It is Palliative Care Week in Australia – a time to pause and reflect on the significant contribution made by those who care for the sick and dying in our families and the community.
There was a time in our not too distant past when we talked about these things as part of our everyday conversations. Some cultures still do, but not us white westerners, we tend to shy away from such subjects telling ourselves that we would prefer to defer such talk for a later date. And then when we do get around to having the conversation we prefer to gloss over the realities by using words that suggest something other than the true facts of the matter.
In a recent online course, Dying2Learn, conducted by Flinders University in Adelaide it was apparent that people struggle with coming out with the words death and dead. The organisers have posted the findings of research under the title: Passed away, kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies – the many ways we don’t talk about death.
“Whereas once, we were more comfortable talking about death, now we have become creative in avoiding talking about it. We resort to euphemisms (alternative words that are softer or less direct) to soften the blow.
For instance, we talk about people “passing” or “gone” rather than they’ve died or are dead, just two examples from a rich history and range of euphemisms we discovered in our research,” said Deb Rawlings, Lecturer in Palliative Care, Flinders University.
The most common we hear include: “wrong side of the grass”, “taking a dirt nap”, “worm food”, “cashed in their chips” and “staring at the lid”. But the most widely used euphemism was “gone”. Variants of “passed” were also very popular, like “passed away”, “passed over” and “passed on”.
One common Australianism is “carked it” (also spelled “karked it”), a phrase that confuses folks from other countries.