I’m submitting a Facemail correspondence I had with my cousin after informing him of the death of my father at age 80. A year prior to Dad’s death, he had given me a small box which contained his military discharge papers, college report cards and term papers, and old photographs. Included in this collection was a 2 page letter from my cousin detailing why he was had chosen to estrange himself from his uncle, my father. The reason given was, “You did not offer a display of human kindness in saying to me that you were sorry for the loss of my brother. In that I will stop and give my sympathy to even the most despicable person, a kind word over the loss of a loved one, that incident leaves me to regard you with any thing but respect.”
Now that I have set the stage, here is the correspondence between us.
My Facemail to my cousin:
It took a little hunting to find you since your contact information was no longer valid.
I have been charged with the duty to inform you that your uncle, James Robert Smith Sr. died September 1, 2009. He battled cancer for the last decade of his life.
My brother asked me to inform all of Dad’s side of the family. I know Larry is deceased and I don’t have John’s current phone number. Can you pass on his contact information to me?
Richard’s terse reply a few hours later:
you may reach John hm ph XXX-XXX-XXXX 9:16am
A half hour after that, perhaps realizing he had committed the same offense to me that he claimed my father had done to him, Richard replies again:I disowned your Father several years back when he insulted me for the last time, by failing to offer condolences for the loss of my brother. However: when any member of any family in the world suffers the loss of anyone of their immediate family it is only proper and right to offer condolences for that loss. For your loss I offer my sincere regrets to you, your brothers and all other members of the James Robert Smith Sr. family. I also sincerely regret that at no time in my memory was I ever treated with any kind of familial regard by your Father. I am sure it was a mutual loss for both he and I. 9:37amAfter my initial astonishment had abated, I realized why my cousin Richard was estranged from most of the family. He was divorced, his own children were estranged from him, and his surviving brother and wife were angry at him and disagreed with his offense. Richard had now estranged himself from me with his selfish, insincere condolences sandwiched between insults of my recently deceased father. It was all about him and his poor, damaged love cup being chipped.The final irony is that I later learned from my other cousin John that my father had flown halfway across the US to say “good bye” to his nephew Larry and be there when Larry died. 1001-10
Addendum by Admin: The LW informs me that there had been no contact with Richard in over 7 years and every effort had been made to contact him via the usual means plus a Google search. He was no longer at the last known address and the phone number was non-working. Richard was eventually located on Facebook and contacted by private Facemail message. You do not need to be friended with a person to private message them. Richard was not at his brother’s deathbed. John was contacted by phone.
Miss Manners refers to these services family and friends render at the time of death as “responsibilities” and “assignments”. In my personal thesaurus “duty” is synonymous with “responsibility” and “assignment” so I see nothing wrong in the use of the phrase, particularly in light of the fact that there was no family contact with Richard in many years. The news was being delivered to him in a factual, straightforward manner …a private notification of what Miss Manners refers to as “just the facts”.