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Miss Manners: Sending sympathy card to stranger not custom

Mon., May 17, 2010

DEAR MISS MANNERS: How does one address a person one does not know, or even has any vague connection with, on a sympathy card?

I am often asked and expected to put a word of encouragement to a friend or acquaintance’s friend’s cousin whose daughter is going through surgery. I am at a loss for anything meaningful to write, and I feel like I am intruding on them. I usually either sign my name or say something such as “Thinking of you.”

Is this acceptable? Is there something more appropriate to write? Alternatively, is there a polite way to decline offering my sympathy to a complete stranger while making it clear I bear them no ill will?

GENTLE READER: Let us go with the alternative. Sympathy is of comfort to the bereaved when it comes from those who care about them or cared about the deceased.

To have a stranger’s generalized lamentation about death would, in Miss Manners’ view, only confuse and therefore distress someone who is already emotionally overburdened. The well-meaning instigator needs to be told that, very, very gently.

Visit Miss Manners at her website,, where you can send her your questions.

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