Magazine article The Christian Century

Let Euphemism Pass Away

Magazine article The Christian Century

Let Euphemism Pass Away

Article excerpt

I passed on the chocolate dessert tray in the restaurant last night, tempting as it was. I dread passing through the TSA screening lines at the airport when I'm in a hurry. I pass columns like this your way hoping to stir your heart and mind on matters of faith and life.

One thing I will never pass, however, is away. I expect to die, and you'd be smart to expect the same. But neither of us will "pass away." I know the phrase has become increasingly popular in recent decades; some would say irritatingly popular. A survey of contemporary obituaries reveals that nearly 50 percent of families no longer refer to the death of their loved one. Mom merely "passed away." Or, when brevity is in vogue, she "passed."

A funeral director I know thinks this linguistic trend is an attempt to make death sound less cold, more gentle, and not so harsh. That sounds about right. We don't do well with the finality of death. We like to keep it at arm's length. To speak of mother's death as a "passing" is to lend a wispy and soft feel to her disappearance, almost as if an unsuspecting wind mysteriously swept her out of view.

"When a person is born we rejoice," anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote. "And when they're married we jubilate. But when they die we try to pretend nothing has happened." To pretend as if the sudden absence of our best friend's voice or laugh at the table doesn't affect us is to perform a disservice to ourselves. Faith allows us to honor the reality and finality of death. It teaches us that grief can be a gift, just as tears rolling down the cheek can be a love offering for that friend who has died. …

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