Power of euphemisms to cover death

Euphemisms are easy to use and give us a quick way of speaking that saves time, are readily understood, allow us to be funny about serious topics and sometimes protect us from hurtful reality.

The example that has grabbed my attention recently is the euphemisms we use for death. We have many: passed, passed away, passed on, passed over, croaked it, carked it, lost him, shuffled off this mortal coil, fell off the twig, kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies, in a better place, bought it, bought the farm, resting in peace, been taken, checked out, no longer with us, etc..

Each of these terms is designed to avoid have to say “dead”, or “died”. And they allow us to be humorous about it without being irreverent or disrespectful.

They also keep us from the emotional reality of sadness, anger and grief that we feel if we let ourselves feel the reality of the death of someone we have come close to or know, or for whom we have a feeling reaction. The terms above are cover words for death. They cover it up so we don’t have to feel the pain and hurt of losing someone we love in death or being reminded of our own mortality by hearing of the death of another person. The illusion of immortality or amortality perhaps (the ignoring of death) is something we all live with and hold on to. To live with the constant awareness of our own death takes phenomenal courage and concentration which mystics can manage. However, mere mortals like you and me struggle to maintain the awareness that we will die, that we will have a specific death at a specific time and that it will end our lives and the relationships we have with everyone who we value and cherish will be ended. Even if we have belief in a life after death our relationships as we know them will be ended. The faith that there is a life after death allows you to believe that the relationships you have will be ended and re-created or at least changed. It won’t be the same.

Euphemisms about death are sometimes necessary but we need to be able to use the real words at important times so that we can maintain a link to the very real pain of sadness and anger which are the common feeling reactions to the death of someone we love. Sadness is important for us to be able to feel because it tells us that we love, value, cherish people who we have become close to and do not want to lose in our lives. Sadness is also important for its ability to show us how to live then in relation to those we love and value, i.e., so if we feel sad about a friend’s death, maybe we need to visit/contact/call our friends more. Feeling our sadness gives us choices so we can live in integrity with our values.

Anger is important to feel because it tells us we feel threatened and in danger. If we don’t feel these important feelings because we use euphemisms and “protect” ourselves from feelings about death (and probably about many aspects of life) then we can make decisions that are not good for us, we live defensively, avoidant and blocked off from what is real in our lives. We can get so used to this that it seems real instead and so the painful void in us seems like that is all life is really about.

Using euphemisms for death, covers up an important reality of our lives and the lives of those we love, can keep us away from our feelings and so we miss out on recognising how out of sync with our values we have become.