DEAR MISS MANNERS: I had to have my cat put down recently. Although she was quite old, her illness came on suddenly, and I was very distressed when the vet said there was nothing he could do. She wasn’t in pain, so he kindly left me with her and said to take as long as I wanted to say goodbye.

After just a few minutes, an assistant at the office came into the room to get something. Someone had evidently told her of my situation, so she decided this was the time to explain to me how hard it was for her when she lost her own cat a couple of years before.

Miss Manners, I was spending a few last moments with my own beloved friend and companion. I guess she meant well, but her comments seemed so strange and inappropriate, and certainly nothing I wanted to hear right then. I was too fuddled to think of a polite way to get her to leave and just muttered answers, semi-surly ones, I’m afraid, until she finally went away. I think she was offended. It all just made a terrible situation worse.

What could I have said? Is there any way to politely express the wish, “Go away and leave me alone, you self-absorbed, insensitive ninny”? Is there some comment I could make to the vet, perhaps, that wouldn’t blow it out of proportion but would communicate that being approached that way at such a time was not at all helpful?

GENTLE READER: As she works for a veterinarian, the young lady is probably used to snarling. But that does not excuse you. At least not to Miss Manners, although I would hope that those in the office have learned to make allowances in this situation.

All you needed to say was, “Please excuse us.” If you must report her, please be gentle in suggesting only that private spaces should be provided that the staff need not enter.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: A young friend of mine, age 26, asked me today if I would be a bridesmaid in her wedding. Of course, she honored me with her request.

However, I am 56 and feel that I would be so out of place. I do not wear anything close to what is considered contemporary for bridesmaids — no short dresses, and I bare no arms. I would not want her to have to fit my mode of dress to be a part of her wedding party.

Is 56 too old to be a bridesmaid, especially for someone as young as this bride?

GENTLE READER: Bridesmaids are supposed to be chosen for their closeness to the bride, not their chorus line looks, and your friend, despite her age, is apparently mature enough to understand that.

You might mention your reservations about the clothing, but Miss Manners has faith that the lady in question is more interested in friendship than in costuming.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What does one do with the milk left in the bottom of the cereal bowl? I always drink it. One day I shocked someone who said it was bad manners. Wasting the milk doesn’t seem right, either. Please advise.

GENTLE READER: Two pieces of advice (choose one):

(1) Use a spoon. (2) Eat breakfast alone with the shades down and don’t tell anyone.

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

2012, by Judith Martin

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