking up my jaw from the floor – I am still shocked.

    LW- I am so sorry for what you and your family are going through. As far as what happened with your boss, forgive yourself for not knowing how to shut it down in the moment or knowing what to do in the future. So many people (your boss is clearly one of those ‘many’) lack social graces, self-awareness, and the perception to know when they are making other people uncomfortable.

    One of the greatest things I took away from therapy- it is ok to be rude when someone around you is being rude. Remembering that has helped me from getting frozen or trying to find a “nice” way to shut down as$ holes. Although, in this situation I don’t think anyone would be able to process what the heck was happening fast enough to be able to do anything about it. It is just so … so… WRONG on every single level.

    Good luck to you and your family.

  23. First Time_Long Time*

    This is such bizarre behavior and I really don’t know what compels people to say stuff like this, I assume they think they’re helping. My sister passed away last year and some random employee on the same floor as me (who I don’t even know) approached me and told me she’s a medium and that my sister was trying to get in touch with me and wanted to tell me “she’s at peace” and all that sort of thing. It was shockingly inappropriate and just so bizarre. I ignored her that time but the second time she approached me I told my boss who shut it down really quickly. I found out from others in the building that this is standard behavior from her.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I had a similar thing happen. A family member passed away unexpectedly and a regular customer at the place where I worked (he was into woo-woo stuff – I don’t know how else to explain it, stuff like those energy vortexes that some people think are in the Southwest, psychics, remembering past lives, that sort of thing) and he said he had a friend who could access the “Akashic records” and somehow communicate with my brother.

      I was in such a grief-fog I don’t really remember the details of the conversation, but he 1. legit believed this and 2. legit thought he was helping. He was a kind person and I didn’t find it upsetting, more like weird and vaguely intriguing, but the situation was very different than a missing person who may be in danger.

    2. Yoyoyo*

      I think assuming people think they’re helping is nice, but the cynical side of me says it’s more about attention seeking and wanting to be the one to “crack the case.” I think this is especially common now with true crime being so popular. People forget these are people’s actual loved ones.

      1. Student*

        I suspect it may be about money. Giving “comfort” to a grief-stricken person to drum up a new source of fortune-telling side income. The hope is that you’ll be curious to hear more from the dead relative and sign up for a session or two, then get hooked longer term.

  24. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    Your boss is INCREDIBLY out of line. I generally try to be judicious and restrained with my judgments of others, but I feel comfortable going out on a limb to say he is also a self-centered asshat with terminal main character syndrome and a blinding desperation to be a the center of the drama.

    OP, your only obligations here are a) to maintain professional civility as best you are able and b) to take care of yourself and your family as best as you can. Professional civility does not require to give ANY more information about this, nor does it restrain you from going to HR if this continues.

  25. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Sending all the love and luck to you and yours, LW. I hope you’re able to protect your energy from your job and focus it on caring for yourself and your loved ones while you work through this. Best wishes that your uncle is found whole and healthy.

  26. Michelle Smith*

    I’m sure you know this, but:

    * Anyone would be having a hard time in your situation.
    * None of this was your fault.
    * Your boss is an ass.

    I’m so, so sorry you’re going through this.

  27. Observer*

    This sounds terrible. I’m sorry.

    I think that Allison is right – email him and bcc yourself outside of the company. This is NOT a good time to think about your continued employment here, because things are way too raw and scary. But down the line, when you are in a headspace that allows you to think this through, some documentation might be useful to you. Or not. But you don’t know and this is a low effort way to avoid foreclosing that option.

    I would also not get into the medium or his truly inappropriate conversation with you. The last thing you want right now is a discussion about how he was “Just trying to help!” And, see, he was right. He took all of your details and the medium had answers for you!

    Again, some time down the road you may want to point out to him just how inappropriate all of this was, and how the medium’s advice was not all that helpful to you. But for now, all you really want is for him to shut up and not offer you any more of this “help”.

