The Last Taboo?

Something I’ve been dying to write about.

This touching post on the Seeker blog reminded me, perhaps unsurprisingly, of the death of my own mother. She died in hospital, not unexpectedly but that is for another posting I think. What struck me more recently was how we refer to death or, rather, how we try to avoid referring to it or at least avoid using the word. We have come up with all sorts of euphemisms to avoid actually having to say he is dead, or she has died. A few examples I can immediately think of are:

* Passed away
* Expired,
* Release
* Eternal rest
* Long sleep

and these are just a few of many, many more, tens, maybe more than a hundred ways of saying someone has died, without actually saying it.

Death i,s it seems, or the word DEATH seems, to be the last great taboo, at least here in the ‘civilised’, developed world. It is what no one wants to talk about. It makes people (you?) uncomfortable and they try to change the subject. When I received the phone call from the hospital for Mum’s death, the nurse said she had ‘passed away’ and when I talked with the undertaker he spoke in a similar manner. I think that only my brother and one of Mum’s friends actually said died. “I am sorry to hear you Mother has died”. Everyone else found some way of not saying died, dead or death.

Why are died, dead and death, and talking about death such a taboo subject?

Making a will, to say how your estate and effects should be distributed after death, makes it much easier for a family to deal with a death, and removes many legal complications and wrangles. Most people know this, I believe, but making a will means they have to think about their (your) own death, which people do not want to do. Yet death is the only absolute certainty in life from the day we are born. It is just a question of when.

It is my experience from chatting to people I know, that those who have a faith, of any religion or denomination, are more sanguine and more willing to talk about death than those who have no faith. There is no study, survey or science behind this, it is just what I think based on people I know. People of faith seem not only more willing to talk about death, without trying to skirt the issue, but they also seem less concerned about their own mortality; they are more anxious about the manner of their dying than of the death itself.

Life, to a big extent, follows some kind of a plan, albeit very loose. We are born, we play as children, we are educated as adolescents, we work as adults and we retire as we get older. Somewhere in there we die, usually and hopefully only after the ‘get older’ bit. The trouble is, we never know when death will come, it is something we cannot plan for.

Isn’t it time we killed off this particular taboo?

“Death come to everyone, but in Mort’s case he offered him a job”
From Mort, the fourth Discworld novel, by Terry Prattchet.


2 thoughts on “The Last Taboo?

  1. jandws Post author

    Thank you Rachel for a considered answer, that makes perfect sense when dealing with someone who is bereaved. I guess for someone who is perhaps less sensitive about using the word, it comes down to how well you might know and understand someone you know for whom a person they care about has died.

  2. Rachel Jeffreys

    I don’t find it hard to say the word ‘died’ EXCEPT when saying someone I am close to has recently died. This is because I am still forming an acceptance of it. At first it is too hard to accept and then it is too hard to contemplate. But when I have reached a stage where I can both accept that it is true and think about it without bursting automatically into tears THEN I can say it. Not only can I say ‘died’ but I can also hear it; up to this point it is difficult to hear too. Therefore, I would be weary about using the word ‘died’ around someone recently bereaved until I heard them say it.


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