Tuesday, April 21, 2015


euphemism: a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt...

My mom died almost 20 years ago.  When I tell people about this part of my life I tell it exactly like that.  My mom died when I was 31.  My mom died ____ years ago.

I'd hear other people talking about their loved ones passing away, or passing, or some other comforting euphemism and I'd think--I just can't say that.  To me a euphemism would soften what happened, perhaps making the listener more comfortable with my story but robbing me of the truth.  My mom didn't "pass."  Or "pass away."  It may have been God's plan for her, but it felt like she was torn from our family, ripped away in the prime of her life.  She was taken from us before most of us were adults and before any of us were ready to live without her.  She *died.*


Can you imagine my surprise when I started telling people last fall that Russ's mom had died, and found that every time I opened my mouth I couldn't actually get the word "died" out?  I'd resolve that that was what I was going to say, that I was going to use language in the same way I had for my own mother, but I never could do it.

And one day I figured it out.  

If there is a passing away, it surely is what Marie did.  After living with leukemia for more than a decade and being more and more of an invalid, she had a stroke and then, for the next few weeks, slowly passed out of life.  She really did pass away.  There was grief for the loss of a mother and companion, but none of the trauma that my family had experienced two decades ago.  I stopped trying to make myself use the word *die* to describe what had happened, and told people that my mother-in-law had passed away in as gentle and peaceful a way as possible.


I have long known that words are powerful but still it surprised me to realize again that some synonyms are actually not, after all, interchangeable.

[PS--I still have never said to anyone that my mom passed away.]

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