Never Say “Died”

Everybody wants to hear the truth, but everybody wants to tell a lie. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” Don Nix

Great news. The death rate is plummeting.


When was the last time you heard someone “died?” Think hard. People no longer die. They “pass.”

Oh, the word “died” is still around. For now. I read the obits today. There were, scattered among those who had “passed” “passed away” “passed on” “was called to God” “has gone to join the angels” and other such joyous experiences, a few people who had actually “died.”

Everywhere, however, in conversations, movies, news broadcasts, newspapers, when someone ceases to be alive, they have not died. They have “passed away,” or worse, just “passed.”

Call me nuts, but whenever I hear this euphemism for the most unappealing and irreversible event in human experience, my stomach turns.

Am I out of touch with some new etiquette? Not according to the queen of etiquette herself, Miss Manners. In a recent column (March 24, 2022 issue of The Washington Post.) she assured us “dead” is not (yet) on her official no-no list.

I’m sure choosing which term to use for someone’s demise seems nit-picky to most people. After all, we employ all sorts of substitute words to describe unpleasantries. Think “intellectually or physically challenged” instead of “retarded” or “handicapped,” “big boned” instead of “fat,” “between jobs” instead of “fired,” “running behind” instead of “late.” Such softened terms spare the person in question embarrassment or derogation.

Death, though, is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to the best of us.

As for religiously tinged idioms, I employ them myself. “God bless you” for a sneeze or “thank God” to express relief.

I’m OK with most of these and with most verbal reality sweeteners, but, at least when it’s wandering through my own mental labyrinth, “passed” feels like a different animal. The religious references in most idioms are often not taken literally, but, whether you realize it or not, “passed” is not a mere figure of speech nor merely a way of softening the sting of death.

It’s in a category of its own, a complete denial of the finality of death with the imposition of a particular religious belief system thrown in for good measure.

Maybe I’m being a bit too touchy about it. If so, it’s because I’ve had it up to the eyeballs with fundamentalist Christians insinuating their version of reality more and more into our laws and other aspects of secular life. The demise of “died” in favor of “passed” strikes me as but one more reminder that if many of these people had their way we’d be living in an autocratic Christian theocracy.

There’s a more compelling reason, though, why I recoil at this trend.

Death, when seen as a finality, is not all bad–as long as we look at it in the right way.

First of all, sad though it is, there are times it can be a blessing for both the deceased and their kin.

More important, acknowledging that death is final imparts more value to life and to our ties with loved ones. It motivates us to do better, to squeeze all the juice we can out of the gift of life that, against all probability, fate bestowed on us. In this sense, to deny its finality is to deprive ourselves of an excellent motivator along the path to self-actualization.

If the popular Christian vision of an afterlife were actually the case, an endless church service in a place devoid of discomfort, challenges, goals or conflicts, what kind of an eternity would that be? It would mean eternal imprisonment in a place so boring it might make life without parole in federal prison seem appealing.

If folks really believe that heaven exists and is such a great place, why are they wearing seat belts, bike helmets, using ropes when they go rock climbing, putting on parachutes when they jump out of airplanes? Someone who truly believes in heaven yet chooses to spend one more minute in this messed up earthly existence is akin to a billionaire deciding to live in Hoboken when they can easily afford a penthouse on Park Avenue.

Personally, in the certainty that the alternative is complete oblivion, I’ll opt for sticking around this vale of tears as long as possible .

I wish you all good health and long life, but should you die ahead of me, count on me to never refer to your death as a “passing.” You will have properly “died.” And, by the way, I will feel really, really sad about it.

And if the shoe is on the other foot, your saying I “died,” along with calling my funeral a “funeral” and not a “celebration of life” would be much appreciated.

That is, it would be if it could be, but knowing I won’t be in a position to express my gratitude at the time, I hereby extend my heartfelt thanks in advance.


  1. OMGoodness! (As some people like to say instead of bringing God into it.) You’ve hit on my mother’s biggest peeves. We always say died instead of passed to this day! Lots of people say “ my dog has passed over the rainbow bridge.“ Instead of my dog died. So this is where I kind of draw the line because I know how emotional it is when you lose a dog or another furry family member. OK, so I kind of go along with the rainbow bridge sometimes. (does that make me a hypocrite?)


    PS. We called my mom “Mrs. language person“ because she had a lot of pet peeves. It used to drive her crazy when she heard the Winston cigarette commercial. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” To this day I always hear her say: “the word is “as” not “like.” I see the dictionary now it uses like so they’ve amended the rule.

    If only people would say the word voilà right instead of Wala, that’s my biggest peeve.


  2. I say “died”
    most of the time unless I’m telling someone the news and if I don’t know how religious they are , I say “passed”.

    By the way, think a whole blog on ignorant a—holes polluting our lives could provide a lot fodder. Maybe, you could come up with a kinder description. I certainly can’t.


  3. Norm, you continue to make me happy as you speak the truth when others are afraid to. I often have to write a past guest of our cabins a consolation when their dog or loved one dies. I stumble on whether to use the word I prefer versus softening it as if they don’t know their dog or human died! I just checked the obituary that I wrote for my father, and I am pleased to see that I announced his death. That’s what it was, after a very good life.


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