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Thank you Notes from Hell

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This is actually a question, hopefully not a story about a bad thank you note. Recently my husband and future SIL threw me a baby shower.  It is our second child but the sex is different from our first child, and the children are 4 1/2 years apart, also, at the time my first child was born, we lived in a very very small studio apartment and there was no room to save the baby items, so I ended up giving most of them away.  The result being that we needed a lot of new stuff, especially clothing.  I had saved a lot of my daughter's things but most of what she had was pink and frilly and not appropriate for my son (including the crib sheets, etc.)  I do not have any sisters, my mother is unable to throw me a shower because she is busy caring for my grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer's and simply doesn't' have the time, space or money to host a shower, and my husband's mother passed away two years ago and is not here to help us out.  I didn't' dare call a friend or relative and straight out ASK them to throw me a shower, but my husband dropped a couple of hints to my brother's fiancé and even though she doesn't have a lot of money herself, and NO space to have a big party, she agreed she'd put one together if he agreed to help her out with it (which he did). 

My SIL is a college student and doesn't make a lot of money.  My husband had been injured on the job and was not working, and due to complications in the pregnancy I was also not working, but collecting disability, so we had to have a no frills shower, and we literally paid for everything little by little over the course of 4 months in order to have this event occur.  And, as you can see, the shower was not a surprise party for me.  Although it should have been the SIL and my husband doing all the work and stuff with me not knowing, finances made it necessary for me to help out a bit, and the complications in the pregnancy made it necessary for it to NOT be a surprise because they had to schedule around doctor's visits, etc.  So I ended up helping with my own shower, financially and in terms of some of the work being done.  We made our own favors, the shower was held in our apartment to avoid having to pay hundreds of dollars we really couldn't afford for a hall, and I did some arts and crafts and bought the door prizes and prizes for the games my husband and SIL planned.  We got invitations for free from the store we set up the registry at as part of a promotion, and used them because we simply couldn't afford fancy preprinted ones and any little bit we could save on shower expenses helped, even if it was $5 or $10 in dollar store invites. 

The registry was long but most of the stuff on our registry included clothing, since we have all girl stuff and needed boy/blue things.  Although the registry was listed on the invitation (remember we got the invitations for free from the store as a promotional thing), nothing indicated that you had to buy a gift from the registry and in fact most of the gifts we ended up getting people bought from the store of their own choosing.  We had some large items on our registry (like a travel system, car seat, swing, highchair - but no furniture or anything like that!), however our experience is that rarely do people get the large items from registries anyway, and we figured after a few months we'd go and get these larger items on our own as sometimes the store will give you a discount for getting registry items after the date of your event or there will be a sale and you can take advantage of that sale to get some of the larger items.  This may sound really cheap of us, but it isn't meant to be, we really were that financially strapped. It turned out anyway that most of what we received was the layette and clothes (badly needed) and we saved little by little for the next month or so to get the larger items ourselves, and then only the ones we absolutely knew we'd need at the time (the child won't be sitting up and eating for at least 6-8 months so obviously we never bought the high chair, and we decided to use a "Snugli" or hip carrier rather than the stroller, figuring when the baby is a little older we might be in a better position to get the stroller).  And this was fine with us -- even a $1 baby bottle was helpful and hey! a gift is a gift.  A couple of people called to ask what specifically we really needed and each time we just said, "pampers and clothes".  Some of our friends went out and got huge cartons of newborn pampers from the local price club as their shower gift to us, and we were genuinely thrilled because, given our finances, that was a very big help to us.  We were also happy for cloth diapering supplies too.  If heaven forbid we run out of pampers I have an emergency back up and a washer at home to wash the cloth ones in.

We sent out the invitations a month ahead of time and of course hardly anyone bothered to RSVP (a growing trend).  My SIL was listed as the RSVP contact but since my husband and SIL were kind of splitting tasks, right before the shower, my husband and SIL split the guest list up and began calling those who hadn't RSVP'ed to confirm.  For us it was really important to get as accurate a headcount as possible because we really didn't have a lot of money and so the food was being cooked by a friend of mine, as I said we made all the favors ourselves, etc. 

