That Word: Dead

Not DeadNow. When the landscape is greening up and wildflowers are in bloom, and forsythia and redbud trees spray the streets with vibrant color. When everything is bursting alive, blooming, and blossoming. This is the time to discuss the problem many of us face concerning the use of that four-letter word we all avoid: DEAD.

Dead, as in, my daughter is dead. My father is dead. Dead Children.
As opposed to saying, She is no longer with us, or, He is on the other side. Or, They earned their angel wings. She’s transitioned. Deceased. Extinct. Expired. He kicked the bucket, went to his eternal home. She passed away. He is departed. They are gone.

In his poem Away, James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) wrote,
     I cannot say and I will not say
     That he is dead. He is just away!

It seems it’s just too painful to use the word ‘dead’ when speaking about a deceased loved one. People cringe. They say it feels too final, too harsh. Cold. It’s upsetting and uncomfortable. All this distress over the little word ‘dead.’ I didn’t even say ‘corpse’ or ‘cadaver.’

My daughter is not “just away!” Don’t try to tell me she is gone; she regularly pops up in my dreams and I talk to her every day. And my father, dead eight years now, still makes me quiver whenever I spend more than fifty dollars.

It is no crime to be dead. It is no affront to polite conversation to mention that word. If I say ‘dead daughter’ or ‘dead father’ I don’t mean to torture anyone. But because of people’s unease, I recently changed the title of my manuscript (still not ready for querying) from Duets With My Dead Daughter to Duetting. With my Daughter. Who Died.

It’s easier on our delicate psyches to say, or hear, my daughter died. That doesn’t feel like I’m defining her. It simply states something she did. She did a lot of things. She drove me crazy, she lived like she had only an hour left, she changed my life. She died. No one in the world loves my daughter more than I do, but the reality is: Marika is dead. So I’m gonna learn to love that word even if it kills me.

What words do you use to say your loved one is dead? What do you think of my new title?

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7 thoughts on “That Word: Dead

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I like the first title, but then I’m at ease saying Vic is dead. I know he isn’t gone because he’s in my dreams every week (and last night) and in my thoughts every day. I still work things out with him when I question what to do. The word “dead” doesn’t mess around. It says it like it is. And that’s my two cents. Keep playing that duet.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Elaine, I love you. The word ‘dead’ definitely does not mess around. I’ve got a lot more to learn. I’m trying to talk and write about it because I’m still working things out. I just wish it sounded more gentle on the tongue, and not so close to ‘dud’ and ‘dread.’

  2. Gladys Botie

    Incidentally — I think you know I am not happy with the new tittles for your manuscript. I think your first thought was inspiring for what you wanted to say. “In the Wake of Marika” is not really about her demise — but how you managed to rise above the tragedy and adhered to her well thought out solution of “Ma! Get a life!”.

  3. Gladys Botie

    For all who feel apprehension at the word and its connotation — let me offer John Donne’s thoughts from his sonnet — “Death Be Not Proud –“. For most of us who have lost a loved one — surely we can say “Gone, — but not forgotten!”. The power of the word does not defeat memories. Even the bad ones persist and live in our hearts and in our minds.

  4. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, I love your old title. Yet I can understand how an adjective defines a state of being: “dead,” whereas a verb: “to die” is an action, implying something we do. So I understand your concern with using the word. I think I tend to say, when asked, “my mother died, my father died, my husband died,” rather than “they are all dead.”

    Once, when upset while filling out forms at the doctor’s office for my husband, the form asked about the health of his parents and siblings, and I wrote across the page: THEY ARE ALL DEAD!

  5. Lucy Bergström

    Oh, that awful word, dead! It carries dread with it, it rhymes with dread! The sting is taken out when it’s used in the past tense, as a verb: died. I like your use of “my daughter who died”, it says it without the punch in the gut.
    It used to be that all of us had many more deceased parents, siblings, spouses, children than we do now. It was more natural and I’m sure no one had any trouble talking about death, since everyone went around with a cherished brother or parent they had grown up without. Now we have a (very unrealistic) expectation that medical science can postpone our death almost endlessly! We expect to have all our siblings in our lives until we’re all old. My mom, 96, still has her siblings, who are 92 and 88! They all look terrific, too! My siblings are all still around, knock on wood, though we have more ailments between us than in my mother’s generation. None of us have lost a child, but many people have, to meaningless things like traffic deaths. Motorcycles have carried many reckless youths straight to heaven. My ex once rode his motorcycle without shoes, shirt or helmet from Ithaca to Philadelphia! He survived, thank God, but many have lost it on a sharp curve.
    Marika lived so fully, despite the grueling reality of her leukemia. She still surprises you with childhood drawings that reveal her undying love. Hey, undying! Great word!

  6. Jacqueline Preston

    Hi Robin. I know exactly what you mean. I usually just say, “My daughter is in Heaven”.


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