Monday, 15 February 2010

Passing away

For the last couple of weeks I have been reading death notices. Suddenly, it seems, no one dies. They pass away. Or they pass away peacefully. If they don't pass away, the notices seldom say'Died'. More usually they include a date, which gives the inference of the fact. My friend M, whose husband died a year ago, says she had to insist t the funeral director that the death notice should say 'died' instead of 'passed away'.

What is this sudden fashion, or passion for euphemisms? Is death the ultimate taboo? Evidently expletives no longer have to be deleted, but instead occur every second or third word, irrespective of the subject under discussion. While sexuality is overt and explicit, somehow many people cannot bring themselves to speak clearly and openly about death. I hate euphemisms. Call a spade a spade. Speak of things as they are. Be clear in thought and speech. Birth and death are everyday events: they happen to us all. Birth is generally a source of joy and love, and death is a source of pain, sorrow and grief. Both are real, and don't vanish if ignored.

I like to see what names are given given to or inflicted on innocent babies. As birth notices are often not published in the newspapers as they once were, occasionally I search on line. This week I did so because two nieces had their babies this week. They were given names which to me sound pleasant and normal, quite unlike the crop I discovered on the Internet today -which included Breckin, Trinity Pearl, Minnie Star and Logan Kade.

My sister C, who is the grandmother of these two new baby girls, is the mother of five children, and she now has eight granddaughters and two grandsons. There is another grandchild to come in a few months. I feel quite envious as I don't think there will be any more grandchildren for me. So they tell me. I dote on all my grandchildren, four of whom are boys, and there is only one girl. When she was born, after the first three boys, I was so delighted I cried. I would have liked another granddaughter. (Or another grandson.) Obviously I should have had more children, so as to increase the chances. I expected to have a larger family, and evidently was very fertile. But only half my pregnancies were successful, and I had to plead and argue very strenuously to have my third child. My parents had 23 grandchildren, and to date there are 23 great-grandchildren.

Fertility and reproduction are so intrinsically fascinating. We are hard-wired to become besotted with babies, whether human or animals. Something innate in us realises that having children creates love and tenderness. We can understand the disadvantages and difficulties of having children, but in our innermost souls we know that they bring joy and great emotional satisfaction, and answer our deepest needs.

Look at all the people who flock to the zoo to see the baby elephants. Kittens and puppies enchant most of us. We smile and coo at babies we encounter, and have an urge to soothe an unhappy or fractious baby or small child. When we see a newborn baby, we want, we need to hold and cuddle it, to feel that tiny head and soft snuggly body conform to our bodies, to stroke its back and head, and to drop kisses onto the baby face. There is delight and amazement at every development, the way the baby stops crying (generally) when it is picked up, the way the baby recognises its parents, smiles, laughs, writhes with pleasure in the bath, kicks and rolls over, learns to sit, crawl, stand and walk. Then there is the dawning of intelligence, language and self-expression. Does anyone remember that wonderful sequence in Jacob Broinowski's The Ascent of Man, when the baby rises to its feet and walks? The sense of achievement and the delight in it.

I rather like the old expression for being pregnant - increasing.


Anonymous said...

In Old English, especially heroic poetry, the phrase is 'sent forth his spirit'. A little more poetic, although no less euphemistic. 'Died' does have a certain finality to it. I owe you an email, by the way. I'll try to write it this weekend.

Frogdancer said...

I like the way this post started out talking about death, then morphed into a celebration of life.

Pam said...

Yes, and then there's the worry twenty-something years later when the beloved child is in a long-term relationship with a mostly unemployed actor. (Sigh.)

Meggie said...

It seems we are to be grandparents to only 2 children. I would even be happy to have step grandchildren, but it seems it is not to be.
I agree about death and dying.

Laura Jane said...

I agree with you. Death is death, a state attained through the act of dying. One dies. However I do use euphemism at work sometimes, although I will use the phrase 'has died' fairly early on to make it unambiguous.

And grandchildren, yes, I do look forward to that pleasure although I suspect I won't have many. I only had two children and only one is likely to breed, and not for many years I predict. His Dad was a late starter (36 the year he was born) and he's 24 now.

Increasing....hmmm, nice term, although I also use the term 'expecting' when making an enquiry of someone. Isn't language fun.

persiflage said...

Saffronlie, "Sent forth his spirit" is beautiful, but seems less euphemistic because you send forth your spirit in death and not in life.
Sometimes I think, Isabelle, that it would be good to be able to ordain the course of our children's lives - we did it for many years, of course. But it never works out like that, and neither should it. It is the maternal instincts and experience hanging on there...
And Laura, I agree it is advisable and kind to tailor the words not only to suit the circumstances but also to suit the persons involved. But I became all irate again last week when the newsreader talked about someone passing away. Hackles rose up pretty damn quickly.
I was not fussed about having grandchildren but the instant I was told such an event was being planned, I became absolutely wildly excited. And I suffered greatly and was incredibly anxious while my daughters were in labour. Not that it was any help to them, of course.