There’s something I’ve never understood that maybe someone out there knows the answer to. Why do published obituaries tell you exactly where a person died (home, hospital) when what everyone really wants to know is, how did they die? I understand that sometimes the person (or next of kin) doesn’t want the cause of made public (suicide, maybe AIDS) but most of the time it’s not a secret, so why not tell us.
There is the occasional mention of cause of death. It seems to me auto accidents are occasionally mentioned and sometimes we see “a courageous battle with cancer” attributed to the deceased, but that’s about it.
But let’s be honest, if you see a 36 year-old’s obit, the first thing that comes to mind is, “how on earth did a 36 year-old die?” I’m not saying it’s necessarily any of your business but it s what you want to know.
I find myself reading between the lines. Where donations are to be sent is a good clue if the person died of a particular disease. If money is to be sent to the American Cancer Society, you can bet that person died of cancer (yes, but what kind?). If you see the person died at home, it may mean a sudden heart attack or accident or even suicide. Seeing someone died “after a long illness” makes me think cancer, “a short illness” a stroke or heart attack.
I’m not sure why we feel it important to know the cause of death. I suspect it’s in part because we want to triangulate our own mortality. What people are dying of and at what age gives one a vague roadmap to the possibilities surrounding their own inevitable death. If you are younger and see only older people in the obituaries, it’s reassuring that you have a good chance of living quite a bit longer. But opening up the paper and seeing several people your age or younger have passed on is, well, a little scarier. Older people may look at the obits and wonder what’s going to eventually get them.
So, I’m curious why obituaries, which are filed with personal information, often don’t reveal the cause of death. Who cares what hospital they died in, I want to know why they died.