"Passed away, gone to be with the Lord, expired, departed, went home".
These are all very nice euphemisms for the ‘D-word.’
"It was God’s will. Time will heal. Everything happens for a reason. You’re young so just try again. God needed an angel to tend his garden. At least she's not in pain anymore. At least you have others at home".
Yet, more euphemisms intended to comfort the bereaved. I don’t like death euphemisms. I prefer to tell the truth. My daughter died and I don’t like Death for taking her from me. Often, my frankness affronts others.
Death was an abstract entity before Chey's death in 1994. I knew that Death was a part of life, yet somehow, its potential soiree in my life seemed too comfortably distant for reality. Frankly, I rather feared Death, avoiding discussions about Him. Once in awhile, I would hear a story about a friend’s parent who died and I would think to myself, “One day, Joanne, mom and dad are going to die. You'll have to face it one day.” But my insulated idealism quickly hurried the reality of Death out the back door.
Naïve? Perhaps so, but it is oh so comfortable.
Then, Death found me. He knocked on my door, not concerned with justice. Or timing. Without thought to the crime He was about to commit. Death came, and He left me in the carnage. And, instead of minding proper order, He violated every righteous law of nature and took my little girl one hot summer day. I tried to fight. I kicked and screamed. I hated Death and begged Him to leave her and take me instead. I negotiated everything I had. To no avail. I lost myself in the war.
I did not even recognize myself in the muddy waters of grief. I was hollowed. Every cell in my body ached for her presence. Like Gretel, I collected crumbs, trying to find my way through the darkest forest I’d ever faced. And before I knew it, the minutes turned to days and days to weeks and weeks to years. I’m often not certain how I survived. I’m not certain that I did survive.
Seven years passed, and my mother suddenly died. I felt like Death was taunting me again. I watched my mother die as we disconnected the tubes that forced air into her lungs. I thought about many things as she was dying. I thought about how much I'd miss her- and I missed her for my children. I thought of how thankful I felt to have had 65 years with her. I thought about how much my father was going to miss her. I thought about Chey and wondered if she’d be there to greet her grandmother. I thought about how unfair it was that Death and I had to dance once again. Then, yes, again, five years to the day after my mother's death, it was my father's turn. I felt orphaned.
What wreckage Death had brought.
It has now been nearly 5,600 days since I buried my little girl. But love does not decompose as flesh. Edges from her photographs are worn from too much handling and the colors are fading but my love for her transcends time. At times, I juxtapose scenes from our two worlds, and I imagine the moment when I will see her again. I am not sure what follows this life but I believe that something does.
So while this was not a path of my choice, it is a path I must walk with careful consideration. And as time passes, I have discovered new meanings and insights about her death, and more importantly, her life. She has taught me that love is unconditional, that you cannot sit back and watch injustice; that Death is not to be feared because love is much, much bigger and stronger; that it is okay to dance in the rain; that time is merely perception; that one person can truly change the world; that kindnesses last forever; and that words really can ‘break bones.’
Euphemisms don’t ease the suffering of the bereaved. Telling someone that “God has a plan” or that “They’re in a better place” is often not helpful to many grieving people. Until society starts really talking about Death, using the dreaded d-word, and facing the realization that one day we’ll all deal with it, we won’t get any better at offering compassion, comfort, and camaraderie to those in grief.
So, in the hope that I can help another, I simply say, “My daughter died and I don’t like it. Nor will I ever accept it. Tell me your grief story and I’ll share your pain.”