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Friday, May 8. 2009
You used to just plain peter out at 68 or 79 or 93 but, after 1951, the law changed and some Doc had to make up a cause to put on the death certificate. A proximate cause, plus additional lines to fill in for contributing causes/underlying causes of death. (Imagine what that change did to disease stats!) More many more little-known facts about death.
Old time Docs knew that people died when they got old and rickety or had a bum ticker or some nasty growths. You plumb wear out eventually, and it is just a matter of which internal doohickey crapped out first. It was considered sort-of natural, and not a medical issue.
And, when folks died, they either said "They died" or "They ascended to their Maker" or "Went to their eternal reward." They did not say "They passed" (what a strange expression - passed what? New Agey-sounding, isn't it? Took a pass on more life, or what? Passed into the Spirit World?) or "passed away," as the relentlessly euphemistic funeral home people used to say. Like they aren't dead: they just sort of floated away past the 7-11 and the Pontiac dealership and the Pizza Hut to somewhere else.
Maybe to the lovely Mall in the Sky.
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I agree! What is up with "He passed."? Passed the life exam?
I admit to laughing at the funny euphemisms about dying, but the way people cannot bring themselves to say, "He died." is beyond me.
I've always wondered, too, why most people have such a hard time saying someone "died." Though there's a lot to be said for some of those Monty Python expressions: "joined the Choir Unseen," "pushin' up daisies."
About the cause of death: when medicine is in such a state that it can't address most degenerative disease, there's not a lot of point in getting specific. These days, medicine is well up to the task of repairing damage that used to be a rapid death sentence. It makes sense to me that the reporting got more specific when this happened. As things are now, if a person dies at 70 of heart failure, it's not an inevitable process, it's a result of a specific disease that might easily have been prevented or cured in many instances. It's true, of course, that if you live long enough without any particular system breaking down first, eventually you'll sort of fall apart in numerous simultaneous ways like the one-hoss shay.
When it's my time to go, I'll simply have a change of address.
The first few times I heard *passed*, the speaker was southern and black. I thought it was shorthand for "passed to the other side." Here in northern Indiana, we say passed away. I thought it sounded normal until I read this post!
SAME HERE BUT THE SPEAKER WASN'T SOUTHERN. I UNDERSTOOD ANYWAY, HOWEVER I'TS SAID, I'TS EASY TO FIGURE OUT IF YOU'RE REALLY LISTENING.
Just this morning I said to Barber Ben, "We buried Dad in 2001." I hope he understood that Dad was dead before we took that action.
Expired. Jappy your mother has expired. I never heard it said that way before. It was at nite, over the phone. My mother spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home. I just figured maybe that was a policy of the home, or something.
I kind of dislike all these euphemisms for death. In our family, we have always said, "your mother died this morning. Your father died last night." Stark ... but clear. One of my favorite on-TV schticks on the subject was Redd Foxx, grabbing his chest and looking skyward and yelling. "This is the Big One, Elizabeth ... the Big One. You hear me."
At least if was funny at the time. But I was a lot younger then. Not quite so funny now, especially with Obama's Universal Healthcare Rationing looming on the horizon.
It all depends on the moment, the circumstances, the closeness, the immediate impact.
I was twelve when I had to deliver the news to my step-asshole that his father had died. I probably didn't handle it as well as I could have.
Later on it was immediate and obvious. Nothing to do but sixty seconds of mourning.
Now later yet... it's life. Call it what you will, but it is the end of it.
I have to admit I was a bit startled to hear my 91-year-old father talk about when his mother "croaked." But it was refreshing, too.
My mother was very cool about dying. She had a bunch of friends in the retirement home in Charleston - all very much ladies, typical of the low country - and they were really funny. Whenever one of them would buy something like a new dress and show up in the dining room wearing it, compliments abounded and the wearer would say, as if she shouldn't have spent the money, "Well, you know.... I think this will see me out." It became the leitmotif for just about any purchase or a winning hand in poker - "Oh goody, this should see me out."
I went down to help my mom, and one night she asked me to find a nice outfit to see her out. I walked into her closet and put on a really crazy outfit and some high heels and did the catwalk walk out of the closet, did a few turns, walked the walk out of her room and back in all with this aloof look on my face. She'd say something funny like, "I'm not so sure about the color.... it makes me look wan." I'd go for another outfit and do the same routine - always with a different purse that had a Depends in it. Part of the 'show' was to smile and open the purse and pull out the Depends. My god, my mother laughed so hard that we'd weep with the silliness. My father thought we were nuts and shook his head when I modeled a coat with a Depends in every pocket. He wasn't much for the crazy sense of humor the rest of us have, but he was glad for my mom's laughing. So was I. I was lying beside her telling her really funny stories of our childhoods when she saw herself out, and I know she left happy. She was probably chuckling about those 'damned' Depends that she'd cussed for a few years. I didn't cry. I think all the laughter bolstered me up. And she made it so easy. What a fine lady she was. I did get 100% amnesia about ten minutes after she died. I think it lasted about six hours.
I remember reading that Lady Bird Johnson joked that she didn't even buy green bananas any more.
Meta, what a great story!
I recently found my g-g-grandfather's death certificate. He lived in a very small town in Wisconsin, having come to the U.S. from Norway in his mid- 50s. He died at 98 and the doctor signing the certificate noted he died of "old age, but I haven't seen him in 16 years as he hated me."
7 So much for recycling: Burials in America deposit 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid—formaldehyde, methanol, and ethanol—into the soil each year. Cremation pumps dioxins, hydrochloric acid, sulphur dioxide, and carbon dioxide into the air.
And that's what's causing global warming, all you hippy "I wanna be cremated" people.
Ever since I read "The American Way of Death," I've been telling my family not to have me embalmed.
I am confident, though not certain, that "passed" originated from the death and funeral customs & language of black America, way back when.
In my experience (53 years in southern America), "passed away" has been used almost exclusively to refer to death by natural causes, but not by accident or intention on someone else's part. Thus, someone killed in an auto wreck is not said to have passed away, nor someone murdered or killed in warfare. They were "killed," they did not "pass away."
Yet - to gum up the works even further - "passed" (contra "passed away") is usually used generically to refer to "died," no matter the reason or cause. Generally, white folk do not use "passed" at all, again, in my experience.
Meta dear ... I love that story about your Mom. She knew. If you don't keep laughing about what's coming down the road, you'll die of fright. And who wants that. Better to die with a smile on your face and in your heart.
Thank you Meta, for telling that.