    And if he persists, do talk to HR. As Allison says, if your HR is competent and you are in a decent company this should not affect your job.

    And I hope they find your uncle and he’s fine!

  28. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    This is no different than if you’d started showing effects of a medical condition and after interrogating you about your diagnosis and treatment plan, determined that your course of treatment was “wrong” and you needed to speak to his possibly legitimate healer to outright flim flam man.
    And then to contact him with your info and pass on a message…
    I hope everyone in your company learns a lesson about his judgment. Particularly him.

    1. CV*

      A friend has schizophrenia. At one inpatient stay, she was told by a low level employee that she didn’t have schizophrenia, she was actually possessed by Satan.
      I helped her write the letter to hospital management after she was out; I sincerely hope that worker wes fired, but they never tell you these things.

  29. blue fields*

    I’ve had an immediate family member go missing (thankfully he was found relatively quickly), so I am sending you all the good vibes. It’s terrifying, paralyzing, and I think I would have lost it if someone brought in a psychic. Drink water, eat if you can, and try to be kind to yourself. Lots of love.

    1. AGD*

      Same. Happy ending within a few hours, but even that was enough for it to have been one of the most frightening experiences of my life. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. Will be thinking of you.

  30. Exhausted Electricity*

    i agree with redirecting to be back about work, and I’m REALLY hoping the boss isn’t like my grandmother because saying no/i will not discuss this makes her dig in.

    LW, this is a terrible situation and I hope you give yourself grace while navigating this.

  31. learnedthehardway*

    I’m so sorry for these terrible circumstances. My very best wishes for your uncle.

    Whether your senior exec is sincere and well-meaning, or is someone who wants to make the situation all about themselves, I would just thank him for his (misguided) attempts to be supportive and would tell him that you don’t have any more information, if he asks further. If he tries to talk about it, tell him you simply cannot handle a discussion about the situation as it is too painful and personal. Excuse yourself and leave.

    You might want to talk to your manager or grandboss (if they seem like a sensible individual) to let them know what the SVP is up to, and ask them to run interference for you. Having a manager tell the SVP that you have asked people at work to not approach you about this issue may make some kind of impact. Having them phrase it as “OP is terribly upset and has asked that the situation not be discussed so they can focus on their work” should be enough for anyone.

    If it isn’t, feel free to take a few days off work for personal reasons.

  32. Teekanne Aus Schokolade*

    When my cousin was killed in a national park accident as a child, we had “mediums” calling us from all over the world trying to tell us where to look to recover his body (he went missing). The script his dad came up with was “We’ve been instructed by investigators not to discuss the details of the search/case, and we would never do anything to jeopardize it”. We never found my cousin and those mediums had to come to terms with themselves that they were wrong. Use this script and let your boss deal with his feelings.

    1. Sabetha*

      I’m so sorry. How tragic.

      I do like the “instructed by investigators” line but I’m afraid this boss would take this to mean that his medium isn’t being taken seriously and escalate his advice.

      1. Teekanne Aus Schokolade*

        OP could then say “We’ve been asked to have anyone with tips call the police directly”.

  33. Poison I.V. drip*

    Alison has given a good script. The problem, though, is that the boss thinks he’s given the OP actionable intelligence (telling the cops to change their approach). I’m afraid simply deflecting won’t discourage him… he’ll demand to know why his medium friend’s advice wasn’t followed.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      “he’ll demand to know why his medium friend’s advice wasn’t followed.”
      Please be prepared for this. Be prepared not to give him anyone’s contact information, name, address, so he can harass them.
      See the above person who said direct him to the police information line if he needs to do this thing.

  34. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

    I’m so sorry, OP. I hope your uncle is ok. Your boss is horrible. Absolute worm behavior.

  35. Baska*

    I’m so sorry, OP. One thing I’d add on to Alison’s advice is that if, after you send your “please don’t talk to me about this anymore” message to your boss, your boss continues to bring it up, then don’t worry about “making it awkward.” Your boss has already made it BEYOND AWKWARD and you should have no qualms about reflecting that back to him.

