Cause of Death in an Obituary Issue

For one thing, I think you’re expecting these people to be logical. They’re grieving—the death is fresh.

For another, there’s a potential guilt angle. If the person did suicide, maybe they’re still convincing themselves that it wasn’t. But they know it was. Sort of. Well, why print it until/unless you’re sure?

I was writing a term paper many years ago and consulted a geneticist. He told me that family histories are hard to trace sometimes. Even these days some people won’t talk about a family member who died of something like cancer, because they think it’s a curse from God and the deceased must have been a bad person etc.

I get it. I’ve lost classmates at a youngish age and if the survivors don’t want to go into detail that’s fine. Thanks for letting me know about the passing, though.

True story: I went to school with a guy who committed suicide. He was quiet, very nice kid. He was always interested in cars. I was never really friends with him exactly but always thought he was a good guy.

I was talking to my sis (who still lives in my hometown). She said one day, he was outside mowing the lawn…in a woman’s dress. So apparently in private he was a cross-dresser. The local bubbas got hold of this info, teased him relentlessly, and in a small town you can guess the rest.

My point is that some people wisely head it off at the pass.

Did he commit suicide?
People were teasing him.
He was different.

Etc. Why give an inch?

I understand your point lobotomyboy63, but in your example, all the family had to say, if they choose to say anything at all, is that he took his own life. If someone pries into the whys, they can say it’s private, or they can lie and say they don’t know rather going down a rathole of more and more pointed questions.

But if instead, they had said in the Obit that their son had taken his own life, or coded words to that effect, that’s all people need to know. He didn’t die after months fighting brain cancer, he didn’t drive drunk off a cliff, or bicycle into a tree. IMO that would be better than having people play 20 questions because the family was uncomfortable or ashamed about what happened. People are going to find out what really happened eventually.

I remember all the obituaries of young, unmarried men in the 1980s and 1990s who died from pneumonia. A large percentage of the time, it was actually AIDS but maybe the family didn’t want that publicized, or they themselves didn’t, or they didn’t even know they had it at the time. I have definitely seen AIDS listed as a cause of death, however.

In many cases I would think there’s a pecking order. A man dies; if he’s married, his spouse has the right to their joint wealth. Likewise the spouse would have the say about what does or doesn’t go in the obituary. I don’t know if you could make a case that the name of the deceased has value and just like the widow gets to choose how to handle the assets…

And in the early days they may not have been sure exactly what it was.

At the other end of the spectrum there was the funeral of Emmett Till, who was lynched for supposedly whistling at a white woman. His mother told the mortician not to reconstruct the face and insisted on an open casket so the world would witness it.

Intense, possibly NSFW.

I think saying someone died from “pneumonia” was often code for AIDS, and there was definitely a stigma attached to homosexuality and AIDS in the 1980s, and even today. In that case, simply saying a person died from pneumonia is fine, even though it may not have been the actual “cause” of death. You don’t have to list what’s on the death certificate, just tell us something so we don’t have to guess or ask someone who might know. Once again, word will get out sooner or later.

I think you know why; it’s quite obvious.
Those who choose to omit that information do so because it would add to their suffering to include it, for whatever reason.
I find your post intentionally obtuse.
Your curiosity does not trump their pain.

As I’ve said, the family has the right to remain silent and the public’s curiosity never trumps that, however, as noted by others not saying anything often leads to a game of 20 questions, which I would think would be more painful than just stating the CoD. I never demanded that they list it, I just don’t see how they benefit from hiding it. But if in fact not talking about it reduces their suffering that’s a good enough reason not to talk about it. No argument here.

So…give in to bullying nosy people (who apparently simply don’t understand “it’s none of your business”?), and tell them what they want to know, despite it being a painful subject, because otherwise, the busybodies will just continue to badger the family with their insatiable curiosity?

If there are truly people like that out there, well, there are words that I could use to describe them, which are better suited for the BBQ Pit than this forum.

I’m not sure it does often lead to 20 questions, or at least not with the questions going to the immediate family. First of all, in a lot of deaths, no one really knows what the cause of death was - let’s take someone who is in their 60s-70s-80s who is found dead on the floor in their home and was seeing a doctor regularly due to some medical conditions. * Unless there is some indication of foul play, most likely there will never be an autopsy -which means no one will ever know if the person fell and hit their head in just the right spot to be fatal or if they had a fatal heart attack or stroke which caused the fall. I had a great-uncle whose actual cause of death is unknown - he was in a single car accident and had a heart attack but the autopsy couldn’t determine which came first and caused the other. Which I know not because I am nosy and asked my great-aunt but because she told her family which meant it got to my mother who told me.

