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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Work ‘Vacation’ Gets Murky

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a job that requires me to interact with the elderly in the community, a lot of whom are widows/widowers. In a recent conversation with a widow, she commented that she and her husband had been married 67 years ago on that day.

I wasn’t sure if I should offer my condolences for her, because her husband had passed and couldn’t celebrate such a milestone, or if I should offer congratulations.

She and I were having a happy conversation, and she didn’t seem upset in the slightest about relaying that information to me. She continued on with our conversation, laughing and smiling.

This is a situation that I have come across several times. What is the best way to respond to sad information relayed on such a jovial note? I normally just sit there, unsure of what to say, until the conversation moves on to a new topic.

GENTLE READER: The proper tone is one consistent with sad, but old, news: subdued, but not funereal. But beware: Even if the widow is jovial, you are less likely to get in trouble being somber than being funny. Above all, Miss Manners recommends listening more than talking.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Etiquette & Ethics | Aging