A/N I started this post a week or two ago, but thought it would be taken as offensive. But I read a couple of things since, including Nancy’s Point and some horrible comments on Huffington Post that have renewed my desire to speak out to explain why, for me, sugarcoating death is so repugnant. Please click the link and read Nancy’s post, as well as the other post she links by Dr. Wosnick. Those are much nicer, more eloquent thoughts than the ones I express here. What I’ve written here still is a bit offensive, I even offend myself with it, but I think the topic is worth discussing.
No I do not mean dirty words like the f-word or the b-word (you know I have no problem just putting those actual words in here). But I meant death/dead/die.
It is strange that we avoid saying dead or died, yet, at least here in this rural area in which I live, some mourn quite publicly for a long time, perhaps morbidly so. On any given day I drive down a road and see at least one car with one of those “In loving memory” stickers, complete with date of birth and date of death. Or I see those tiny imitation grave sites that develop at the site of a car crash, off to the side of the road, complete with flowers, pictures and other kinds of things one puts at a tombstone (I assume other trinkets are also at a grave site) . So, those who engage in this very public mourning and memorializing are acknowledging quite obviously that the loved one is dead…yet in conversations many would say “so & so passed away”? In the example of the stickers on cars, it looks like an advertisement that the person is dead, but no one will actually say “so & so died”.
Why do we avoid saying “so & so died”? We say we lost someone, or they went to the light, into that good night or—hell I’m guilty of it too, I once said right here on this blog someone was “gone”—as if he just went to the store for milk or something. See how quickly my mind changed about the euphemisms? Lost is the one that really disturbs me, because in my literal mind, I may know that the person is dead, and I immediately assume the body was misplaced.
I find these euphemisms silly, and annoying. I especially hate them in Cancer World, where there are combined with the warrior/military language. Given the fact that both here on my blog and in real life I’ve been called “honest”, “candid”, and “direct”, is it really any surprise that I say any of this?
Or is it just in Cancer Land that the battle phrase is used? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say their friend/loved one “lost their battle” to heart disease, to stroke, to complications from surgery, to old age (although many of us wage war on that one, don’t we, with our make-up, night creams, etc.?). Although I will say I often hear someone had a heart attack. “Is he ok?”, “No, he passed.” See, no d-word again.
But of course, the battle language of cancer must be upheld, and it is all part of the blame-the-patient package. The patients must be responsible for all aspects of their special cancer…their poor diet/drinking/not having kids caused cancer in the first place, and in the event of death, it is NOT due to the treatments not being effective enough, oh no, it must be because the patient had a bad attitude and/or did not fight hard enough, therefore making him/her a loser.
The reason I insist we need to say the d-words is because it needs to be up-front-and-in-your- face that cancer kills, in an active, personal away. To say one of us lost the battle, like we are bad soldiers, is an insult. It has been said before and I simply parrot it here: I’m NOT a soldier although I suspect my body is a battlefield in which cancer and treatment fought one another bitterly. I was just kind of…there, getting the environmental impacts, like a scarred landscape for instance.
Like Nancy’s mother I do not want the obituary to say I passed away after the battle with cancer (although I do not presume to know why she said that or what she wanted instead). If I die of cancer before I reach the average age at which American women die, then it is cancer that killed me and I want that known. I want it known that cancer killed me, that medicine and lack of research into prevention failed me, I did not fail in the war.
So for me, no passing away, no losing of any battles, no raging against the dying of the light. Death from cancer is not the time for poetic language, if I’m the one doing the dying.