My mother just passed away; she was a very private person and did not want a public funeral service or obituary. My brothers, sisters and I have respected her wishes. She lived far away from all of us, so we all met at her hometown, and honored her privately.
A member of my wife’s family sent out a mass email to her extended family (cousins, etc.) announcing that my mother had passed away. None of these people knew my mother. My wife says this is customary and that people need to know so that they can send condolences. I’m sure they mean well, but this feels like our desire for privacy wasn’t respected. Is it really OK and “customary” for people other than the immediate family to send out announcements of this sort?
When cultures clash, social nuances are not always recognized or understood. Your wife’s relative acted from the emotions of her culture where families encourage a lot of comforting through condolences and sympathy cards. A culture that does not reflect your mother’s request for a modest and private mourning.
Your wife’s relative made a mistake in your mother’s culture, but in your wife’s culture her family would have felt slighted if they had not been informed and allowed to send their condolences. Funerals and burials are so emotionally charged that we have to make allowances for everyone to mourn the deceased in their own way and in their own time. Even if they didn’t even know the deceased. Don’t forget, your wife’s family strongly believe that condolences are obligatory. On the other hand, you cannot keep this resentment bundled up inside of you. Take your wife out for dinner and have a relaxed evening talking about your mother and explaining how in her culture she took great pride in being modest and unassuming, because she didn’t feel the need to call attention to herself–in life or death. Tell her you would like her family to honor these beliefs going forward, if you feel as she did. Be sure your wife learns from your explanation and doesn’t just reply with a lot of meaningless words–albeit well-meaning. It is important that she learns the significant nuances of your culture—and you of hers—and you’re the only one who can teach her.
Of course, the condolences from her family will have to be acknowledged. Let your wife mourn your mother in her own way by having her write the thank-you notes to all of her family members who sent cards.
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