  36. AndersonDarling*

    Even if there wasn’t a medium involved, and instead a Sherlock Holmes level detective, it would still be wrong for the Boss to pressure the OP to listen to their alternative ‘answer’ instead of trusting the police.
    Boss: I know a fantastic detective!
    OP: Thank you, but we are working with …
    Boss: You are doing it all wrong, I’m going to contact then anyway and tell them all your personal details…

    It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. Boss is just gossiping at this point to involve themselves in the tragedy.

    1. Observer*

      Even if there wasn’t a medium involved, and instead a Sherlock Holmes level detective, it would still be wrong for the Boss to pressure the OP to listen to their alternative ‘answer’ instead of trusting the police.


      Boss is sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. And it doesn’t matter whether his advice makes any sense or not. He needs to back off – and he shouldn’t have intruded in the first place!

  37. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    OP, I am so sorry about your uncle. May he be found safely and soon!

    As for your boss… I am also sorry.

  38. Aggretsuko*

    *sigh* It sounds like politely telling him to not bring up the topic and then publicly ignoring that it happened may be the best idea here if pursuing it with HR or leaving aren’t options for you. Of course, that’s only if HE leaves it alone, which…I dunno.

  39. Salt Water Taffy (it's good - don't at me)*

    Every time I think I’ve seen or read it all, people like your boss surprise me again. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Your boss is incredibly out of line. Allison has some great advice and I hope whatever you decide, you do for yourself and not because you’re worried about how your boss would feel. Because he has no regard for your feelings.

  40. Juicebox Hero*

    What the actual fuck! The most any boss should do is express their sympathy and offer whatever kind of work accomodations that the employee requests (stuff like being flexible about deadlines, working from home, taking PTO.)

    To be so intrusive in such a hurtful, boundary-smashing, just plain shitty way… I can’t even. I’m horrified.

    Wishing you and your family the very best, OP, however it comes. Be kind to yourself.

  41. cardigarden*

    Me at the headline: oh no
    Me at the boss: oh nooooooooo

    LW, I’m so sorry your family is going through this. Your boss is an ass and ought to be ashamed of himself.

  42. Ann Onymous*

    The boss reads to me as inexcusably clueless and self-centered, but not actively malicious (that assessment would change if the LW says they don’t want to talk about it anymore and the boss keeps pushing). This doesn’t make what the boss did acceptable, but it might be easier for LW to continue working with this guy if they can believe he meant to be helpful (even though he failed spectacularly at it).

    LW, I’m sorry for what you and your family are going through.

    1. Single Parent Barbie*

      I read this and thought “this was a rejected script for “the office” – Angela’s cat goes missing and Michael brings in a medium who conducts a seance in the meeting room. All while someone else in the office is dealing with a family tragedy as quietly as possible so Michael doesnt know.

  43. SparklingBlue*

    If this hasn’t been filed under “wait, what?” yet, it needs to be.

    Sending prayers, kitty purrs, and good vibes your way, OP.

  44. HugeTractsofLand*

    I’m so sorry, OP, I hope that your uncle is safe and that your family and friends are supporting you. I second Alison’s advice to send an email to your boss if in-person feels too overwhelming. It also has the benefit of taking care of things *now* instead of you being on edge worrying if and when he’ll bring it up again. Also…paper trail. If you email him or speak to him about it and he brings it up AGAIN, you can then go to HR with more confidence because you’ve done your part.

    Again, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with any of this.

  45. Hills to Die on*

    You have my sympathy and I am so sorry you and your family are going through this. Echoing all the sentiments that he is found quickly and is safe.

  46. bunniferous*

    There are very few things in life worse than having a missing loved one. OP I am so very very sorry and I hope your uncle is found safe very soon.

