DEAR MISS MANNERS: Our minister's adult daughter died in an accident, and several members of my extended family, who regularly attend services at our church, went to the funeral. I did not because I had to work.
I received a thank-you card, saying how much the flowers I sent meant to the minister's young grandchildren (her deceased daughter's children). I had not sent flowers, but thought that perhaps my parents or siblings had sent them for the group, but they had not.
The next Sunday, I attended church and the minister stopped me and profusely thanked me for the flowers again, stating specifics of ways the children had played with and enjoyed the flowers, even though the family had requested no flowers be sent. She stated that because her grandchildren like my children so much, it made the flowers even more special.
I feel so guilty about not confessing but don't want to hurt this extremely nice woman's feelings or make her feel foolish, or to disillusion her grandchildren.
Should I say anything? Should I just be quiet and send some flowers for real? Should I do both?
GENTLE READER: Manners problems, left unattended, fester like fruit; they do not mellow like wine. Ignoring the problem made it worse, and the harm is not yet made right: So long as the minister and her family think it was you, you are responsible for their unknowingly committing the rudeness of not thanking the true benefactor.
As you were unable to attend the funeral, the proper course at the time would have been to write a condolence letter. This might have prevented the initial confusion, but even if it did not, it would have made it easier to fix the problem by demonstrating that you did care, even though you did something different than she thought.
When the minister thanked you, you could have said how sorry you are for her loss and say that you hope your letter was of some comfort to the family. This would buy time to run home and check if anyone in your own family added your name when sending the flowers. You could still have posted the condolence letter on the drive home (assuming you had stationery in the glove compartment).
Having failed to take the easy way out, you must post the condolence letter now, and follow it up with an explanatory call to the minister. Ignore the timing and hope the minister does, too.
If this sounds too difficult, Miss Manners asks what you intend to do when the real benefactor asks the minister about the flowers.