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ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

What are the reasons that a cause of death may not be listed in an obituary?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (25307points) October 25th, 2010

I just found out that a friend I’ve had since I was very young passed away recently. It was one of those situations where I could kick myself because I hadn’t heard from him in a few weeks, and kept saying that I should write an email or send a message, see how things were going, and then never did.
Today is his birthday and I went to his facebook page to post him a message and saw all of the posts from other friends and family about his passing. I looked up the obituary and I missed the funeral, which was yesterday, and all that it said about his death was that he was found at home, and had died unexpectedly. It isn’t even 5am, so I can’t call anyone to ask if they know what happened right this second.

What could that possibly mean? Are the possibilities limitless, or do they typically use a vague description like that for special circumstances?

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17 Answers

Deja_vu's avatar

I’m sorry your friend died. That’s sad.

lillycoyote's avatar

I’m very sorry about your friend. Is it possible that he committed suicide? That would be one possible reason for that type of description in an obituary. My veterinarian committed suicide (he was relatively young, he was healthy and successful) and that’s pretty much how his death was described in his obituary: died suddenly, at home. I’m sorry if that turns out to be the case with your friend.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@lillycoyote I hate to admit it, but that is my suspicion. Essentially why I asked.
Thank you both. Always sucks to hear that someone died so young, seems wrong.

lillycoyote's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie Yes, it’s very difficult to lose anyone you care about but suicides can be pretty hard to deal with. A college friend of mine committed suicide about two years ago and it seems like such a terrible, terrible waste. And such a sadness that someone you care about could see no other way out. It’s painful to know that someone was in that much pain themselves. I’m sorry.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Maybe I just know strange people or live in a strange place, but I have never seen a cause of death published in any obituary. I find that they are nearly always vague and generic. such as “loving brother, kind, generous and full of life, taken from us age 34” or something of that nature.

Sorry to hear about your friend.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@lillycoyote I suppose it is unfortunate, but true, my life has been touched by suicide too many times in my 28 years. Terrible, terrible tragedy. Blah.

@poisonedantidote I am under the impression that a vague or absence of reason for the person’s passing is usually due to 1.)A violent or traumatic death, such as a car accident or murder or 2.)Suicide. I have no idea if that is actually true, though. I have read many obituaries over the years which mention that the deceased was battling cancer prior to their passing, or died from complications from diabetes.. etc etc. I just don’t know if my perception is accurate, or if it really is just a matter of preference.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie Well, that may explain it. As you probably already know I live over in Spain, and until a few years ago the law here said 14 year olds could drive motorbikes, and the law did not require anyone to use crash helmets. On top of that, some motorbikes did not even require a licence of any kind. Because of this, more or less every single friend of mine who has ever died has died in their teens because of a crash. The rest where suicide or murder.

I can imagine cancer being mentioned, possibly along side th word “battling”, and i can maybe imagine a heart attack being mentioned in the form of something along the lines of “his heart was too big” or “its no wonder his heart gave out considering how much he used it”. but i cant imagine for a moment diabetes or something like that being mentioned.

lillycoyote's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie That’s the way my paper’s obituaries are too. They very often mention the cause of death, though not the details. Sometimes it’s something vague like “after battling a long illness” but very often it’s more specific likeĀ “after a valiant battle with breast cancer” My town is small enough that if someone is murdered or dies in a car accident you will usually have read about it in the paper before you see the obituary. The obituary might just say died unexpectedly but you know what happened. Some you can figure out though. When a young man dies and they say he loved his kids, his dog, the Phillies and his Harley I usually figure it’s a motorcycle accident.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@poisonedantidote that is tragic.
@lillycoyote yes, “after battling a long illness” is another one I see often. Or they will mention hospice, or residence in a hospice house… which makes it quite clear. Same with the motor vehicle accidents and whatnot. Those stories are typically on the front page, so it is easy to discern what happened regardless of what the obituary says. When it specifies “at home” and “sudden” or “unexpected”, I hate to say it, but I usually assume it was a suicide. I wonder if there is somewhere that I can look up obituary protocol. Beyond the fact that I would obviously like to know what happened to my friend, I’m genuinely curious if there is a sort of unspoken rule about this.

lillycoyote's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie I think the papers may have policies about certain things but I think it’s pretty much up to the family. I’ve seen some crazy stuff. I remember one obituary that actually stated that the deceased died after a long battle with alcoholism! I couldn’t believe it. But maybe the family was into that “lifting the stigma” kind of thing.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I’ve found that when it’s worded like that, it’s usually suicide. My high school graduating class had 32 people dead out of 526 by our 10th reunion. One was childbirth related, six were car accidents, three were health related. The rest were self-induced deaths, mostly by drug overdoses. I graduated from high school in the 1970s.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Sigh. Senseless. Terribly senseless.

Thanks everyone for your input.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie : So sorry for your loss, it’s very hard.
In most cases the family and/or friends of the deceased write the obits and simply choose not to mention the cause. It can be a bit frustrating, I agree.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@JilltheTooth yes, thank you.

I have not budged from the computer for hours, I guess I am just wallowing a little bit. Hoping to remedy that soon. However, in the meanwhile I received an email from a family member of the deceased informing me that there will be a second memorial service coming up. That is comforting, at least. Nice to have an opportunity for closure. Thanks again, everyone. You are all so wonderful and supportive, truly one the most amazing online community I have ever had the honor of being a part of.

perg's avatar

I’m very sorry about your friend. I worked as a reporter for many years – the decision whether to list a cause of death and, usually, the wording of it is entirely up to the survivors, especially in paid obituaries (which most are, these days). My news agency had a rule that we HAD to give a cause of death for any public person whose obit we ran, so that led to some awkward phone calls. And if the survivors refused to say, we had to find some way to hedge it in the “news” obit, usually just noting that the family declined to give specifics.

The reasons why a family might not say are pretty well covered in previous responses. My completely personal preference is to always go ahead and list it – if you don’t, people will gossip about it and often come up with something worse than actually happened. But grieving families sometimes have a really hard time talking about the specifics so soon after the event, regardless of what actually happened.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@perg thank you. That was very helpful.

MissPoovey's avatar

Please do not jump to conclusions!
Your friend could have been murdered, home accident, or just about anything.
My brother and sister and I have had to write two obits. We did not list cause of death. My aunt had to write one and she did not either.
Newspapers charge by the word, my dads cost 300 dollars just listing family, history and inserting a picture. Cost can influence what is said.

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