    I would absolutely do what Alison suggested-and frankly if you have a personal day I think I would take it (but if being busy helps you cope that is understandable too.)

  47. Zona the Great*

    I must be in the minority because I would have no problem putting a hand up, making my body very rigid, and saying in a very terse tone, “STOP! Please DO NOT bring this up again.” I had a boss tell me I’d probably overcome my severe (slept 15 hours a week) insomnia if i just lost weight and I showed him my teeth while I told him he needed to apologize and never say something like that to anyone ever again. He hid from me for a while but eventually sincerely apologized so that we could move forward. Being a boss doesn’t mean they can treat you however they want. I’m happy to risk having a soured relationship with my boss so that I can keep my great relationship with myself.

    1. JustKnope*

      I think it’s very hard for us to know how we would actually respond in a shocking moment like this, especially in an already very fragile emotional state. It’s very, very understandable that the OP froze and couldn’t find the words to shut it down.

      1. Zona the Great*

        Oh absolutely! This wasn’t a criticism of the OP’s response but rather a perspective from someone who doesn’t think bosses earned a reprieve from facing the music. I actually think more people need to step up to authority in times like this.

        1. Cyndi*

          Even if that wasn’t your intention, I think “I was cooler-headed and more assertive in shocking circumstances than you were, and I think more people should respond the way I did” adds up to a criticism regardless of intent.

      2. Emmie*

        It’s true that we have no idea how we’d react. None of us have perfect responses in the moment. I don’t think the poster intended to shame or criticize the OP. The poster was sharing that an aggressive or imperfect response is warranted – even if others are not able to do that. I would likely respond like OP.

    2. LawBee*

      That’s great for you that you could do that in that situation. Sometimes we are right there with the right reaction. But sometimes we’re so blindsided by the ongoing trauma that our brains shut down when someone (the boss!!!) is as out of line as LW’s was.

      All sympathy to LW, this sounds like a total nightmare.

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I think it requires a certain amount of privilege to be able to do that. That LW has said that she really needs the job in order to pay her rent, so she is to some extent, dependent on her boss’s good will in order to keep her home. To be able to respond like that, one needs either a reasonable boss who you can be fairly sure won’t retaliate or else a safety net in case the boss does (this could be a union that has your back or strong employment laws or it could be a large savings account or a spouse who earns enough to keep both of you if you do lose your job).

      I don’t think anybody (or at least, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody) who thinks bosses deserve to be allowed to get away with such behaviour. It’s more that often they can and those who are being treated poorly can be the ones who face repercussions if they speak up to them

      1. Statler von Waldorf*

        I’ve written and deleted a couple replies to that comment, as I’ve been trying and failing to say something like this in a way that’s respectful. I second everything you said.

        The sentence “I’m happy to risk having a soured relationship with my boss so that I can keep my great relationship with myself.” is so effing privileged it makes my eyes roll right to the back of my head. There doesn’t seem to be any comprehension that having a soured relationship with your boss can potentially destroy your life if you don’t have a good safety net.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      These kinds of reactions (both freezing, and fighting back verbally) and are instinctive and our instincts quickly let us know how safe we are, and how likely a certain action will be successful. It’s not the personality type that chooses whether or not we respond with fight/flight/freeze/fawn but the wider context. Even with time to consider the situation, OP feels her job is not secure, and the company not particularly interested in backing her.

  48. WillowSunstar*

    IMHO, it is bananapants that a manager would do this. Also, I think this boss should be in the running for worst boss of the year. So sorry you’re dealing with this, OP.

  49. Future Cat Lady*

    LW, I am so sorry you are dealing with the stress of having a loved one go missing, on top of a boss who is so misguided in their “helping” you. I hope your uncle is found soon.

  50. Bruce*

    All I can say is I hope for a happy reunion and that you can shield yourself as best as possible to give support to your family…

  51. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    OP, sending all my love to you and your family. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

  52. different seudonym*

    Some people have already said this, but to underline: unfortunately, this is a thing. It’s not one clueless jerk; it’s fairly common for those with missing family members to be offered supernatural help.

