Advice Columns

Miss Manners: All family members, estranged or not, belong in an obituary

Q: My father is very ill and will not be with us for too much longer.

One of his daughters is estranged from the family and has been for about 20 years. This was by her own doing, and despite overtures from us — and even her ex-husband admitting that he stirred up the trouble between her and the family — she has chosen to keep her distance.

Even knowing how sick he is now, she has not reached out to make contact. That is fine; while it hurt my father very much, he has accepted it and never mentions her.

My sister and I, who are responsible for helping our mother with arrangements, wonder whether to list her, her daughter and her grandson as survivors in the obituary. Most etiquette guidelines I’ve found approach the topic from the point of view of the family estranging the child and not the other way around. This daughter is from my father’s first marriage, so my sister and I are trying to determine the correct thing to do without worrying our mother.

Of course, we are inclined to leave her out given that she initiated and maintained the estrangement, but we do wonder if there is a point of view that we aren’t considering.

A: Yes, unfortunately. The facts.

Despite the estranged nature of the relationship, a relationship nevertheless technically exists. An obituary is a form of journalism, and journalism reflects the truth, not opinions about what should have happened. It does not punish people for bad behavior by erasing them from history.

Q: What is the correct way to address (by introduction and mail) a physician whose license has been permanently revoked?

A: By his or her former preferred honorific — unless you are the victim of the license’s revocation.

Q: What verbiage can I use when inviting guests to a party at a restaurant when I want them to pay for their own meals?

A: You have touched upon an issue that does much to create animosity among those who are supposedly friends. Miss Manners hears constantly from people who thought they were being invited to be guests, only to be given a bill.

So please drop that language. You are not inviting people to be your guests, but asking them if they would like to meet you for a meal out.

Q: I was trying to explain to my 5-year-old daughter that I would like for her to grow up to be a lady, and her brother, a gentleman. When she asked me what a lady was, however, I struggled to come up with an answer! Can you please tell me what defines a lady and gentleman?

A: Good manners, impeccable poise and a covered bum.

Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.