We recently buried our mother, following a 10-year illness in which we cared for her in our home. The past five years were particularly stressful, but we have no regrets about how we chose to handle her care. I know that the last year was very hard on everyone concerned, and I'm sure that it shows in our appearance, lack of vivaciousness, etc.

My problem is that since my mother's death, when I have been out, dressed up, feeling fairly well and thinking that I looked good, I've been greeted with such comments as "You certainly look wilted." Another choice comment is "I can't believe how tired you look." All said by people who know our circumstances.

What would be Miss Manners' reply to such insensitive comments? I am doing everything I can to return to a normal life style, following a very stressful period. I do not think that this would bother me nearly so much if it didn't happen when I feel my appearance is at its best.

Never mind that these people mean to be sympathetic. The common violation of two simple social rules -- do not comment critically on other people's appearance, and do offer sympathy in the straightforward, conventional way, rather than attempting original diagnoses -- has produced the opposite effect.

The correct reply is an unexplained "Thank you." People who are close enough to you to be likely repeaters may be told plaintively: "Really? And I felt so good until you said that."

Our boss got married out of state. Before she left, she sent around a list of specific, very expensive items she wanted. Six weeks later, she gave herself a reception in her own home. I might mention that several years ago she started living with the man she married, and they purchased and furnished their home then.

Four of us say this is tacky. The other two say it's acceptable nowadays.

It has always been acceptable to give your own wedding reception, and to buy and furnish your own home. It will never be acceptable to send a shopping list to friends, much less employes.

When an invitation to an anniversary dinner party states, "No gifts, please," do most people disregard that? I would not like to go empty-handed if everyone else, or almost everyone else, is bringing a gift.

Miss Manners stands firm against the practice of stating "No gifts" on an invitation: One is not supposed to be thinking, when giving a party, of collecting presents -- even thinking of them to the extent of warding them off.

But she has always disliked having to do this, because the motivation behind "No gifts" is a kind one. She takes people at their word when they say they do not want their guests to feel obligated to bring presents.

And now you, and no doubt others, are making this unattractive ploy useless as well as incorrect. Well, so be it. If people ignore the offensive phrase, perhaps hosts will drop it and Miss Manners will no longer have that conflict.

However, she cannot in good conscience advise you to go against the expressly stated wishes of your hosts. Whether others do is never an argument against doing what is right.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.