    I think it’s driven more by an expanding scam culture–“mediums” hustling on social media have huge audiences– than it is by some new credulity in the public, but it’s genuinely horrifying. An acquaintance had strangers call their personal cell and leave messages ostensibly from the dead (and it was a missing persons case, not a confirmed death).

    LW–so sorry to hear about your uncle, and so sorry you got caught up in this garbage.

  53. SuprisinglyADHD*

    What’s up with bosses getting the supernatural involved in their employee’s tragedies? Wasn’t there another boss who brought in a medium or psychic last week? What makes anyone think that’s ok?

    1. SereneScientist*

      Not sure about another boss, but there was a letter answered in September where the LW’s coworker kept insisting she needed to “share messages” from the LW’s dead grandmother, dead pet, etc etc, and basically refused to respect the boundary LW was trying to hold.

  54. Sally Forth*

    These words are such perfect advice.
    “…release yourself from having to figure out anything else about this relationship right now.”

  55. Jane Fiddlesticks*

    Oh dear, if you have any PTO left, maybe take some days to get away from this boss and give yourself some time for mental recuperation. I wish you all the best for you and your family.

  56. Abogado Avocado.*

    LW: I am so, so sorry you and your family are living through your uncle being missing and that you have to deal with a boss who somehow believes calling on the supernatural would be a comfort to you. This is so out of line that I just cannot imagine how painful it is to have to work with such a person. Alison, as usual, gives the best advice. In the meantime, I am sending all my care and concern to you and your family and my fervent hopes that all ends well.

  57. HonorBox*

    OP, I’m so sorry. I hope they find your uncle safe and sound, and soon. Your boss is a jackass, and Alison’s suggestion of an email is spot on. You may want to shut down any others in the office if they’re asking about the search, too. Use work as a safe space as much as you can.

  58. Ex-prof*

    Letter writer, I’m so sorry your family is going through this. How terrible. Sending you all the good wishes I can.

  59. SereneScientist*

    It’s bananas between this letter and the September letter where the coworker wouldn’t stop “sharing messages from beyond.” I suppose in the most generous readings, that coworker and this boss are….trying their best to help? But it’s crosses so many lines of appropriate and considerate behavior that one starts to question how sincerely these people want to help versus some weird, self-aggrandizing ideal of “help.” Madness.

    1. allathian*

      Indeed. It’s bad enough when people want to share messages from beyond when a loved one is known to have died. But in this case the uncle’s missing.

      I hope that your uncle will be found soon and that he’s alive.

  60. Marna Nightingale*

    LW, I have no work advice whatsoever, only deep and profound sympathy and hope for a good outcome.

  61. Scott*

    If ever there were a time to use your resources (and capital), this is it.

    I don’t know if it’s HR, or if it’s your grandboss, but it is 100% OK to say, “Discussing my family’s ongoing tragedy is more than I can do at work, and (I think this is true), I’m really struggling as it is. I need help communicating to my boss that I can’t discuss my uncle at work.”

    Any person in authority over your boss with even a modicum of common sense should lean in and SHUT THIS SHIT DOWN.

    I’m so sorry for all your family is going through. I sincerely hope all turns out well.

  62. Managercanuck*

    Boss is waaaaay out of line. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, OP, and I’m hoping for the best possible outcome for you.

  63. Heffalump*

    OP, it may be too much to expect an update saying your boss has seen the error of his ways. But I hope we get an update saying your uncle was found safe and sound.

    1. Worldwalker*

      This. While I certainly have no standing to expect an update, I would like to have one, especially a positive one. Particularly if it involves the boss being fired for cause with no severance. Update or not, I hope this ends well.

  64. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

    Wow, LW, I am so sorry.

