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

How to Address Letters to Unknown Recipients

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My grandmother taught me the value of writing letters and, though I haven’t done that in quite some time, I think the current outbreak is providing us ample opportunity to be kind in simple ways.

My son and I are going to send letters to the local nursing home, which we’ve already discussed with the home to avoid any issues.

What would be the most appropriate way to greet these folks we don’t know? I know we could use a standard “Wishing you well,” but I’d like to be as kind as possible to make sure they know that we really are thinking of them and hope they are well.

GENTLE READER: This is a kindness to your son, as well as to the residents, who may now be deprived of outside contact, even from their families. Miss Manners considers empathy to be the most important quality a parent could seek to foster. And knowing how to write a graceful letter will be of surprisingly good use to him.

The letters should introduce yourselves as their neighbors, perhaps with a drawing or photograph. If the nursing home’s administration will give you a list of the residents, you can address them by their honorifics and surnames, even if there are many of them.

The staff could also tell you if it would be practical for you to drop off books, magazines or videos, or perhaps greet residents from the sidewalk or through a virtual meeting. But the letters alone should be valuable in reminding these people that they have not been abandoned by the outside world.