The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:
I’m a woman in my 60s. An elderly female neighbor asks about my deceased daughter whenever she meets me. I feel disturbed, though I’m aware she means no harm.
My daughter died in her early 30s after suffering from depression for more than two decades. It happened seven years ago. I started to feel something different about her a week before she died. Recalling it now, she was probably asking for help.
Now that the Buddhist ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of her death has passed, I don’t cry every day any more.
However, an old woman I often meet when walking the dog asks me things like “How’s your girl?” and “Does she have a new home?” Each time, I say she’s dead. The woman probably forgets quickly. She asks me similar things again and again each time she meets me. She doesn’t seem to be suffering from dementia, so I’m really distressed by her behavior.
I asked someone about the same age and was told she doesn’t have dementia. I was also told to just deflect her with some response. But I hate to be asked about this, and I don’t want to lie. How should I cope with this and respond to her?
T, Saitama Prefecture
Dear Ms. T:
Suppose there is a robot on a street in your neighborhood. It asks, “How’s your girl?” each time you walk past it with the dog. Although you say she’s dead, the robot asks you the same thing on the next day. The robot isn’t actually asking about your daughter. But I understand you feel very bad, like you’re being forced to acknowledge over and over that she isn’t in this world any more.
I don’t know whether the old woman has dementia. But two things are certain. One is that your daughter is still alive in her mind. The other is that you can’t stop feeling she is still alive in your mind no matter how many times you tried to convince yourself otherwise.
So you can respond to her spiritual questions with spiritual answers like: “How’s your girl?” “She’s somewhere.” And “Does she have a new home?” “She might.”
That doesn’t mean you should not take her seriously or tell a lie. You should look at the same world as she does and whisper to yourself.
Spiritual truth is no different from physical truth. Nobody can deny the ideas in their mind. You can’t, either.
Hazuki Saisho, writer