    This is so awful for you and to have your boss make it worse, especially when you weren’t initially going to say anything to him… It isn’t your fault or your friends’ for suggesting it – nobody could have suspected he would be so weird and so callous.

    I know what it’s like to have a single act make you suddenly realize someone isn’t who you thought they were. Just let it work in the back of your brain while you handle the family crisis.

    Good luck and I hope you find your uncle soon.

  65. ReallyBadPerson*

    I am so sorry, both for what you and your family are enduring, and for the fact that you have such a thoughtless jerk of a boss. It sounds like he is a watcher of those awful, exploitive, true crime shows and has forgotten that you, like the families on those shows, are actual human beings whose suffering is real. I hope you are able to shut this down immediately.

  66. Generic Name*

    This is so incredibly callous of your boss. I am truly sorry he’s making an already difficult time for you and your family even worse. Ugh. Later on, if you decide you want to put a good spin on your boss’ behavior, the best possible scenario I can come up with is that he is one of those “I must help everyone” types, and this was his very, very poorly thought out way of trying to help.

  67. Sparkles McFadden*

    I am so sorry about this, LW. You must be very direct because people who violate boundaries like this ignore hints. They excuse their own behavior by telling themselves that they are “helping.” They may, in fact, tell you that directly and inform you that you will be grateful to them in the long run.

    Since this is your boss, it’s extra dicey, so, in addition to Alison’s suggestions, I would like to add that you can plead ignorance and say “I am trying to give my aunt and cousins a little space right now so there’s nothing I can tell you.” Really, a decent person should cut it out when you say “This is too painful” but, sadly, some of them won’t and they only go away when you have nothing to tell.

  68. summerofdiscontent*

    Oh OP, I’m so, so sorry you’re dealing with this. I went through this years ago with my best friend and it was the most destabilizing, traumatizing experience of my life. I was lucky to have had a supportive manager during that time and for the long healing after. I am sending you wishes for your uncle’s safety, a supportive network for you and your family, and good boundaries for you in all areas <3

  69. Dulcinea47*

    LW, if you try to shut him down and he doesn’t listen, I recommended crying and running from the room. Fake crying is fine. This may sound ridiculous but lately I’ve found it’s a good technique for dealing with people who are already being ridiculous. Best wishes for your uncle to be found safe.

    1. Observer*

      I think that this is a good idea.

      In most situations, crying at work is not great. But in a situation like this? It’s fine. It’s more than fine, imo. And it sure beats the other reaction I think I might have (ie to go off on the boss.)

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I was thinking this; it’s a Captain Awkward approach to return the awkwardness to sender rather than to smooth it over and make it more palatable for the aggressor. It would be particularly blameless if OP were to forewarn the boss of this reaction, so he would have no one to blame but himself. “I’ve decided it’s imperative I am not asked to talk about my family’s situation at work, because I now find it impossible to retain my composure”. If he goes against the warning, let the emotions show, or simply say while rushing out: “Excuse me, I need to compose myself; I really can’t discuss this here”. I’m so sorry OP, and wishing your family every possible lucky break and a release from this ordeal.

  70. Ghostess*

    I don’t have anything to say about the boss (there are no words for that), but just wanted to send a whole lot of love to you and your family

  71. M. Magpie*

    LW, I’m so terribly sorry for what you’re going through. Years ago, I had an employee who went through similar, in their family, and when *my* boss got hold of the information, did just the same: activated the “Angel Connection” of her spouse who was a “medium.”

    The way I handled it then, was to insist boss email *me* with all that information (We had an ineffective HR and my employee and I discussed how she would like it handled. she wanted to see *nothing* from medium boss.* So I took the emails, held them in limbo forever, and read them to make sure nothing work related was included that my report needed to know.)

    So in addition to Alison’s wonderful script, I wonder if you could say also to boss, if they push, “I need to keep this separate from work,” then ask them to email all their medium information with a specific subject line you can direct into a folder you never have to see.

    I wish I had better ideas, but you have all my support OP. Please take care.

