DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband recently passed away and my youngest child will be going off to college in the fall. What do I say to all the people (and there are many) who tell me, “Pretty soon you’ll be all alone”?
Would it be rude to say, “Thank you for reminding me,” or must I lie and say I’m looking forward to the empty nest, so as not to hurt their feelings?
GENTLE READER: Well, their feelings are not especially delicate, are they?
Still, Miss Manners does not care for either of the responses you suggest. The first is not only rude, but pathetic, and the second is insulting to your child. Many parents do crow about their children leaving, whether defensively or genuinely, but it speaks badly of their family bonds.
She offers you a better choice. If you can bring it off with a somewhat derisive laugh, you could say: “Why, I’m not being abandoned, you know. My child is just going to college. We’re both very excited about that.”
Or you could just say coldly: “How kind of you to worry about me. Fortunately, I do have friends.”
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was contacted by someone telling me of the serious illness of a family member, an older person who was abusive to me when I was a child, and who has been destructive and thoughtless to me throughout my entire life.
The person who contacted me seems to be using this situation as a “guilt trip” — in a continuing game of one-upmanship. They manipulate me into having to be nice to someone who has been cruel to me throughout my life.
I know I could be noble, send flowers and be kind, and forget my hurt. But at the moment, I am in the middle of an environmental disaster — hit by storms from the big Midwestern tornado event, which destroyed some of my property and buildings of my home. I am still cleaning up and am in the midst of horrible work trying to recover from this natural disaster.
What does etiquette demand? Or rather, how can I best take care of myself at this horrible time, and not come across as rude to the family that is demanding my presence at the funeral of a person who was hateful to me when I was a child, bizarre and thoughtless when I was a teenager, and committed another cruel gesture toward me as an adult (that one was really off the charts, in terms of viciousness and just plain blind thoughtlessness)?
GENTLE READER: As far as Miss Manners can tell, your relatives have not succeeded in making you feel guilty. You seem quite clear about not honoring someone who was dishonorable to you. So the etiquette question is how best to handle their pressure.
Ordinarily, you would be forced to say, probably repeatedly, “I am sorry, but I cannot go. He (or she) would know the reasons” (reasons which you would decline to discuss).
But if ever there was a silver lining to a disaster, it is the ironclad excuse it gave you. “I don’t know if you are aware of how badly the tornado affected me,” you should say, as they do not seem to have made sympathetic allowance for that, “but I can’t possibly leave at this time.”