DEAR MISS MANNERS: My daughter and I always seem to be attending a funeral service. Sometimes this takes time and effort to do. This is a large city, and we sometimes drive 10 miles to the mortuary.
We do not expect a thank you note for our efforts, but my sister-in-law doesn't want to bother, so she picks up the phone and orders flowers, and she gets the thank you note. In other words, thoughtfulness and effort doesn't count.
GENTLE READER: Of course they do. It just so happens that your thoughtfulness and efforts are directed at the only people who are automatically excused -- even by Miss Manners -- from writing thank you letters. Your sister-in-law has directed hers at people who, like the rest of us, are not excused, even though it is a difficult time for them.
To attend a funeral is to pay your respects to the person who died. This may also be a comfort to the bereaved, but that is an extra benefit. You also owe a duty toward them, which can take the form of writing a letter of sympathy or paying a condolence visit, sending flowers or bringing food, and offering whatever practical help you can. Miss Manners is glad to hear that as a family, you are both paying respect and offering comfort, but she would prefer to hear that each of you is doing both.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Say there is a man in our town who wants to be friendly with us. Say we have long ago decided he is someone to run from. If he calls and invites us to dinner on a Saturday, it is, of course, simple to declare that we are otherwise occupied. When he then says, "Anytime next weekend, " we can claim a trip out of town, or visitors, or whatever. But then, being told we can't make it, he says, "Then you choose a night to come."
I think two rules apply here; from the postmark you will know I am southern, and with that territory comes the wish to never be rude to anyone. That's one; but the second is that I also don't allow myself to be tyrannized into going somewhere I don't want to go. My husband is in complete agreement but says he must leave to me the details. What, then, can I say?
GENTLE READER: It is the wish of all decent people everywhere never to be rude, or so Miss Manners dearly wants to believe. That it is the wish of all people everywhere to get rid of pests is something she does believe.
The direct method is rude, so that is out. Nice people don't go around saying, "Go away, we'll never be so desperate as to find free time to spend time with you, not even if you were the last person on earth."
So we have the indirect method you have described. When that fails, as it has in this case, we do not revert to the direct method -- "What's the matter, don't you get it?" -- but get even more indirect.
You need a pass that is good for the year, not just for a day or a weekend, and that is, "Oh, dear, I'm afraid we really are much too busy, and I just can't schedule anything more. You are very kind to ask us. Why don't we call you if we find we're free, after all?"