• Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
  • Sunshine and Unicorns
sunshine & unicorns: a blog about love, learning, and life in the upper midwest

20 May 2010

on mentioning deaths

Here's a cheery topic for today:

Have you ever been in a situation where someone randomly mentions their loved one's death in a conversation?

I don't mean a recent death. I mean something that happened years ago.


  • I attended a conference session where the presenter - when introducing himself - showed a photo of his child and said 'this is my child, who passed away after her birth.' Then the next slide was about another (living) child.

  • I had a message board experience in which someone giving an introduction said: "I have two children: my daughter is 10 and my son passed away 5 years ago at age 2."

  • I had a dry cleaner who -- when talking about herself in what I thought was a very general manner -- mentioned that her brother had died in a horrible farm accident a few years prior.

I'm not trying to be insensitive to these people. I can't imagine losing a loved one - especially a child or spouse. But I guess I don't know how to feel about interjecting this type of extremely personal information into on otherwise lighthearted situation.

I can see why someone would include this factoid: it has surely been a life-changing event that now defines the way the person views the world. But it makes me - as the recipient of the information - feel sad, uncomfortable and unsure of how to respond. Should I pretend I didn't hear that part? Should I express condolence (even though years have passed since the tragedy)? Should I refrain from smiling for the rest of the person's talk, for fear of disrespecting their dead loved one?

Again, I'm not trying to be insensitive to people who have lost someone. It feels like something very personal though. An experience that - if I had gone through it - I think I'd want to keep to myself and only share with people on a 'need to know' basis.

What about you? How does this kind of thing make you feel? Do you think it's OK? Do you feel uncomfortable when people bring up personal tragedies in neutral conversation? What do you think the appropriate response is?

And if you are someone who has HAD a tragedy in your life, do you openly share it with others, or do you keep it quiet? What are your reasons for making the choices you make as far as sharing that type of experience? Just wondering.