From time to time, Tough Conversations will present articles by guest bloggers on topics of interest to our readers. M. Jane Markley, an expert on advance care planning, wonders why it’s so hard to talk about death:
Have you ever noticed just how difficult it is for people to say the word “death” or “died”? You mostly hear the terms when something horrific has happened like an earthquake or a bombing but in day to day life it is rare. This is part of our culture of death avoidance. Just take a look at the obituaries. If we don’t say it, perhaps it won’t or didn’t happen. If you listen carefully you will hear many other phrases or words used but rarely “death”.
So what are people saying? Without a doubt “to pass” or “passed” is the out and out winner, as the obituaries show. But, there are other terms, again based on different cultures, that people will use and there are truly hundreds of them, if not thousands. Here is a very short list of interesting ones that I have found:
- Cashed out, bought the farm, knocking on heaven’s door, end of the road, kicked the bucket, expired, passed over Jordan, no longer eligible for the census, gone to their eternal resting place, croaked, went to the great beyond, gone to Davy Jones’ locker, six feet under…..
Why is it we can’t use the word? It is as natural as life yet we seem to think if we don’t use the term it won’t happen. We have to make up alternatives to shelter us from the word which we seem to have come to fear. Stop and consider your conversations and the terms that you use. What would happen if you started using that word – death- instead of all the substitutes? Can you even do it? Give it a try. “I went to a funeral as my cousin died last week.” Now how hard was that?
Death is a part of life, not the opposite of it. Birth is the opposite. We are born and then we die, all of which is part of this great thing we call Life. Be honest with yourself when using the terms and be conscious of the message you are sending. This will make it easier for you and others to:
Have ‘The Conversation’
Give ‘The Gift’
M. Jane Markley is a business and health care executive with extensive experience in clinical care, ethics, quality improvement and health IT. She founded M Jane Markley Consulting to help individuals, families, providers, and hospitals and other health care organizations to put in place advance care planning for themselves, their loved ones, and their patients and other key stakeholders.