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Thank-You Note Nightmares

By Amalah

Hi Amy,
Back about 10 months ago, I had a bridal shower. Great times, great people, all made of win. Was doing a couple thank you notes a day and was waiting till I had them all done to mail out. Annnnd then, a couple of weeks after the shower, my fiance and I postponed/canceled the wedding.
At the time, I was too much of a wreck who still had to pull it together to go to work each day to even THINK about the gifts/notes. Then, as time went on we were unsure whether we were going to stay together or reschedule or what so I put the notes off again till I actually had any sort of firm information to tell.
Now…its coming up on practically a year since the shower, my fiance and I still aren’t sure if we’re going to reschedule or even stay together. There’s been a move and some of the shower gifts are still in boxes against the dining room wall and others ended up unpacked and now I’m taunted by the shiny stainless colander every time I make macaroni and cheese. Also, I can’t seem to find the shower notebook that has all the information about who gave what and even if I could find it, it wasn’t very detailed. The entries would read Mrs. X, gift card Mrs. Y, gift card. It doesn’t say which store or the amount. So, even if I do try and send out the thank you notes, I don’t know who gets the thank you for the Williams Sonoma gift card and who is Bed Bath and Beyond. And, I don’t know who was $50 to Pottery Barn and who was $200.
I don’t know what to do. Close family members have all called and said not to worry about it, keep the gift and forget about everything else. But. There’s a number of other family friends who I haven’t had any contact with. They’re mostly my mom’s friends and she’s talked to them and they’ve all been amazing and wonderful….which makes me feel worse. So, now that I’ve sent you novella length backstory, my questions would be:
a) at this point, do I still need to send thank you notes?
b) what do I do about the gaps in who gave what?
c) what do I say? Thanks for the chef’s knife, I promise to use it only on food and not on the fiance?
d) do I need to send the gifts back with the notes? How do I handle the fact that some have been used and some I don’t know who they originally came from?
At this point, it’s all just become too big and overwhelming and now I’m just frozen under the weight of the terribleness and the back and forth of I have to do something because its been 10 months and omg I can’t do anything because its been 10 months and just, bah.
Thanks so much.

Oh, maaaan. So this is one of those cases that does indeed have a “proper” way to do things…but I’m not sure how it’s possible for you to actually do the “proper” thing for all the extenuating reasons you mentioned, and I’m sure you know that, which is exactly how you’ve gotten stuck in this deer-in-the-headlights spot where you don’t even know where to begin. (Talk to me about the nightmare that ended up being all the baby shower gifts I received from nice people on the Internet! And all the missing contact information! And then how my mother-in-law moved my pile of notes and cards and shipping receipts and everything got ridiculously disorganized and then I HAD A BABY and I just KNOW there are people who didn’t get an acknowledgment and/or were thanked for the wrong gift and I get hives about it TO THIS DAY.)
Wedding etiquette dictates that in the event of a canceled wedding, all gifts go back to the sender with a note thanking them for their generosity. Usually a separate card is mailed out to all guests notifying them of the cancellation/postponement (typically from parents, i.e. “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So announce that the marriage of their daughter, Little Cold Feet to Cheating Jerkface, will not take place as scheduled.”) so you don’t need to bring up the sad circumstances in your thank-you notes.
But in your case, it sounds like things got muddled from the beginning, what with postponing first, then things staying in limbo for longer than you probably expected. Yes, you should have sent the gifts back — probably around the three-month mark, since you were still without a rescheduled date. You didn’t, but it sounds like most of your shower guests are kind, understanding people. I am sure you are not the first bride to nurse her heartbreak in lieu of making sure the dishtowels got sent back.
At this point, I still say you need to do the best you can with whatever unopened, unused gifts you have. Enlist some witnesses from the shower to see if they remember any more details (and smack whoever did such a poor job at recording the stuff in the first place — writing “gift card” with no store or dollar amount details? GAH.). If someone has specifically said, “don’t worry about it, please keep my gift,” then seriously don’t worry about returning the gift — but still write a thank-you note. If you aren’t sure who gave you what, you also still send a note, thanking them for their “generosity and attendance” at your shower. Return what you can, accompanied by the same sort of note.
For stuff that’s been used — well, that’s often forgiven with cancellations and postponements, particularly if the couple lived together and the cancellation was abrupt and unexpected. Monogrammed gifts are also sometimes considered to be excepted from the returning rule. However, other wedding etiquette sites state that no, EVERYTHING should be returned, and you should purchase a new replacement for anything you have used. (Again, I get that this is not all your fault, as this would be SO MUCH EASIER if you had a decent record of the gifts — may this be a lesson to anyone who ever gets tasked with bridal or baby shower record-keeping. Don’t half-ass it, seriously.)
In the case of used gifts or missing information to help link gifts with the givers, I still say you should take a deep breath, sit down and tackle thank-you notes. There’s no way around it, as you know things got messed up and it’s spiraled into a Big Thing You Should Have Handled Differently. Nothing long or insincere or super-hyper-apologetic about the delay, but I actually think it will make YOU feel better at this point. It’s hanging over your head, this task, this fear that you’ve let people down, screwed things up, and I’m guessing it’s gotten intrinsically linked to your feelings about the wedding cancellation and your relationship with your fiance in general. Closure, moving on, whatever.
For guests not getting their gift returned, for whatever reason, I’d go with something like this:
“Thank you so much for your generosity and attendance at my bridal shower. Your kindness lifted me through some difficult times, and I really appreciate it.”
That seems like a subtle nod to the extenuating circumstances without airing your dirty laundry. For notes accompanying returned gifts, I’d say essentially the same thing, only with an additional line or two:
“However, our wedding date has yet to be rescheduled, therefore I am enclosing your lovely gift.”
You don’t owe them a long explanation. You do owe them an acknowledgment, even if it’s no more than a sentence or two. And like I said, you owe it to yourself. I know thank-you notes are generally considered a chore even under the best of circumstances, and probably seem just downright HORRID in a case like yours, but it’s bothering you and it won’t STOP bothering you until you can really say that you gave it your very best shot at making it right.


Published August 3, 2009. Last updated August 3, 2009.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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