Updated: Jul 12, 2020
I’ve never liked saying that my dad passed away. I’ve said it before. I’ve said it over and over and over again—or I feel like I have anyways—and every time it comes out of my mouth, something inside me winces. It feels like a lie. He didn’t “pass away.” He died.
He did the last thing any of us is ever going to do. He died and that’s the reality of it. But “dead,” and “died,” and “death,” are all harsh words—even their mouthfeel is mildly unpleasant—and people don’t like to hear them. So instead, my dad “passed away.” An ephemeral action. Like he was just passing through life, got to the end, and now is away somewhere. He passed away through some wall the rest of us haven’t come to yet. It’s a metaphor I don’t like—even if it’s somewhat appropriate.
I want it to be less strange for me to say that he died three and a half months ago or four months ago or however much time ago; I’m going to be saying some variation of that phrase for the rest of my life. I don’t want to soften the blow for strangers or friends or acquaintances. Nothing softened the blow for me when he left (another variation on “passed away”) so why do I feel obligated to do anyone else some sort of courtesy? That’s unkind of me really, but I don’t care.
My dad died on July 27, 2015. He died and now his place in the world is growing over and the living are moving on because they have to. I don’t think all of us really want to—no matter how terrible that hospital room was in the end. We move forward because life does—and I want to move forward a little more on my own terms.
I want to say that “my dad died and now things are different.” I’m not going to add that last part on hardly ever—it’s implied after all—but I am going to try and stick to “he died.” Because that’s what happened. Or that’s what I personally felt happened. I’m never going to deny anyone else’s right to say “passed away” if it feels right to them.
I think I seem callous sometimes wanting to embrace the word “died.” But grief never looks the way you think it’s going to, and I can tell you right now that it doesn’t feel the way you think it’s going to either. I think some people take issue with or don’t understand statements or actions that don’t line up with their preconceptions of bereavement. But those statements and actions all contain truth.
So what if the truth is callous sometimes? Or often even? At least it’s the truth.