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A rose by any other name

Last week my father-in-law died.

A red rose with dew drops

A red rose is beautiful and simple – nothing more is needed to be said.

So it’s been a hard week and I haven’t posted in the meantime.

I also haven’t listened to all the Problogger sessions thus haven’t shared any more ideas nor implemented any myself.

But it has made me think about choices of words and the hidden context of words we sometimes need to be aware of when we communicate to people. Especially to people we may not know well so may not know what context they will use to understand our words.

Similar words convey different messages

The day Tony died, we went to the nursing home he had been in.

A lovely staff member spoke to us and would only refer to Tony passing. She was obviously very uncomfortable with saying someone had died.

Conversely, other people I spoke to during the week commiserated and mentioned people they had lost in the past.

While most of us would understand what someone means with ‘ we lost my father-in-law last week’, it doesn’t feel right to me. At least in part because it reminds me of a comedian routine giving responses such as ‘was he labelled so someone could return him’ and ‘that was careless of you’.

Having written many things for superannuation funds, I have had to write about death (that is, explain their life insurance policies). And again it is interesting how different people react to this topic.

In my usual less-is-generally-best style, I write ‘if you die’. Various fund staff wanted words like ‘in the event of your death’ because it seemed softer or less ‘in your face’.

A few years ago, I interviewed Robyn O’Connell for an article. As well as having written a book on death for children (which I made use of with my children leading up to the funeral), Robyn is a celebrant and has done a lot of work around bereavement.

Robyn was strongly of the belief that saying die/dead is better than any euphemism because it is clear (which appeals to me!) and makes it easier to accept the reality to aid the grieving process.

Choosing the right word

It’s not just about the obvious meaning. We need to choose words that give the right meaning without the incorrect hidden message or the wrong emotional reaction.

What thoughts and feeling do you have to die compared to passed away compared to lost or any other euphemism you know?

Someone calling a rose by another name puts the wrong images into our minds. Of course, if a rose actually had a different name it may be perceived differently – who knows!

I wish I had taken a photo of the roses we had on the coffin on Monday. They were beautiful and would have suited this post perfectly.

But I didn’t think of taking photos during a funeral and wasn’t really in that emotional place anyway.

Interestingly, someone did take photos at the funeral – perhaps not at the church but certainly at the cemetery and wake. I was surprised to see him doing so but not offended by it. How would you feel about someone taking photos in an unexpected setting such as a funeral?

In memory of Tony

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

Tony Brown, Graduation photo, University of Melbourne, 1959

It has been a tough week. And this is where I indulge in something more personal in the form of a mini tribute to a lovely man.

Tony was a gentle man, a very generous man who gave a lot. For one thing, he was president of the E W Tipping Foundation for 21 years. Intelligent and respectful, Tony was a man of few words.

A loving father and grandfather, Tony will be missed by many. The number at his funeral showed that, too.

Rest in peace, Tony.

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