Three of the women invited were my husband's very close friends from high school, people he'd been friends with for over 20 years.  Only one out of the three had bothered to RSVP by the date indicated on the invitation and she'd called to send her regrets.  NO problem.  The other two were called the week before the shower as we hadn't heard from either of them.  My husband called since after all they were his friends.  One said she could not attend due to a prior family engagement and the other said she also would not be able to make it because we had indicated that the shower was "women only" and she did not have childcare for her two boys (who are horribly behaved otherwise we might have made an exception and allowed her to bring them).  This second woman, let's call her "Dana", ended her call by stating, "even though we can't come, of COURSE we will send along a gift".  I was very offended about this as was my husband, and my SIL.  We were having rough times financially, we DID need things for our child and a gift would be nice, but we were not having this just to get gifts out of people -- although the event was going to be in our home, this was for financial reasons and not because we were grubbing for material things.  Also it was more important that our friends of 20 years or more be here for the party, just to celebrate our child's arrival.  Their "presence" at our home to celebrate our son was more important than their "presents".  Due to all the complications we were having this shower in my 8th month of pregnancy, because we were worried the baby wouldn't make it, and we were so glad that the medical problems had been resolved and both I and the baby were OK. 

In addition to the rude person above, other people said they were coming and at the last minute called us with these larger than life stories about some horrible emergency they had that prevented them from showing up.  Out of the 6 people who did this, only 3 of the stories seemed credible.  But, in each case, even when we really thought the person on the other end of the phone was exaggerating things to get out of showing up to the shower, or outright lying, we gave them each the benefit of the doubt, said we were sorry to hear of their emergency and that they'd be missed, but by all means -- take care of your emergency situation.

Some of the people who were not able to attend or who cancelled at the last minute were gracious enough to send us a gift.  They certainly weren't required to given that they were not able to attend the shower, but they felt they should. 

In each and every case where someone who had not attended our shower still sent along a gift, I sent a "thank you" card.  My practice is to send the thank you IMMEDIATELY, and they are always hand written in a blank greeting card (the addresses on the envelopes also are handwritten).  They went out the morning after the shower, or if I got the gift in the mail, I sat down immediately after opening the gift, wrote the thank you (dated it) and it would be mailed if not the same exact day, the next morning.  The text of the thank you for those who had not attended but who had sent a gift along was standard and it read as follows:

"Thank you so very much for the (type of gift sent) you sent along for our new baby.  (Then a sentence or two follows about what I liked best about the gift or why it would be especially helpful/useful to us.)  We understand that you were unable to come to the shower due to (the reason the person said they could not make it), and it is kind of you to have sent along a present despite your not having been able to come to the shower.  Your generosity is noted, and your presence certainly was missed.  (and then there is either -- please extend our thanks or our regards to (the husband or some other family member whose name appears on the gift card) or please give us a call soon to come and visit anyway, we haven't' seen you in some time and would like to reconnect soon, (insert telephone number))."

NOW.  The above thank you note text was sent literally to every person who was invited to our shower but for whatever reason could not come and sent along a gift -- whether a last minute cancellation or whether it was someone who RSVP'ed right from the beginning to state their regrets.  We had a very close friend of ours who lives right nearby RSVP with her regrets right away because she had a bridal shower the same day -- not only did this friend not come, but on her way to the bridal shower, she stopped by our home, rang the bell, and dropped off huge boxes of baby gifts at our home.  She spent over $200 on a baby tub with shower attachment, tub toy holder, a whole mess of tub toys and towels.  We were blown away at her generosity, and at the fact that she stopped by on her way to another event just to drop off gifts.  She received the same exact  "thank you" text, except I added that it was so nice of her to drop by on the day of the event when she totally could have come another time and that we really hoped she'd come visit, see the nursery and just spend some time at the house to make up for her not having attended. So basically we treated someone who cancelled at the last minute or who gave their regrets and sent a $5 or $20 gift in the mail with the same exact courtesy as if they'd stopped in with a $200 present.  We don't come from money, we know that a gift is a gift and everyone gives what they can and any little bit helps, it is one less thing we need to scrape money together to buy.

