DEAR MISS MANNERS: A family friend that my wife knew growing up, but was never close friends with, sent her a notice of her son’s high school graduation, along with a picture of the son. Never in all these years did my wife receive any other pictures, holiday cards or even an announcement when the son was born, so this is the first we’ve known of him.

Now I’m curious as to what to do about the notice. I always send family and close friends monetary gifts upon graduation, but those are kids who have been close to us in terms of contact and such.

Do we ignore the notice as just a “my son has made it”-type thing, or are we obligated in some way to send a gift? Sending a congratulations card with no money in it would be disappointing to the boy in my eyes.

GENTLE READER: And you wouldn’t want to disappoint someone who is expecting to reap money from people he never met and who didn’t know of his existence?

But, then, you have not heard from the son, so Miss Manners sees no obligation to address him. The polite thing for your wife to do would be to write the family friend, saying how nice it was to hear from her after all these years and congratulating her on her son’s graduation. There is no need to speculate on the motives of the mother, and no need to pay him.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has a chronic, debilitating illness. Frequently I field phone calls from his family or queries from friends I run into, and I don’t seem to have the right answer for “How’s Bob?”

I hate telling people the situation is awful every time I talk to them. Some people don’t really want to know, and it’s depressing for everyone else. I’ve tried out, “There’s no change,” “About the same” or “He’s managing,” but even those are getting stale. I already know I can’t respond with a casual “He’s fine,” because people often take that to mean he’s improved, inevitably leading to a need for clarification.

He has one family member I would like to tell this: “When I say he’s okay, what I really mean is that nothing has changed, some days are worse than others, we don’t expect it to improve, he’s not in the hospital and he’s not dead. That’s what ‘okay’ means to us.”

My husband emphasizes his poor condition to this person, and wants me to do the same, so the family member will leave him alone. I haven’t observed it to be effective. Any suggestions I can add to my repertoire?

GENTLE READER: “About as well as can be expected, thank you. I’ll tell him you called.”

Miss Manners realizes that this is no better than what you have been saying, but it’s longer, and the last part is a signoff, so she hopes it will help. Please allow her to say that she also hopes that you don’t dismiss everyone, but are frank with the people whom you and he really care about — for their sake, yours and your husband’s.

Visit Miss Manners at her Web site,, where you can send her your questions.

, by Judith Martin

Distributed by Universal Uclick for UFS