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What’s an appropriate wedding gift for a friend’s son?

Plus, advice for sharing unpleasant news to a family member about their estranged mother.

I’m attending a wedding reception this summer. It’s taking place a couple of weeks after the ceremony, and will be in a backyard with a cash bar and buffet-style food. The groom is the son of a deceased friend whom I had known for 40 years; I don’t really know the new wife. What is an appropriate range of cash gift for this couple in their mid-30s? There are two of us, both retired and on a fixed income.

Anonymous / Boston

Cash is a fine gift for people you don’t know. (Since we’re in that season, it’s also the best thing to give graduates, most of the time.) You could also scope out the couple’s registry and see if there is something on the low-price-point side left to get them. Longtime readers know my stance on giving people what they want, not what the giver thinks they should have.

But this kind of question is why I say “it depends” a lot. You don’t know the couple, but you knew the groom’s deceased father. That’s the grounds on which you were invited, that’s why they want you there, so focus on that connection. I assume the groom has only had a handful of years to get to know his father as an adult. You have 40 years of memories. Draw on those to give your friend’s son something meaningful, something that connects him with who his father was as a person, outside the role of Dad. A souvenir from a trip you took together, a copy of his favorite book, digitized recordings of the two of you goofing around, a basket of his favorite snack foods. Include a short letter explaining the context of the gift, with a story or two about his father. No, it’s not a gift for the couple, but I guarantee the bride won’t mind.


(If I’ve failed to persuade you of the value of a sentimental gift, $50 will do.)


My aunt just passed away on hospice care at her long-term care facility. My cousins had not been in touch with her in many years, for good reasons. My sister is close to one of them — should she inform them of their mother’s death? If so, how would she go about this with the understanding that relaying this information might cause harm?

Anonymous / Boston

That’s complicated and awful, and I’m sorry. Your aunt was always going to die eventually, and her children know that. It would have been helpful of your cousins to have let family members they’re close to know whether or how they would like to be informed of their mother’s death, and maybe what kind of support they’d want. This isn’t to scold them for not doing so, but to point out that it’s a reasonable conversation to have, and one that your sister can initiate as a future hypothetical without mentioning the death until she knows what their wishes are.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.