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Tell the parents that you cared

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Dear Miss Manners: I am saddened by the loss of a friend who passed away as a result of an auto accident just a day before she would have participated in her graduation ceremony. The whole community she grew up in is devastated.

I knew her from her basketball games and would often talk to her mother at the games. Her mother and father were very close to her. Her family was looking forward to her future. She received her basketball scholarship the day of the accident.

I want to pay my respects at the funeral home. I will be going by myself, so I will be very nervous about the proper way to handle things. I want to send a card and flowers.

I purchased a sympathy card for the family. Should it be addressed to the parents or the deceased? I assume it should be addressed to the deceased. Please correct me if I am wrong. I have never had to handle anything like this before.

I have no idea what to say to the family. This is very painful for them because they were close to their daughter. I've been in agony ever since I heard the news myself.

What is the proper way to express your concern and sorrow without upsetting them further? I sometimes get lightheaded around caskets. This occasion WILL make me lightheaded. Do you have any suggestions for either preventing the situation or excusing myself if I feel it coming on?

Gentle Reader: This is always a daunting situation, even for those who have had to go through it before, and Miss Manners admires you for facing it. Many an adult takes the cruel and cowardly course of running away.

The only thing that could upset the parents more than they already are is the impression that others don't care. But you have nobly determined to use all the ways to show that you do, and Miss Manners needs only guide you through the technicalities.

The flowers should be sent to the funeral home, addressed to "The funeral of" with your friend's name. Condolences are addressed to the bereaved, in this case the parents, but a letter is infinitely preferable to a card, where you merely sign someone else's words.

This brings us to the question of what to say. Both in person and by letter, what you need to tell the parents is that you sympathize with them and cared for their daughter. The former is done just by saying "I'm so sorry," and by writing, "I send you my deepest sympathy." Elaborating is what gets people saying foolish, hurtful things.

If there is an open casket, you may be able to busy yourself with the mourners so that it is not conspicuous that you keep your distance. But if you do get faint, you need only say so to anyone nearby who can help you to a seat. The one thing people do not have to be embarrassed about in this situation is being overcome.

Dear Miss Manners: On occasion, I have been known to take personal letters I have written with me to the office, where I can mail them more conveniently. When I run out of postage stamps, I sometimes use the office postage meter (after paying for the postage, of course). I have been told that it is rude to use a postage meter on personal mail, but I've never been able to find any rule to that effect. Can you enlighten me?

Gentle Reader: It is not the meter itself that violates etiquette but the embarrassing impression you leave on the recipients that you violated office ethics. Miss Manners would consider it harder to figure out how to indicate that you reimbursed your employer than to lay in a supply of stamps.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners at MissMannersunited@media.com. © Judith Martin Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.