  72. higheredadmin*

    OP, please also be kind to yourself in needing to keep a job that involves working for a jerk. You’ve got bills to pay and that is what a job is for – no more and no less. (This is one of the many reasons the boss overstepping is so awful.) Don’t feel guilty and think about next steps when you have the emotional space to process. As Alison says, it is the rare person who can afford to quit and march out the door when their company does something outrageous.

  73. DJ Abbott*

    It sounds like he enjoys mysteries on TV and saw this as another one.
    Sorry, I don’t have any suggestions on how to handle it. If it wasn’t a work relationship, I would bluntly tell him what he’s doing and to back off.
    However, not a good idea with the boss. I would avoid him as much as possible. Is there anyone there you can turn to for support?
    Best wishes to your family, I hope it turns out well!

  74. Rex Libris*

    For reference, the normal boss response when they aren’t an oblivious narcissist would be “That’s terrible. I’m really sorry you’re going through that. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you work-wise.”

    I’m very sorry you and your family are experiencing this.

  75. lincva*

    Why have there been TWO letters about mediums and dead/missing family members on here? The last one wasn’t even that long ago. What is in the air with these weirdo coworkers?

  76. Ess Ess*

    This is one of those times where I would go for the nonprofessional approach.
    Next time he brings it up, I’d burst into tears and sobbingly beg him to stop doing this.
    I’m not being facetious. If you’ve already used your professional words to say “This topic makes me uncomfortable so please don’t do this any more,” then the only other solution is to show just how distressing it is.

  77. Numbat*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this, I hope you get the best possible outcomes. Big virtual hugs.

  78. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

    There is A Terrible Thing that happens in some peoples brains when they hear about a tragedy or horrible situation where they just have to, at all costs, MAKE THE PROBLEM SMALLER. See the people who told my friend after three miscarriages that she just needed to think positive and her babies would be healthy, or the people who told me I must be loving the quality time spent caring for my terminally ill mother. There’s… there’s gotta be a simple solution or silver lining right?? We can’t just let this be horrible!
    People, yes you can just let it be horrible, and acknowledging the horrible is often the kindest thing you can do. Don’t diminish other people’s pain in order to make it more manageable for yourself.

  79. Anonomatopoeia*

    **oh my god. **

    LW, Everything in this story is an eleven on the scale of Do Not Want, and I 1. add to the people who are sorry you had this experience and 2. am astonished you didn’t lash out in a socially-unacceptable (but fully reasonable!! !!!!) way. I might have just burned the place to the ground with unmediated fury direct from my brain.

    You said you don’t think HR wuld help, but do you have an EAP? I mean, even just for processing the entire rest of the story, it’d be nice to have a counseling type of person to chat with, but also they might have thoughts about how to respond if (oh my god) this keeps happening or you otherwise need to keep engaging somehow.

  80. I Have RBF*

    LW, I am so sorry you are dealing with this, and that your boss tried to insert his personal practices into it.

    While mentioning that he knows a medium was slightly over the line, actually grilling you for details, contacting a medium on your behalf and then insisting on giving you the results of something you did not request is so far over the line that he is in the next country!

    IMO, you are perfectly justified in any further discussions of the subject of either bursting into tears or standing up and walking away.

    I would be upset if someone did this to me, and my religion recognizes the practice. Mediums and psychics are for those who believe in them, when they want them, not randomly shoved in someone’s face during a tragedy. I’m repulsed by what your boss has done.

    I wish you peace in the days ahead, because whatever the outcome, dealing with this stuff is hard.

  81. Plateful of experience*

    My father went missing several years ago – and it was the lead story on the local news for over a week, so everyone at work knew. So many people had ideas and theories and methods and suggestions … and ultimately, they’re tasks (“you should try”, “you should do”, “you should call”).

