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Miss Manners: An abusive relative is dead, and I don’t know what to say

3 min

Dear Miss Manners: How does one properly express condolences when you are told that a distant family member, who abused you and whom you loathe, has died?

“I'm sorry for your loss” seems wrong. I'm not.

“I hope he didn’t suffer.” That wouldn’t be sincere; I kind of hope he did, a little. “Is there anything I can do?” Nope, the family was complicit in their denial of the abuse. I don’t want to help them at all.

Silence isn’t an option. It would be noticed and questioned, and I would end up looking like an insensitive jerk. What to do?

Although she can help you, Miss Manners cautions against too much self-congratulation over your intention to be sincere. You want the words you speak to be true but the impression you leave to be false — namely, that you are sensitive to their loss.

Very well: “Thank you for letting me know. I can only imagine how hard this must be for you. My condolences.” Perhaps it would compromise you too much to offer your “deepest condolences.”

Dear Miss Manners: My husband’s dentist called, mumbled something about a dental practice, and asked, “Mr. Jones?”

Because I am female, and because I thought it was a telemarketer, I asked, “Do I sound like Mr. Jones?” and the lady said “Sorry” and hung up. When my husband got home, I told him what had happened and he called them back.

A few days later, they called again, asking for Joseph Jones. At least they asked for him by his full name this time, but again I thought it was a telemarketer, so I asked, “Who is calling?” before giving my husband the phone.

I told him later that they should really learn telephone etiquette, and he said, “S’not my job.” So I took it on myself and wrote them a letter explaining what had happened, and saying I hoped it was more helpful than rude.

However, when I gave the letter to my husband to proofread, he said not to send it, and that it was more rude than helpful.

Is he right? I don’t expect them to write to Miss Manners anytime soon. But I’m not going to tell just anyone who calls, asking for my husband, whether he’s home or not.

Difficult as it is to comment on your draft letter to the dentist without being allowed to read it, Miss Manners will try.

The dentist’s office called and mistook you for him. When they received a sarcastic reply, they apologized and hung up (perhaps thinking they were being told your husband was not home?).

When they called back, they guessed at a different form of your husband's name that might be more acceptable than the one previously used. You asked who was calling, and they answered.

You have now drafted a letter to correct their manners. As Miss Manners has yet to hear any infraction of etiquette committed by anyone at the dentist’s office — and as correcting another person’s manners (even a telemarketer’s) is, itself, rude — she will, barring further information, agree with your husband that the letter should not be sent.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

©2022, by Judith Martin