Cause of death: To ask or not to ask?


No matter how curious you are, don’t ask someone on social media how their loved one passed away. — dpa

One of your friends posted on social media that a loved one has passed away.

These days, you wouldn’t be blamed if your mind jumped immediately to Covid-19.

But is it rude to ask if the person died of that disease?

Two experts weigh in.

This is an interesting point to consider as we are all wrestling with the effects of Covid-19, says relationship expert and temperament therapist Dr Melanie Ross Mills.

As it’s a social media “friend” who had a loved one who passed away, it’s a good idea to think through how to respond before posting a comment or messaging them with a question about how the loved one passed away, she says.

Whenever we hear of someone passing, if we are not aware of the cause, it’s a normal response to wonder how it happened.

Was the person ill? Was it an accident? Was it self-inflicted?

This is why holding your tongue and thinking through your responses when sensitive situations arise is paramount.

Dr Ross recommends thinking through your response and leaning towards “less is more” for the time being.

Your friend is going through the grieving process and you should make that your primary concern by empathising, supporting and helping.

Once you have addressed these three ways of loving a hurting friend, you will probably discover the cause of death.

Either ask another friend who is close to the source how the loved one passed away, or wait until it plays out and your question is addressed organically.

The only change would be if you were in close contact with the loved one or if you have a medical reason for needing to know.

Etiquette expert Lisa Grotts is even more clear in her advice: If you read online that someone has died, asking how oversteps social bounds.

The rule is simple: If no one volunteers that information, then it’s none of your business.

People die every day from a wide range of illnesses.

A question about the death may come across as insensitive and force that person to make excuses for their loved ones to maintain their privacy.

It may even unnecessarily trigger the pain of the loss all over again.

If an obituary doesn’t offer the cause of death, never ask.

While death will affect all of us, this outbreak has altered the way in which we live.

No matter what your intentions are, it’s rude to ask how someone died.

A good rule of thumb is to say, “I’m sorry for your loss. How can I help?” – dpa

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