Whom to thank
DEAR MISS MANNERS: At my father-in-law’s recent wake, there was a guest book. I assumed its purpose was to give the family a record of those who attended, but my wife explained that it had the additional purpose of providing the list so that thank-you notes could be sent.
This surprised me. Presumably everyone came to show respect for the deceased, sympathy to the family, or both. My wife and her sisters stood in a receiving line and personally thanked all who attended for their kind words. Is this not enough?
GENTLE READER: Actually, yes. But the amateur etiquette world is divided between those who believe that the bereaved should be excused from writing thanks for anything on the grounds that they have suffered enough, and those who believe, as your wife does, that it is necessary to write thanks to everyone who attended the funeral.
They are both wrong. Attendance at the funeral is done, as you say, out of respect and compassion, and need not require subsequent thanks. But anyone who takes the trouble to write a condolence letter, send flowers, bring food or perform other services deserves to be formally thanked.
Rather than overtaxing the emotional strength of the family, tasks done on behalf of the deceased tend to sustain them. Miss Manners has observed that it is when there is nothing more to be done that the reality of the loss often hits with full force. At that time, it is good to have shown those who care that their care is appreciated.