Saturday, April 21, 2018
Human Interest

'Dying' is just not good enough anymore

Every day in America, folks buy the farm.

Some cash in their chips, kick the bucket, croak, bite the dust.

Others enter into eternal life, make their transition, go home to be with the Lord.

It's becoming less common to just, you know, die.

• • •

The St. Petersburg Times publishes obituaries every day. Since families pay for the service, they may say just about anything they like.

That means Mr. Kibble the Pomeranian can be listed as a survivor next to actual, less furry grandchildren. Or the chorus to Free Bird can replace grandchildren altogether.

And it means you'll see less of the nasty four-letter bomb that starts and ends with a "D." From the Times' recent obituary pages, here's a sample of how people, uh, turned up their toes:

Passed; passed away; passed peacefully; passed away peacefully in his sleep; left us peacefully on his way to our Lord and Savior; went to Glory; departed this life; left this life and moved onto his next life; was called home by his heavenly father; is now soaring with the angels; has taken her place in Heaven; was promoted to glory; made her homegoing; slipped away from us; breathed her last.

And this:

BROWN, John Winston 85, of St. Petersburg checked out on April 24, 2008.

Initially, he passed away. But that didn't feel right, said Debbie Brown, who wrote her father's obituary with one of his friends.

"As soon as it came out of our mouths, we were like, no. He 'checked out.' "

Her father was deliberate in choosing words that were interesting. He didn't talk to fill air.

"He would make his point, but he would do it in this way that would incorporate humor and wit," said Debbie, 43. "By saying 'checked out,' we weren't looking to take away any kind of sting, because there wasn't one. The whole process of writing the obit was a very warm and wonderful experience."

• • •

People have been dropping off the twig for a long time.

When God cursed Adam for his sins, he put it like this: "For dust you are, and to dust you shall return."

Shakespeare's Hamlet speaks of "when we have shuffled off this mortal coil." Macbeth: "Out, out, brief candle." And English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: "Be near me when my light is low . . . And all the wheels of Being slow."

John Cleese purchased a rigid parrot from a pet shop on Monty Python's Flying Circus:

"This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet his maker! This is a late parrot! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies! It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! This is an ex-parrot!"

• • •

In the days before modern medicine, people were more intimately acquainted with crossing Jordan. Families gathered around and watched their elders greet the reaper. Then they eighty-sixed chickens for dinner.

The more we avoid thinking about the big sleep, the more numb we become, said Michael Knox, a University of South Florida professor who has taught courses about, um, blank and blanking.

"We go about our daily lives with a sense of commitment to the future," Knox said. "It wouldn't be helpful if people were dwelling on death all the time and knowing that they can die any minute. It's totally out of their control, and that leads to a cultural denial."

Spiritual euphemisms — crossed over, entered eternal life — can be comforting to those who believe existence continues after we leave our earthly vessels.

"When the culture believes there is something after death, it keeps them going," Knox said.

Each semester, he asked his students to shout bite-the-dust metaphors. He'd keep a list on the blackboard: left us; laid to rest; perished; found everlasting peace.

Avoidance is so deeply ingrained, he pointed out, it stretches to the sympathy card rack. "It's not very often you see, Sorry your father died."

• • •

HEFFNER, Betty Jane 84 of St. Petersburg died Saturday, May 24, 2008 at Hospice House Woodside.

Betty had a straight-shooting personality, said her son, Charles Heffner. When her time came, he never thought to write flowery expressions in her obituary.

It's simple, really.

"I used the word because that's what she did."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.

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