DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our center that deals with loss has a case of a mother who had previously lost her twins to a congenital condition, and now has lost her healthy subsequent daughter to a sudden illness six and a half weeks after birth. She has asked whether to return unused gifts for the baby, and whether to thank people who sent gifts whom she had not thanked yet.
I gave her my opinion (basically, to ask a friend or relative to put them away until after the memorial if it is too difficult for her to have them around, and then for the friend or relative speak individually to each of the givers -- also that she is within her rights not to do anything at all if it is too difficult), but would appreciate yours.
GENTLE READER: That a bereaved person should have the "right," as you put it, to ignore the kindnesses of others is compassionate but dangerous advice, Miss Manners is sorry to have to say. You are running the risk of letting her alienate her personal -- as opposed to emergency-professional -- support group of family and friends.
Miss Manners can hear you replying indignantly that no decent person would fault someone in the middle of tragedy for neglecting a social duty. No, indeed; that is not the danger.
The danger is that well-meaning people, naturally feeling helpless in this situation, will conclude that the lady wants to be left alone. And while that may be true for the moment, isolation will eventually become an added burden. When they do see her, they will be reluctant to mention her loss for fear of "reminding her of it," as if it were possible that she could forget. And that, too, will be hurtful.
Your advice about enlisting a friend's help is exactly right. The friend can not only return the items and thank the donors, but also let them know when the bereaved lady might be ready to receive visits.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work as a cashier at a large retail establishment. Frequently, customers complain to me about the prices, which are set at the corporate level.
How can I politely respond? If they ask for a discount I can refer them to a manager, but what if they don't? (Most of the time they just say, "Wow, that's really expensive," and glare at me while rummaging for their wallets.)
Obviously, I can't change the prices, and I don't feel that commiserating is appropriate. I have tried smiling vaguely and keeping quiet, but this has been interpreted as "attitude." I really want to give good service, but some things are beyond my control.
GENTLE READER: Of course you don't control the prices; the customers know that. They are not addressing you as an individual, but as a representative of the business that employs you. And that is what you should be while you are on duty.
Miss Manners would imagine that you would be stating company policy if you said, "I hope you'll find that it's worth it." If your personal opinion is otherwise, you have disguised that by the wording. And considering that you are the cashier, people who approach you will already have come to that conclusion themselves.