Second, I have never known someone who asked the immediate family what the cause of death was. I’ve heard many people ask friends or more distant family members " What happened?" but I’ve never seen it turn into twenty questions if the answer is “I don’t know”. I doubt there are many people who feel they are entitled to know all of the details about someone’s death - there’s always someone, somewhere who will do anything , but that doesn’t mean it’s common.

  • It would be very different if it was a 20-30 something year old with no known medical problems.

People conjecturing on COD, after the family omitted it, are straight up rumour mongers. Sure, they don’t WANT to see themselves in such a light. And they comfort themselves by saying, ‘Well, surely everyone is is conjecturing as well!’, but they are mistaken. Most other people take the hint and easily respect the wishes of the grieving to not disclose it.

I maintain if you feel the need to know, go ask. Your actual reticent to do so, is for a good reason. You just want it published so you can avoid feeling like you’re nosy, when that’s exactly what you’re being, in my opinion.

People aren’t evil because they are curious. Some of you are taking this to an extreme. I would guess that when there’s no cause of death listed, most everyone wonders. No, of course most of them don’t ask, let alone demand answers. But you are not a bad person because you are curious and guess.

I agree; I was specifically calling out the idea that some people may feel that they have a “right” to know, and @dolphinboy mentioned, more than once, that they think that not revealing the cause of death leads to “20 questions” among people who might not respect that privacy.

Exactly. A childhood friend that I had recently connected with unexpectedly died. Completely out of the blue. The family did not add a cause of death or publicly mention it in any social media spaces I’m also in.

Of course I was curious and read their posts for any update, but the thought that I would play 20 questions, pepper family or friends, or wildly speculate never occurred to me. I saw no one else rumor mongering or being persistent with comments or posts.

So curious, sure. No one is saying curiosity is unusual or bad. But the argument that leaving out the cause of death is bad because it naturally leads to that sort of behavior certainly isn’t true in my experience. Most people express condolences, think about it a bit, and then let it go.

“however, as noted by others not saying anything often leads to a game of 20 questions, which I would think would be more painful than just stating the CoD.”

Painful for who? You?
Do you really think when the loved ones are composing the obituary they should stop and think, ‘Wait! Even though this is an intensely painful and deeply personal tragedy and including the circumstances surrounding our loved one’s passing will greatly increase our suffering, we really should publicize it so it doesn’t lead to a game of 20 questions to any strangers who might happen to read this.’

I have. In fact I have three different friends who died, and their families did not list a cause of death in the notice. That did not stop their old friends from asking the immediate families straight up what happened. Turns out two of them did not want the severity of their final illnesses known, and the third committed suicide.

I doubt many people spell it out in their heads in that form, in fact it’s almost like you chose those words to make it seem less likely, but ‘We don’t want to discuss this detail at all’ is the exact same thing, and is a very easily-reached position.

Sorry @Safe_Haven, I may have misread and completely reversed (in my head) the thrust of your argument. Apologies.

On balance, I think revealing the detail of cause of death is more likely to lead to 20 questions than withholding it - if the cause of death is not mentioned, it’s pretty much a signal that questions are explicitly not invited.
If the cause of death is mentioned, curious people probably aren’t going to be sated, in many cases
Suicide: “OMG, did they leave a note? What did it say? Were there any indications? Could anything have been done to prevent it? Were they depressed? Why didn’t they get help?” etc
Diabetes: “OMG, how did that happen? Did they skip their medication? Why couldn’t anyone help? What type of diabetes anyway? Was it because they were overweight? Why didn’t they just lose weight?” etc
Cancer: “What kind? Was it because of smoking?” etc

If that has been your experience, then you hang out with a different crowd than I do.

I think most adults recognize that if people don’t volunteer personal information, then you figure they don’t want to tell you.

Michigan. Yesterday I read an obit must’ve been on mlive, a school custodian age53 died. First sentence said he died of Covid 19 pneumonia. Sounded like a decent fella, well liked hippie type. Doubt he was vaxxed but his obit didn’t mention it.

OMG! Was he vaxxed? Did he get boosted? Did he wear a mask all the time? What kind of Covid did he have? Was he in the hospital? Was he on a ventilator? How long was he in there? Did he have to wait to get admitted, would it have made a difference? Did the family get to visit him? Did anyone else in the family have Covid? How are they doing?

By the way, the little weekly newspaper that serves my suburb (circulation 38,000) charges 80 cents per word for a death notice. Will that be check or credit card?