Real Simple's etiquette expert on thoughtful ways to express thanks.
Q. To honor the memory of my mother, a high school English teacher who passed away last year, the parent of a former student created a stained-glass window and installed it at the school. He refused to accept a gift or payment in return. But my sisters and I would love to present him with a token of our gratitude. Would it be inappropriate to give him a gift, regardless of his wishes?
A. Your mother sounds like a true inspiration. Certainly the artist who donated the window felt that way. He asked not to be paid because he made the gesture out of respect for your mother, to thank her posthumously for being an important influence on his child’s life and on the school. You’re right—that is lovely.
A nice side effect of his act has been to make you feel good as well. It is perfectly appropriate for you to let him know that, by offering him your own gesture. Send a thoughtful gift—like a perennial to plant in his garden—along with a handwritten note that says something like “Every time my sisters and I think about that beautiful window, it makes us happy. It will serve as a constant reminder of our dear mother—and of how much she meant to her students and to her community.” Who could possibly be offended by that?