What’s Passed is Past
Just the other day I was asked about a particular use of language of mine. I prefer to use the term “passed away,” and this person had noticed that. Hardly ever, even when I write here, do I use the words “dead,” “died,” “death” or their similarly short synonyms.
It’s not mean-spirited. It’s personal preference and I don’t normally put this much thought into the things that come out of my keyboard or the point of my pen. I write what I feel and that’s a very important thing.
This one wasn’t too hard to address, though.
I use the phrase “passed away” first and foremost because it’s less jarring. You might read that as less difficult as well.
“Dead” sounds just so . . . final. It’s dead. There’s a dead-letter office which applies to things sent in the mail that have no address and no way of understanding their ultimate destination. To the world in general they are dead, final, complete and utter removal. It’s a hard word to use when you’re describing someone you love . . . and I use the present tense there on purpose: love.
“Passed Away” is a phrase that’s not just more subtle than “dead.” It’s also, with just two words, a perfect description.
“Passed” implies they pass from one world to the next. It may be there is no other world, there are atheist friends of mine that would believe that, I suppose. I hope that’s not the case, but even if it is there’s a small defect in that description anyway. They aren’t, as the old letter office implies, “dead” to us. They remain, whether in memory, or organs donated or DNA added to their children or books they’ve read to you as a kid. The life they led with us is still an influence which means, however hard we try, they remain. Sometimes we wish that wasn’t the case. Others it’s a delightful surprise when we remember them.
“Passed” also implies that they don’t immediately leave us. When someone passes away, like my wife Andrea did in 2011, you don’t immediately act like the life you led with them is over. I remember when something would happen – good or bad – shouting Andrea’s name in order to tell her what it was. It was the strange silence that made me realize she wasn’t going to answer. Even then, I’d think about what she’d say.
In the days, weeks, and months after you lose someone you still walk around like they’re part of your life. In my case, she was part of every day. Every breath, meal, drink, the paint colors on our walls, the pictures hanging in the kitchen . . . all of those things are items we chose and put there together. Seeing them is, in a way, seeing her. The fact that she was enmeshed with nearly everything, around every corner, made it very, very painful.
But eventually the pain passes. The horrible, terrible feeling of what happened and missing them passes with it. You still love them. You never stop loving them. The feelings you felt for that person don’t diminish you just learn to live with them. The people are gone and eventually the memories of every single day around them start to pass, too.
So I use the phrase “passed away.” It’s not meant to imply others should avoid “death” or “dead.” It’s because this is what makes sense to me.
Like the memories and the events that sear them into our brain and our subconscious, time passes. Each minute, then day, then week, month and year that has progressed has been one that saw the painful moments pass with time’s ticking clock.
But the things that pass are the past. The love and the memories…those remain.