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TROUBLESHOOTER / I was told of my brother’s death the next day by email

The Yomiuri Shimbun Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my 60s. I was notified by email that my elder brother had died.

The email was simultaneously sent to everyone concerned from his cell phone the day after he died. I don’t know whether it was sent by his wife or child. Whoever sent it, it was a very thoughtless act. The email tells us that he died the previous day while hospitalized for treatment of his disease, that they were notifying us of his death at that late time according to his wishes, and that his funeral schedule was fixed. I don’t understand why they didn’t inform me while he was still alive, as I could have quickly gotten to the hospital to see him.

I made a phone call to my sister-in-law but didn’t get through to her. So I sent her an email instead to tell her I would like to make a visit. She sent me a reply to let me know that he had already been laid in state at a funeral hall, and I was welcome to see him whenever I wanted. So I went to view his body laid out in the coffin the following day.

I asked her how he died. She just said she would explain at his funeral, also according to his wishes. But in fact, she didn’t reveal it at the funeral.

I still don’t know how he died. I’ve been so distressed that I don’t feel like attending the memorial service to mark the 49th day after his death [according to the Buddhist tradition].

A, Tokyo

Dear Ms. A:

It is quite reasonable for you to miss your deceased elder brother. But you must understand his family did inform you of his death in their own way. In fact, they sent you an email to let you know his funeral schedule. They also allowed you to view his body at the funeral hall.

There are many different ways to bid farewell to the deceased and hold funerals. Conventional practices regarded as a matter of course until recently have been changing both in good and bad ways. Many older people such as myself want to be notified of this kind of news at least over the phone. On the other hand, an increasing number of people seem to think notifying people by email is normal.

You aren’t happy that they didn’t notify you when he was so ill that he might die. You also feel sorry you could not go to see him while he was still alive. Further, you doubt all the proceedings really were based on his wishes.

The chief mourner often talks about the health issue that resulted in the person’s death at their funeral, but your brother’s family might have a reason for not wanting to reveal it.

I suggest you compose yourself, attend his 49th-day memorial service and calmly ask his family about the cause of his death.

If they are still reluctant, you should let this matter go and instead console his departed soul in your own way, for instance, by displaying a portrait of him in your home.

Keiko Higuchi, critic

(from Dec. 17 issue)Speech

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