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ParaParaYukiko's avatar

When is it appropriate to want to know the details of someone's death?

Asked by ParaParaYukiko (6103 points ) January 14th, 2010

Last summer, a friend of mine committed suicide. It was very sudden, as he was pretty much the nicest person I knew and definitely did not seem the type to do that. As soon as I heard about his death, I was curious about the details surrounding it. At the time I figured it was because the whole thing was so out of the blue. The family kept the whole situation pretty private, so a lot of my curiosities were left unsatisfied.

It was not until recently, 6 months later, that I learned new details about my friend’s passing. I had kind of accepted that there were things I would never know, simply because I didn’t want to upset people by asking questions about such a sensitive subject. Yet almost every day I think about my friend and wish I knew more.

In fact, whenever someone close to me has passed away, even my grandparents, I’ve never gotten many details until much later, which makes me feel a little left out. But I wonder: do I just have a kind of sick curiosity about these things? It certainly won’t bring my friend back.

Also, if I even had enough courage to ask about the details of someone’s death, especially a suicide, when would the appropriate time be? Should I just accept not knowing what happened and try to get on with my life?

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12 Answers

dalepetrie's avatar

I think you’re just seeking to understand the unfathomable, that’s human nature. I think it’s natural when anyone dies if they aren’t old or gravely ill, to wonder what killed them. But people of course don’t like to talk about things that are difficult, and usually you aren’t going to see that in an obituary, most people think if you’re close enough to the source, you’ll know. I will sometimes just ask “what happened”, but if I can’t get the details, I’m not going to press the bereaved. Maybe some day you’ll have a conversation, months or even years down the road when you’re fondly remembering and reminiscing about the person, and that would be the time to maybe find out more, without being too pushy about it.

marinelife's avatar

It is best not to ask the grieving family members if they do not offer the details.

janbb's avatar

I agree with Marina (no surprise there) but sometimes you can speak to a mutual friend or someone who is at more of a remove and find out the details from them if you ask tactfully.

Austinlad's avatar

I, too, agree with Marina. I had a co-worker friend who died suddenly under somewhat mysterious circumstances, but since I didn’t know his family or any of his non-work friends, I could only speculate about the reason. To this day, years later, I still wonder about it. But that’s how life is… sometimes you just can’t know.

girlofscience's avatar

It’s always appropriate to want to know the details of someone’s death, even if it’s not okay to ask.

Kayak8's avatar

If you look at the obituary, you will likely see the name of the clergy who performed the service. I would make an appointment with him or her and go to talk. They will likely know details and it will give you a chance to talk about your own feelings of how sudden it was, how you feel like you don’t have any information, and he/she might be able to give you some guidance (if not direct information).

ultimateego's avatar

as soon as the person is dead. immediately. if you get lucky, maybe that dead person will have left you some money.

Inquirer's avatar

When the police show up at your house, announce that said person is dead, and just want to know where you were the night before.

TheLoneMonk's avatar

My dad died of metastatic melanoma a few months back and my mom refused to allow us to put the cause of death in the obit. Frankly, we could have used his cause of death to remind people how deadly skin cancer can be. Also, it would have answered so many question i could see on peoples faces at the wake. My dad had only known he had the disease for 8 weeks and so people who saw him on a fairly regular basis were shocked and couldn’t help but wonder what the hell got him. I’m for full disclosure…most of the time.

marinelife's avatar

@TheLoneMonk I’m sorry for your loss. I agree with you about full disclosure. I hate that it is no longer common to disclose the cause of death.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I think it’s perfectly normal to want to know – especially if you were really close to the person. For some people, I think it helps you heal. Once you know, you have the ability to piece things together… To make sense of what happened. When my best friend died almost a month ago, no one was sure whether or not it was suicide. Only one other person knew for sure, and he wasn’t ready to talk. In the time I didn’t know, his death was much harder for me to deal with because I had so many questions running through my mind. As soon as I found out, although it didn’t change the outcome, I was able to cope with it a little better. Just knowing helped me, somehow.

When it comes to asking, I wouldn’t do it at all – unless, like I said, you were extremely close with the person. It’s not a detail that an acquaintance needs to know.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

I agree with what you all are saying. I’m definitely not going to ask the family directly, since even though the deceased was a good friend of mine I had only met his family once. I realize that even if I knew all the known details surrounding his passing, it still won’t fully answer the question of why. I guess I’ll just take what I can get from those who have heard certain details, but otherwise I’ll just have to deal with not knowing. Thanks for all your comments, guys. :) Much appreciated.

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