Against deadly euphemis

When did it become inappropriate to speak in plain language to one another about the realities of living and, more specifically, of dying? Why do sg types (and the evangelical world more broadly) insist on ridiculous euphemisms for death? Is dying and being dead so harsh, blunt, or offensive that it requires the kind of purple prose all too common among religious people? And I’m not talking about “passing away” or “passing on.” Though these bug me and as a matter of personal principle I refuse to use them, they are pretty much pervasive among all kinds of people. No, it’s the funereal equivalent of terms like “glory bumps” that I’m talking about. Instead of dying, someone is “promoted to glory,” as if living is an entry-level position that’s only as good as the death bonus and moving stipend we get when we die. Instead of a funeral or memorial service, “a home-going celebration” is held, as if living is the RV of eternity. Imagine if the scripture read: “He who believeth in me, though he passeth on, yet shall he be promoted to glory in a home-going celebration.” I understand the logic here, such as it is. For Christians who believe in the literal, eternal paradise of heaven for the redeemed spirit, death is supposed to be a blessing and a celebration. Fine. It’s one thing to find consolation in the eternal security of a dead friend or family member. This is natural for people of faith, and can be a source of great poetry, as that wonderful line in “I Will Find You Again” demonstrates: “I was there when you crossed over / to the dying part of living” (a brilliant bit of lyrical compression that captures the way death is both the end point of natural living and the beginning of the soul’s afterlife). It’s entirely another thingto substitute an artificial language of euphoria for the realer experience of ambivalence that surrounds most deaths. Often a sense of relief and release, especially for those who have endured prolonged illness or other protracted suffering, mingles with the genuine grief and loss we feel at the death of anyone near us (”I Will Find You Again” is so powerful, I think, precisely because it captures this ambivalence perfectly). But let us not demean the cosmic magnitude of spiritual eternity or the solemnity of burial rites - to say nothing of the life of the dead person - with mawkishly indirect language. No matter how badly we want to believe that faith held strongly enough can steel us against the emotional costliness of death, it hurts. People die. Then they are dead. And that is painful. The least we can do is talk about honestly.

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