DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have learned that my grandmother is dying of cancer. She is very dear to me, and her passing will be a major event in my life. Therefore, I would like to honor her by going into formal mourning.

However, I know that mourning etiquette is somewhat complicated, and it differs depending on one’s relation to the deceased, so I thought I would ask your expertise.

How long would it be seemly for me to be in mourning? What would be the appropriate clothes/colors for me to wear? Should I also avoid social events and parties for the duration? I think this will be a real comfort to me when the time comes.

GENTLE READER: Mourning symbols can indeed be comforting, as gestures of piety toward the deceased. They are also useful in signaling others that the mourner is in a delicate emotional state. And this is exactly why they should not be paraded at parties.

Miss Manners assumes that the complicated mourning etiquette to which you refer is the precisely mandated Victorian version, which became so elaborate and ostentatious as to be watered down and then overthrown by subsequent generations.

For a granddaughter, it specified six months in plain black crepe, followed by two or three months of half-mourning in black silk with jet ornaments, followed by one to three months when touches of lavender could be added. A grandson could get away with less time, wearing a black suit with black buttons, a black tie and a black watch chain.

But if all this looked overdone then, it would look ridiculous now. And it would only encourage more people to urge you to “work through your grief.” Sober clothes, usually black but sometimes white in summer, with the option of a black armband, and absence from social life other than for ceremonies, constitute dignified modern mourning.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law is getting married for the third time and to a man my husband, her son, does not care for. We bought them a small gift from my mother, father and ourselves as a group. We also bought them a card. Since my husband does not care for his mother’s future husband, how should we sign the card? Do you congratulate them and grin?

GENTLE READER: What else were you thinking of writing on the card? “Here’s hoping this is not as big a mistake as we know it is”?

Miss Manners is confident that your mother-in-law knows that her son is not rejoicing over this wedding. But she is going ahead with the marriage anyway. A poisoned card is not the way to wish her well, which is what you should be doing.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the best answer when someone asks you where you graduated from college and you haven’t, but really don’t want to answer in a defensive way?

GENTLE READER: “I didn’t.”

Miss Manners hopes you are not disappointed that she didn’t come up with a witty way of saying, “I’m just as smart as you, maybe smarter, even though you went to college and I didn’t.” That would be defensive.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

2012, by Judith Martin

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