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Dear Miss Manners: My husband's 87-year-old father, a patient in a nursing home under hospice care, has some dementia, but is lucid quite a bit of the time. We walked in on a conversation at the foot of his bed between my husband's younger sister, her husband and one of the staff nurses, who were discussing specific "timeframes" in full voice as to his life expectancy.

We were shocked. I gently tapped the nurse on the shoulder, as her back was toward me, and whispered, "Don't you think this should be discussed somewhere else?"

At that point, the brother-in-law said, again in full voice, "Oh, he knows."

Of course he "knows." Hospice has a compassionate and realistic approach when it comes to keeping patients apprised.

But we felt that this was an egregiously vulgar conversation to conduct within earshot of the patient.

My husband and I both began our college years in pre-med and later switched majors. In those days, we were always taught as a matter of dignity and respect to the patient to watch our conversations in the patient's presence. This universal dictum even applied to patients who were in a deep coma and hadn't responded to crude stimuli for years.

On a more mundane level, we feel this is a vulgar violation of everyday manners. This event has caused quite a rift in the family.

Gentle Reader: There is nothing petty about the etiquette involved -- and grossly violated -- in this situation. It addresses the fundamental principle upon which the entire noble field of manners is based: respect for human beings simply because they are human beings.

Yet, paradoxically, it suspends the usual advantage that manners have over morals, namely that if you don't get caught, it doesn't count.

The violation is flaunting the belief that the person is incapable of understanding how rudely he is being treated. Never mind whether your father-in-law was aware of this conversation or of his situation. What your relatives did was the equivalent of thumbing their noses at a blind person.

Keep the corsage on

Dear Miss Manners: I was invited to the homecoming dance by a friend of a friend who bought me a very lovely corsage for my wrist. While we were dancing another girl walked up to me and asked me if we were allowed to take the corsages off because they were falling off while we danced.

I told her I did not know. She took her corsage off but I left mine on. Is it proper to leave the corsage on all the time even if it's falling? Or is it all right to take it off? This has bothered me for a long time and I want to know what is right for the next time I receive another corsage.

Gentle Reader: Propriety is not so interested in the state of the flowers as in that of the gentleman who gave them to you. Miss Manners assures you that it would be better to let them wilt, rather than his feelings.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at

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