    Once I realized they were trying to give me more things to do when I sometimes had to remind myself to breathe, I started giving the tasks back. They won’t do the work themselves, they just want to feel good about suggesting that some work be done, so they usually stopped with the suggestions if I made it work *THEY* should do instead of work *I* should do. “My plate is too full with taking care of my family, so you should follow up on that with the police. thankyouforunderstanding.”

    Your plate is so very very full right now.
    May your family find peace soon.

    1. MooCow*

      But that’s exactly what overstepping boss did – he took it on himself to contact the medium (after she refused) with information he had sneakily obtained from her, returned with a “result”, and made things worse.

  82. Anita Brayke*

    I’m just speechless that this happened. I’m sending positive thoughts and virtual hugs and all kinds of best wishes that your Uncle is found soon and safe. I’m so sorry this is happening.

  83. It's Me*

    No advice, just coming in to virtually sit with LW. What a horrible uncertainty to have to live through.

  84. Alexander Graham Yell*

    First, I just want to say how sorry I am and that I hope your family member is found safe soon.

    Now: I like Alison’s scripts, but I also think letting yourself (when you have the emotional bandwidth) accept that your boss sucks, and tell yourself you’re working for a bumbling, inconsiderate cartoon villain (or whatever mental image you like) might make him easier to deal with. I had a boundary-crossing, abusive, horrible boss and the only thing that helped me was almost separating myself from the situation emotionally, to the point where it was almost like watching a reality TV show from the very front row. It’s the only way I could keep working with him (until I no longer had to).

    I couldn’t go to HR, I was his only direct report and would have been fired a the drop of a hat. I had no job prospects, and had just been let go from a job so needed a relatively long stay if I could get one. So telling myself whatever story I needed to about him to make him into a caricature and not a real human person who had real human power over me was the only way I could deal sometimes.

    I’m so so sorry, this is frankly unforgiveable and please know that however you move forward with him, the entire AAM commentariat is holding a grudge on your behalf.

  85. Mmm.*

    The boss for sure overstepped, but on top of that… he’s kind of a dumdum. If he and the medium truly believed this, the medium would call the police. They wouldn’t be the first.

  86. Forensic What*

    This definitely sucks, but also I am not as surprised as other people just because I’ve seen and heard it all at this point. I am a forensic science manager and actually did search and rescue for years as well… some weird twisted way people think they are helping to play “amateur detective.” I am quite certain this guy likely was COMPLETELY clueless that he was being an insensitive prick, likely fashions himself as a great detective mind, and genuinely thought he was in some way being helpful thanks to decades of crime and forensic shows. I am at the point in my life I have to stifle eye rolls when people want to engage me about various aspects of my job. I usually try to be as vague as possible and entirely get out of telling people what I do for a living. But back on point….going to HR will likely not help in this situation except make things more awkward. Definitely shut down any future conversations about it and hope that he just leaves it alone and takes the hint.

  87. borealis*

    OP, I am so, so sorry you are going through this. Wishing you and your family all the best, and that there will be a good outcome.

  88. MooCow*

    Late to the the thread – but I’ll try to be sensitive.

    Some years ago, a colleague once lost his wife to a difficult disease and went back to work. I foolishly asked him why he was there.
    His eyes welled up, and he said: “Because thing are normal here. I need that.”

    And that’s what the OP might want, too. A normal sane safe place. People that don’t intrude on her. Mundane familiar things to do.

    Maybe that is the right answer to overstepping boss.

    Lots of strength, OP. You are permitted to be human.

  89. InEmpathy*

    My brother and his family were missing for almost a year and a half. This time period was beyond awful – just beyond words. I hope your uncle is found, and that in the meantime you can learn to live with the uncertainty.

    As for your boss, I think some of it depends on what you have the emotional capacity for. Alison’s advice was good, but it’s okay not to go to HR, or to only go if he keeps pestering you.

    Sometimes life is hard and just really truly sucks. Take care of yourself first. You can get through this, even if some days it’s only a minute at a time.

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