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Go straight to the top to express thanks

Fri., April 9, 2010

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a student veteran, and I had been dealing with a particular government agency for several months, to no avail, in receiving certain education benefits that were owed to me. It was a frustrating time, and, as a last resort to try and recoup the thousands of dollars my husband and I had spent on my tuition, I contacted my senator’s office.

They were fantastically helpful, were able to solve my problem in an afternoon, and soon thereafter I received my benefits. I am really grateful for their assistance, particularly that of one of the staffers. I would love to show my appreciation by sending them a thank-you note. Is this appropriate? If so, how and to whom should it be addressed?

GENTLE READER: To the senator, assuring him of your gratitude and loyalty.

Yes, Miss Manners realizes that he didn’t do a thing, and hasn’t even heard of your case. You kindly want to praise the generally unsung people on his staff who did.

That is what you do in your second sentence to the senator, mentioning by name the excellence of members of his staff. This will do them more good than addressing them directly, and they are in a position to make sure this gets to his desk.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter married in June 2008, and became very sick four weeks later, diagnosed with a debilitating condition. For the next 18 months, she did her best to keep up with her part time job but had to drop out of college two semesters in a row.

Her devoted new husband, father and I kept the basics in their lives moving along. Unfortunately, there was no way either of them could manage the thank-you notes. She has always been very good at that kind of thing, and I know it weighs heavily on her.

Blessedly, she is now much improved and has the energy to attend classes full time. At this point, I know she is simply humiliated with this situation and thinks it is too late.

I am hoping you might have some words of encouragement for her that it isn’t too late. Classes end in mid-May with their second anniversary close behind. Please give us an idea of how to approach this. I just know your advice will help her so this regret doesn’t bother her forever.

GENTLE READER: Why didn’t she write those letters in the four weeks before she got sick? (How’s that for words of encouragement?)

OK, so you’ve made Miss Manners look heartless. Here is a young lady who has a record for having written thank you letters before she was stricken, and a conscience that makes this omission weigh heavily on her. (So why didn’t you make it a priority to relieve her of that weight? Oh, never mind.)

“Too late” won’t do, as your daughter realizes. But although Miss Manners generally cautions against giving excuses (claiming one has been “busy” is particularly irritating, as it suggests a fuller life than those of the generous donors), some explanation is needed now that nearly two years have passed.

“I have never forgotten your kindness in giving me the lovely (whatsit),” she might begin. “Throughout my illness these past two years, it has given me pleasure and it always makes me think of you. …”

Not even Miss Manners would be heartless enough to resist this approach.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.


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