Also, a variation of the same text is used for any out of state friends and/or relatives who may have heard about the new arrival, that we were expecting, etc. and were nice enough to send a gift. 

For some reason, though, the three friends above (the ones who know my husband for over 20 years but said they couldn't make it to the party) were particularly offended by the content of my thank yous to them.  One of them called up my house screaming at the top of her lungs and hardly giving me a word in edgewise saying how dare I send something like that to her, this is the first and only time she'd ever declined an invitation from us, etc., etc.  Another one asked for her gift back.  No one else besides these 3 complained.  Perhaps others were offended but didn't call to say so??

Did I say something horribly wrong in these thank yous?  If anything, I thought it was polite to remind people that they were missed, that it was more about spending time with them than their present but that their having sent a gift despite not being able to be there for the party was an especially generous gesture (which it was), and that we understood why they couldn't attend and hoped all was well with them and their family (including an invitation to come visit another time to catch up over coffee or something given that due to some other situation they couldn't make the shower).

Or is this a case where rude people get offended by those who practice etiquette?  Or were these three women lying about why they couldn't come and the comments in the thank you only hit a sore spot in their consciences? 

I'm baffled.  If this is my faux pas please enlighten me.  I certainly don't want any more screaming, cursing phone calls from people in the future.....


I posted this story to the forum here.  Read what the forum members thought of this particular story.  


By submitting this story I think I am sending myself to Etiquette Hell but I HONESTLY did not know what happened until 3 years later. I was married and everyone said my wedding was beautiful. To me it was one big nightmare and if I had to do it over again I would have DEFINITELY eloped. Anyway, I digress. I finished all of my thank you cards 3 weeks after the wedding. I sent out all the cards I had addresses for. I was missing some addresses because we moved to another state 1 week after the wedding and some of my stuff was still at my parent’s house. I asked my mom to please find the list and mail it to me so that I could address the remaining thank you cards. Keep in mind I wrote nice personal messages in EACH card and listed the gift specifically so that each guest knew how grateful my husband and I were. Mom could not find the list that I had written out but assured me that she had all the addresses in her address book. She suggested putting all of the thank you cards in a large envelope and mailing them to her and she would get them sent for me since I was so swamped being a newly wed, still unpacking from the move and starting a brand new job, etc. A side note, my beloved dog of 11 years had died the day we got back from our honeymoon so with everything that had happened along with the move I was VERY proud of myself completing over 100 thank you cards. I agreed so I immediately sent the remaining 20 or so cards to my mom for her to look up the addresses. I asked her about it about a week later and she told me she had it under control and not to worry. THREE years later I am at their house and I am helping them get ready for a garage sale. LO AND BEHOLD guess what I found? My aging mother had FORGOTTEN about the cards. I am absolutely horrified and embarrassed at what these people must think of me. If I sent them out NOW though what in the world would they think? I am so embarrassed about this that when I run into people that were at my wedding I am racking my brain wondering if they are one of the ones that think I am an ungrateful ingrate.


Hi Jeanne,

Love your site!   My husband's grandmother, who was a wonderful lady, passed away recently. The family had to sell her apartment and clean it out as terms of the estate. Many papers and photos had to be filed away and put into storage.   My mother-in-law noticed something odd: there was only one thank you note kept by Nanny. She opened it to see why this thank you note was kept - it was dated 30 years ago. The letter read:   

"Dear X,

We're very sorry you could not attend our wedding - we would have liked to seen you there. We noticed that you gave us a large, antique Chinese bowl. While some would love this gift, unfortunately we have decorated our home with a Tuscan theme. If we redecorate our home (which we probably won't do for a while) perhaps we can use your gift.   



I would like to honor Nanny's memory by passing along her "Thank You Letter from Hell", a letter so bad she kept it for 30 years.    


My cousins have thought up a new twist on thank you notes. At the last two showers they've thrown, they've handed out envelopes and asked each guest to self-address the envelope for our thank you notes. I wanted to ask if they wanted me to stamp it as well, but refrained.


