DEAR ABBY: Last year my mother passed away after a 15-year battle with lung cancer. When I tell people she died, I am not bothered if they ask what she died from. However, more often than not, when they learn she died of lung cancer, they proceed to ask me if she ever smoked. It's so upsetting! Why would they ask this? Because she got what she deserved if she did?
Without answering their rude question, I explain that my mother had a rare, slow-growing type of cancer that afflicts nonsmokers (which is true). Am I overreacting to this insensitive question, or is there something I'm missing? And is there a better way to answer so that people realize it doesn't matter?
P.S. I would normally call my mother with questions like this. -- MOTHERLESS DAUGHTER
DEAR MOTHERLESS: Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your mother. People ask this question for a variety of reasons. Curiosity is one of them. However, I think there's also an element of fear involved -- was this the death of an innocent, or did the person do something to bring it on? Because lung cancer is linked so strongly to smoking and secondhand smoke, people often forget that nonsmokers can get it -- including individuals who work around asbestos.
While I understand why you would be especially sensitive to the question, I think you should answer it honestly. If you do, you might educate the asker. I can't guarantee that your mother would advise you to do it but, from my heart, I suggest you do.