Passed away? Lost? No, died.

*Before I start this one I want to just put a reminder that these are my own feelings about death. I don’t care how others refer to those who have died, but since this is my blog I’m sharing my thoughts.*

Passed away. Lost. Died. Went to Heaven. There are so many different ways to refer to  death. I have some pretty strong feelings on some of them.

Anyone who is friends with me on facebook knows that I usually use the word “died”. I actually did that from the beginning. I think it’s more shocking for people to hear, but in my opinion it’s just more real. I’ve realized that terms like “passed away” and “lost” tend to be more comforting for other people.

When someone says their child passed away it seems more gentle. But why? WHY should a parent be more gentle when talking about something as serious and earth shaking as the death of their child. Who does that help? It helps the person hearing the words but not the person saying the words. I have said it a few times and it just feels wrong. It almost feels like a lie. He didn’t just slip away. His heart stopped and he died. I don’t want to sugar coat that fact so that someone else might be more comfortable.

The other phrase that I haven’t used much is “lost”, as in “I lost my child”. I feel like that one just makes no sense. I didn’t, after all, lose him. I didn’t misplace him. I didn’t get separated from him at an amusement park or mall. Saying that phrase implies that I will find him. I am certain I will see him in Heaven again, but saying I lost him feels just as weird as saying he passed away.

Both of those phrases really seem to focus on making the person that is NOT impacted so much by the loss more comfortable which really is quite screwed up. I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here but I remember the night Gabe died a close friend came to the hospital. That friend had experienced the sudden death of her not yet 2 month old baby. And she told me that over the next days and weeks, and especially at the visitation and funeral, I would be comforting everyone else. And you know what? She was so right. That is exactly how it felt. I think anyone who has had this experience probably knows exactly what I’m talking about. Often when you are standing there, next to the casket, those coming up to express condolences are very upset, and the grieving parents are not crying at all or crying very little. Hug after hug, friend after friend, people express their sorrow and it feels like you are holding things together for them. I think most of it is shock- reality hasn’t set in that early- but it is an interesting phenomenon.

I really think that example combined with our choice of words around death just shows how neat, clean, and sugar coated we think life should be. We don’t like sadness. We don’t like grief. We don’t like situations that we can’t fix. So when something goes wrong we try very hard to make things easier for everyone else- even if we are the one who need everyone else to just be there.

I’m so thankful for all the people who came and expressed their condolences. I’m also extremely thankful for some friends who were truly there- early on and now- who didn’t place any expectations on my grief or seem to need me to sugar coat things for them. Who listened and who didn’t look uncomfortable when I used those words “When Gabe died”. Because he did. He died. And for the rest of my life those words will be true.

Author: griefmom

I am a mom to 3 wonderful boys- 2 on earth and one in heaven. I work for a local hospital helping people learn how to be healthier and access resources. I'm Catholic and have faith that I will one day see my son in heaven. This blog is about my journey- as I figure out who I am in the face of an unimaginable loss. Life is difficult but beauty can be found after the struggles.

5 thoughts on “Passed away? Lost? No, died.”

  1. I love your raw words, Becca. I once heard Kathy Lee Gifford say about the passing of her husband Frank, “Lose him? I didn’t lose him. I know where he is. That still doesn’t change the fact that I miss him and want him here with me.” Grieving is unique to each person who experiences it. Thank you for sharing your journey so openly. Hugs.

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  2. Initial disclaimer- My dad died at 46 from cardiac arrest, on a court, during a tennis tournament. It was painful and after 25 yrs, it is familiar but just as painful. HOWEVER, when I first stood near the edge of that grief with my child, I immediately knew my grandmother was right – the death of a child is a pain for which there is no comparison. Nevertheless, this post was spot-on excellent! The first perfect sentence was “…I don’t care”. It sucks, it is not fair and is not okay that Gabe died. You share all of this perfectly.

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    1. Thank you! It is definitely a different grief. I have friends new to this and friends whose children died many, many years ago. Life changes, in some ways things get better, but the biggest thing I have realized is that you will always miss them. So I think died is really the best term- it communicates a finality that brings with it an endless pain.

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  3. I completely agree with your analysis of why people say those words and also why we should use some of the “harder to hear” words sometimes. If we share our grief openly, it invites others to share openly as well and may stop people from feeling alone in these emotions.
    Thank you for sharing!

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