Let’s talk about death. No, really, don’t go! Most of us have issues with death. We don’t like to talk about it – reminds us that we all leave this earth the same way… we die. Who wants to think about dying when you’re healthy, when you live in a prosperous country? Even if you’re not rich, you’re better off than the majority of the world, so why bring a downer into the conversation and talk about death?
And when we do talk about death, we have a tendency to do so in platitudes. There are a couple of reasons for that, I think… generally speaking, most of us don’t write our own obituaries (heck, it’s a pretty humbling thing to write a will!). And we’re not celebrities, so no newspaper office has one ready to go for most of us… That means that the task of getting the obituary into the newspaper usually falls to a grieving family, who are often in no shape at all to do more than the basic obituary notice we’re all used to seeing – “passed peacefully away after a long struggle bravely borne…” or “passed peacefully away after a courageous struggle with…” I’m pretty sure that if my death comes after a long struggle, it’s unlikely to be all that peaceful, and I doubt very much that I will be all that courageous. If we were to follow that format for me, and wanted to be honest about it, it would have to say something like, “died after a tedious struggle, during which she was more cranky than usual…”
But please, don’t worry about it!! I definitely don’t want someone else writing my obituary (I’ve already done it thanks, but you’ll have to wait ‘til I shuffle off this mortal coil to see it… some friends have seen a draft, but of course, it gets updated from time to time… will you get a mention in my obit?!). And I especially don’t want any announcement of my death to include the phrase “passed peacefully away…” or in fact, “passed away” in any form!! (I used to tell my daughter, before I decided to write my own obituary, that if anybody tried to use those phrases, I’d come back to life to beat the person who did it!)
What on earth is our problem with the word “died?!” Most of us have seen The Lion King, and Mufasa certainly didn’t “pass away!” He died! And that’s ok – it is, as the song says, part of the circle of life! The Torah tells us, in Deuteronomy, that “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died.” For Christians, Jesus didn’t “pass away,” either. “He was crucified, died, and was buried…” So what’s with the platitudes surrounding death? If we say “passed away,” does it somehow lessen our grief? Do our hearts ache less if the obituary says “passed away,” and not “died?”
We can joke about death, about killing, and about murder – “Man, I really died out there!” says a baseball player having an off day. “I could have killed him!” “I could really murder a good steak right now.” So we’re not afraid of the words, then. Except for the instance of using them to refer to someone who has actually died.
So, light years into the future, if you should see my obituary, and if it says “passed away,” you’ll know that it’s not the one that I have prepared. And if you had a hand in getting it ready, you should hide, because I’ll be on my way to have a little chat with you!