Maintaining privacy when people ask about a memorial object

Anonymous said to :

I have a rather specific social problem I was hoping you might help me with. One of my best friends committed suicide very recently, and I have a necklace with his name on it that I wear to remember him. Normally I wear it with the blank side facing out, but it does flip around, & people (who didn’t know him) have asked about it. I don’t want to outright lie, but this isn’t something a stranger needs to know.

Additional complication: this is still really raw, so sometimes the question hits wrong and I become visibly upset, which just makes the person more curious. How can I brush these well-intended remarks off as politely and quickly as I can, making it clear that I don’t want to talk about it?

realsocialskills said:

I wonder if it would work for you to say that it’s in memory of a friend without talking about the suicide?

Like, along these lines:

  • Them: That’s not your name, is it? Who is that?
  • You: Actually, it’s in memory of a close friend who died recently.

It might help to be explicit about how you want them to react. Most people are uncomfortable talking about death. Some people will be very worried about saying the wrong thing and will want to take cues from you.

If you want them to drop it, changing the subject helps. One way to change the subject is to talk about the reason you’re interacting with that person to begin with.

Eg: Say you’re at a conference.

  • Them: What does your necklace mean?
  • You: It’s kind of personal. It’s in memory of a friend who died recently. I’m trying to stay busy. I’m excited to be at this conference. What brings you here?

If that’s too much sharing, maybe you could say something like more vague like: “It’s a friendship necklace”, or “It’s to remember someone”, or “I’ve had that for a while”, “It’s in honor of someone”, and then follow it with an immediate subject change.

This sometimes takes a couple of repetitions of the subject change. Some people think that they’re supposed to find ways of getting you to talk about it, and some people are just nosey. If people are particularly persistent, you might need to say very bluntly that you don’t want to talk about it. (Some people might get annoyed at having their persistence rebuffed. If that happens, that’s their fault, not yours.)

Alternatively, what about making the necklace less visible? For instance, by wearing it under your clothes, or by putting your friend’s name in a locket instead of on the outside of a pendant? (I’m not assuming that this is a good idea — it may well not be; symbolism is complicated).