How to ask someone whether a mutual acquaintance died years ago? [update]

I am friends on Facebook with someone I went to high school with, but lost touch in the years since. We were not the closest of friends, but we got along well and I enjoy following up on her business and life in the States via Facebook. Let’s call her A.

Today she posted something in which she mentioned that she had “lost her best friend at 21”, but gave no details.

In high school, A was really good friends with B, who was someone I hung out with quite a bit, particularly the first couple of years. B was painfully shy and never made her way into my larger social group, or any other as far as I knew, and she was always rather distant with most people.

Several years ago, I was home from university visiting my parents and the local news was on TV in the background. I reacted to a name in a piece about someone who had died, in the woods near the village where B lived. I never heard the name clearly, or the method of death, but I remember thinking “did they just say “B”?!” I remember trying to google or otherwise see if I could find another reference to the story, but I never found anything. I never bothered to try and contact the news station, because even at that point, A and B were distant memories from high school. I can’t imagine there’d be any easily googled information all these years later.

Thing is, seeing A’s Facebook post made me remember that news story which may or may not have been about B. I don’t even know if my memory dates from about the time we would have been 21 or 22. I know A was very involved in her church community outside of school, so there could have been any number of friends that I didn’t know about, and her post might be referring to someone else who died in a car accident, or an illness or something else.

So now I’m sitting here wondering if I should ask her about it? Other than “hi, how are you, I work here now, married this guy, how about you?” we have had absolutely no contact in the past 12 years, but, well, I can’t shake this feeling that maybe it really was B in that news story. It wouldn’t change anything in my life, other than feeling a little sad for a while, and even if it wasn’t B, asking A could bring back painful memories for her about whoever her friend was.

I guess I’m asking for advice. Should I ask, or just let this go as another unknown about “whatever happened to that classmate?” And if I ask, how? I can’t think of a way to ask “hey, your friend that died…was it B?” I mean, what if B is perfectly fine and living a nice happy healthy life? It’s rather creepy to ask if she’s dead, right?

What would you do, and how?

If you’re really uncomfortable asking A about B, try googling B’s name, followed by “obituary” and/or “name of town”. I did this just last week I heard a classmate died. I googled his name and the town where he lived, and the obit came up.

Or ask another classmate, someone who wasn’t so close to B.

I can’t think of an easy way to ask A if B is the friend she was talking about.

It’s a bit weird that she didn’t mention her friend’s name. If she was A’s best friend and A is thinking about her (why else would she have posted that?), it would have been nice to say the friend’s name. You’re probably not the only one wondering who B was and what happened.

My vote is that you should ask if she knows what happened to B without hinting too obviously about the recent post mentioning the friend who died. Or else, ask something which hints at curiousity as to whether you would have known the friend who died.

At some level, she brought it up in a public forum, so she ought to be willing to discuss it a little. But that doesn’t mean she actually will be eager to do so.

Of course, I’m not actually on Facebook, so my knowledge of the ettiquette of such things is pretty darn limited.

B’s name is rather common, and I’ve been unsuccessful in finding any reference that might be her at all, let alone an obit. Which either means she’s not dead, or there was no obit, or it’s just not online (she came from a very small town).

A didn’t mention her friend by name because it was something she said in passing regarding a larger musing about how would life be different if people only lived to be 40, and that she thinks about this sort of thing because she lost her father when he was in his 40s and her best friend at 21. It wasn’t specifically about her friend.

B was so withdrawn - I can’t think of anyone else who might still be in touch or know what happened to her, other than A. If I remember any other classmates that might know, I might go that route, but I’m really drawing a blank.

I wonder if it would be ok for me to just send A a private message and say “I know this is weird and possibly rude, but I vaguely recall hearing bad news about B years ago…were you referring to her in your post? Feel free to not answer this question if you don’t want to!”

My husband is away on business, my cat is sick, and now I’m kind of making up or fearing sad stories about this kind, quiet and shy girl from high school. What a weird evening I’m having :frowning:

Sounds fine to me! Let us know what she says. I’m curious now too. :slight_smile:

I’m not on Facebook either and don’t particularly know the etiquette, but I’d write something like that, or maybe (if you want to be a little more blunt), “I think I may have heard awhile back that B, who I didn’t really know that well, passed away. Did you know B? Is it true?”

You can find people who died on the Social Security Death Index (Google to get the link for it). Fill in the name and see what comes up. Also Veromi.net is a good site to find people because it shows the towns they are associated with, their current ages (it doesn’t know if someone is dead but you can use the info to go to the SS Death Index) and other people associated with them (relatives or roommates).

Classmates.com sometimes has this sort of thing listed for high school class years. You could also look there, but I’d just go ahead and private message her.

Just ask.

You did notice the OP is Canadian, right? Considering both the SSDI and Veromi are totally US-centric, I don’t think she’ll have much luck there.

I vote for sending A a short message asking if she’s talking about B in her status. It’s a bit awkward, but she did open the door by mentioning it in the first place.

Or, if you’re uncomfortable with bringing up her status, just send her a note saying something like “Hey, I was just flipping through a yearbook the other day and saw a picture of B. I’m wondering how she is, since I lost touch after graduation and she doesn’t seem to be on Facebook. I know you two were close. Did you stay in touch?”

She posted it on her page. It’s perfectly acceptable to as to whom she was referring IMO.

I think I’d message A : “I know this a dumb question, but I lost touch with B just after high school. I heard a rumor years ago that she died. Is that true, do you know? Or what has happened to B?”

I wouldn’t refer to B by name, that could be really awkward if you’re wrong. I’d probably send her a message something like “I know this might sound weird, but I noticed you said lost your best friend at 21. I know we hardly saw each other after high school but I was wondering, was that someone I would have known too?”

Meant to also say: It would also look odd IMHO if you asked about B by name, but didn’t mention her comment about losing her friend, and were right. It would be pretty obvious what had inspired you to ask and seem weird that you didn’t say so.

My Facebook friends are obviously a lot less tactful than Dopers…we recenly went through a “who’s dead?” roll call of sorts, including one classmate who died when we were still in school.

It was a series of private messages though, not public posts. And I don’t even remember who started it, but someone just said, “I was trying to find out whatever happened to [classmate] and read that he was killed a few years ago. Is everyone else alive and well? Who else has passed away since [graduating year]?”

It was nice on one hand for all of us to know who we could stop looking for and to have some sort of closure, but very sad to see how many of us are gone already (we are only 30s and 40s ourselves).

Could you maybe broach the subject similarly? Hey, I was thinking about the people I lost touch with or didn’t know very well, and was wondering how everyone is doing/where they are…Then your friend could tell you what happened if she is comfortable with doing so, or maybe she would just say who is still alive, and then you’d know.

Just respond with shock and concern for her.

If A posted about her lost friend it’s already on her mind, you could start there and ask who she was referring to.

For what it’s worth, you can search the Social Security Death Index online. http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693

Might be useful.

Nope, I didn’t notice. :smack: Apologies to anyone offended. Don’t you guys/guyettes have something similar to SSDI? If not, I’ve got nothing. Except for straight out asking…

Unfortunately, I’ve been rather busy and have kind of chickened out about asking…it’s already been several days and it just feels weird to me now! I’ll keep thinking about it and see if an opportunity presents itself, but I just feel like the opportunity has passed.

The good news is my cat is feeling better, so that, at least, has been resolved!