DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been thinking for some time about the "juvenilization" of death and the grieving process.
I cannot understand what has happened to the solemnity, the gravity, and, perhaps most conspicuously absent, the sadness one's passing should openly generate. I read about the sudden accidental death of a teenager whose classmates were encouraged to wear "bright, happy colors" and to carry "colorful balloons" to the service.
It is not my intention to criticize anyone in their grief, but suggesting a color scheme seems terribly out of place when one stops to truly consider the sorrow and aching anguish of a life stilled before coming to blossom. I also think it deprives the family of deeper reverence from friends and other loved ones for the departed as well.
I believe it has a lot to do with our adolescent attitude about death; how we steadfastly refuse to come to terms with it and try to camouflage it as something else. Worse, maybe it's our knee-jerk reaction to make a "celebration" out of everything.
GENTLE READER: As you say, we do not want to begrudge the bereaved what comfort they can get. But Miss Manners wonders what comfort bereaved parents feel when they see cheerful youngsters appear to be partying, balloons and all, while their child lies in her coffin.
And, for that matter, how it affects the classmates to have to conceal whatever sorrow and fear they may feel. Or siblings who find themselves torn between their upbeat contemporaries and their desolate parents.
In stark contrast to the popular balloon reaction to death are military and state funerals where somber rituals are enacted to frankly grieving people. The comfort that others can offer to the immediately bereaved is the assurance that the life that has ended was of importance to them and that the person will not be forgotten.
The approach of "We're not going to let this get us down" does not strike Miss Manners as offering that.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How do you respond to someone who compliments your appearance without necessarily having to return the compliment?
I lost a noticeable amount of weight recently, and when I run into people I haven't seen in a while, they quite often greet me by saying, "You look great!"
I'd like to tell them that they look great too, but since most of them look the same as they did the last time I saw them - and even, in some cases, not so great - it seems transparently disingenuous to say, "You look great too!"
Yet I feel bad about just saying "thank you" because it's like an acknowledgement that I have no compliment to pay them. Sometimes I feel I can get away with a casual "Likewise!" or "Back at you!" which allows me to (sort of) return the compliment without being too specific, but even that doesn't always seem appropriate.
Please, what would be a suitable response for me to use so I don't come off as a self-centered diva who lives only to soak up other people's admiration?
GENTLE READER: "Thank you."
The you-too compliment is not much of one, as you have guessed. At best, it feels prompted; at worst, impersonal and inaccurate.
But Miss Manners is glad to know that you understand that social kindness requires reciprocity. If you are also a liberal dispenser of compliments -- ones that are both timed and fashioned to seem sincere -- you need not worry about accepting them.