A group of my friends and I were sitting in our classroom waiting for the teacher to get there and start class. Two of my friends, Jim and Maddie, were talking to each other (and they were about the only ones talking in a group of seven so it’s not like I was eavesdropping). They haven’t talked much at all before and so they were going through the basic questions, what do you like to read, how many siblings do you have, etc. They got to the siblings question and Maddie asked Jim how many siblings he had. He said, “Eight ... nine.” After a brief moment for the humor of not counting your siblings because there’s so many he explained that, “Yeah, one of my brothers, he died.” And she said, “Oh.” And he said, “but we still count him.”
Now I didn’t catch, “died” but from the syllable spaces available in his speech I’m going to guess that he said “died”. He said it without much emotion and didn’t look effected by it afterwards, like it was a fact he’s said many times before. I know this can be an extremely sensitive topic, but knowing that his brother died brings up more questions for me. Like how old was Jim when this happened? Was he even alive? (He’s the youngest of the nine and the oldest is 20 years older than him, so that is very much a possibility.) How/why did his brother die? How old was he when he died?
I haven’t run into many people with deceased immediate family, just Jim, another friend (who I didn’t ask any questions) and myself. My twin died when we were three days old, so I never knew her, which means it never affected me. She never had a face and a personality, so it’s kind of just a fact to me, though a fact I treat with respect. So I have very little experience in this area.
I’ve known Jim for six months, and I would say we are friends, and not just friends because of circumstance or that we’re in the same place. Still, I’m not sure how to ask these questions or even if it would be appropriate. Depending how old Jim was when his brother died, he could have varying degrees of his own emotional connection.
We do get to talk one-on-one when nobody else is around, but that usually lasts a max of 10 minutes. We also talk one-on-one when there are other people around.
I know that these questions are very hard to ask and can be very hard to answer, especially if the topic is not brought up by the person who it happened to. But I feel like it will give me a better understanding of his life and the things that might have had a role in shaping his character.
How should I approach asking these questions? Is it even ok to ask for facts about such a sensitive topic? Should I resign myself to just not knowing?
Other Info That Might Be Useful
- Jim is 16 years old and I’m female and a year older.
- If you are familiar with the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator, Jim is Extroverted Thinking. I just thought those two letters might be helpful.