This "game" has finally reached my personal circles.  I refused to play by quietly handing the bowl with envelopes and pens to the next woman without taking one.


When our boss was married several years ago, she had invited each of us, her professional staff members, to the wedding. As a gift, I had a professionally painted portrait done of something which was very important to her. In order to get it done without her knowledge, I had to work with her then fiancé to get photographs to give to the artist. The portrait was completed on time and was beautiful, and was probably the most expensive gift I have ever given to a wedding couple. Further, a tremendous amount of thought and planning was done in order to provide her with such a unique gift.

Our boss left the company shortly thereafter and it is now three years after her wedding. Neither myself or any of my co-workers has ever received a thank you note from our former boss. We are amazed.


I have a wonderful woman in my life that I call my Adopted Mom. She and her husband "adopted me" when my mother died, and it is thanks to them that I was able to finish my first two years of junior college.

Her favorite nephew was getting married. The family wasn't too thrilled with the groom's choice (the bride to be had gotten both her nipples pierced, and would lift up her shirt to show them off the anyone and everyone-classy with a capitol "K").  My fiancée and I were unable to attend the wedding (we were invited) but we sent a lovely card and some cash.  My Adopted Mom helped out with the small country wedding, helping with the cooking, cleaning, and to top it off decorated both the grooms and bridal cake.  In short, she really went way out in helping the couple.

Right after the wedding, my Mom's brother landed in hospice, dying of hepatitis.  This brother was one of those unfortunate souls whose life had been totally ruined from drug use.  He had been in and out of prison, homeless more times than you can count, and in fact had only just recently had gotten a roof over his head right before he got sick.  After he died, the family did not have ANY money to have the body prepared (especially following the wedding).  The family decided to have a fund raising BBQ (common in the South) to raise money.  People donated food, tickets were printed and sold, and enough money was made to cover the funeral cost.

Flash forward another month.  I received a form pre-printed thank you card from the bride and groom for the gift we sent.  I phone my Adopted Mom later that day, and in the course of conversation I mention the thank you card.  I tell her that even though it was just pre-printed, and not hand written, in this day and age I am just amazed and grateful I actually got a thank you card, period.  My Adopted Mom starts laughing.

"Did you notice the hand writing on the address?" she asks.   No I didn't, I tell her.  Turns out my Adopted Mom had been sitting at her sister's house, hand writing thank you cards for all the people that had donated to the BBQ fund raiser when in  walks the new bride.  She sees my Mother writing the cards, returns with her wedding thank you cards, and tells my Mom that since she is already filling out cards for her side of the family, the new bride figured it wouldn't be hard for her to fill out the bride's wedding thank you cards for that side of the family  at the same time.  However; the bride made sure the cards for HER side of the family were addressed by her.



I almost hate to tell this story, because in this one *I'm* the jerk! After our wedding reception, all of the gifts were taken to my in-laws' house, where my husband and I opened them (privately) the next day. In the pile of gifts was an item from our registry and a blank greeting card in an unmarked envelope (i.e., no handwriting to identify the giver). The card wasn't taped to the gift, but all the other gifts and cards were accounted for, so we're assuming that they were together. To this day, we have no idea who gave us this gift. We sent out thank-you notes not only to people who gave/sent gifts but also to everyone who attended the wedding. In the latter notes, we thanked people for coming to share our special day with us and so on. At the bottom of the first few "thanks for coming" notes, I wrote "PS: If you gave us the widget, thank you! The card didn't say who it was from, but we love it!" Well, the next thing I know my mother calls me up and accuses me of gift-grubbing! One of the recipients of these notes called my mother and said I was trying to make people feel bad for not sending gifts! My mother understood the situation after I explained it to her, I immediately stopped mentioning the widget in the thank-you notes, and I've more or less mended fences with the person who complained, but I feel just terrible that anyone might have thought I was begging for gifts. To top it off, I still feel bad because I know somewhere out there, someone's cursing us for not sending a thank-you note for the lovely widget!


Page Last Updated May 15, 2007