Etiquette Questions, Answered: Tricky Conversations
Is There a Polite Way to Ask How My Friend's Loved One Died?
Q. An acquaintance of mine recently suffered the loss of her spouse, and the obituary did not indicate the cause of death. Is there a polite way to ask a person how her loved one died? Or should I be content with not knowing?
Name withheld by request
A. Indeed, as you suspect, you should be content with not knowing—or at least with not asking your bereft acquaintance directly. Her grief is what matters right now, and it would be rude to try to satisfy your own curiosity, no matter how natural and human that impulse may be.
In all likelihood, the widow has disseminated whatever information that she wants the public to have, and if her husband’s cause of death remains a mystery, so be it: Offer your condolences and try to put your inquiring mind to rest. And if you simply can’t bear not to know? Approach a mutual friend and make a gentle inquiry.
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