How did they die?

Imagine you’ve just gotten an important phone call from a friend that one of your favorite coworkers just died.

You’re in disbelief.

You just talked to them!

What happened??

No one seems to know.

It is a heartbreaking situation, and you don’t want to sound insensitive, but you want to know what happened.

You check the obituary, but that doesn’t say what happened either.

One question that I get on a fairly regular basis is, “How did they die?” or “Why didn’t the obituary say why they died?” Many thoughts and emotions go into writing an obituary. Although an obituary is factual with dates, it also includes personal information concerning our personal lives. It includes hobbies, interests, and gives a portrait of the life we lived. But in doing so, it also conflicts with our vulnerability and emotions. When we lose someone we love, we become guarded, protective, and want to remember him or her with happy thoughts. We feel vulnerable because we are hurting and our loved ones life becomes exposed to the funeral and obituary. So when families write an obituary, they become conservative with what information they want to share with the public.

For some, the death and circumstances surrounding the end are excruciating. A person’s death provides a glimpse into how they lived, and for some of us, it is a direct result of how they lived.

The ‘Golden Years’ is hardly as golden as we would hope. Many of us become isolated as we get older and more private. Degrees of depression can set in. For many families, it is a time in our loved one’s life we wish to forget.

I have heard it discussed many times while families are making arrangements. Usually, someone in the family will say, “It’s none of their damn business!” While some families that have had their family members die of ‘old age,’ they feel it’s superfluous to state the obvious ‘why.’

But overall, I feel there is a considerable swing in sentiment that death should be a Celebration of Life. Society wants to remove itself from the negativity surrounding death, and the most prominent symbol of anguish is the actual death itself. Most want to move on from the ‘why’ and focus on positives and cherished memories of those we love.

Death is the most profound event in a person’s life. It is a mysterious curiosity that all of us will experience at some point. But even though interest may have the best of you, it’s rarely ever a good idea to ask a grieving family why someone died. It’s personal; they’re hurting and need your support.

Written by Mike O’Connell 

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