The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


July 22, 2008

Soared or died?

I’ve mentioned that I like to read obits—and have written my share of them—so the article “Why not ‘soared’ instead of ‘died’?” was a must-read. It noted that in news obituaries, people die. But paid, family written obituaries often say the person passed, was called home by his heavenly father, made her homegoing, slipped away from us, is now soaring with the angels, etc.

In one obituary a man checked out because his family felt he was “deliberate in choosing words that were interesting. He didn’t talk to fill air.” But another one read “Heffner, Betty Jane, 84, of St. Petersburg died Saturday, May 24, 2008 ....” Her son said she had a straight-shooting personality. “I used the word because that’s what she did,” he said.

Michael Knox, a professor at the University of South Florida, Tampa, noted: “We go about our daily lives with a sense of commitment to the future. It wouldn’t be helpful if people were dwelling on death all the time and knowing that they can die any minute. It’s totally out of their control, and that leads to a culture of denial. ... Euphemisms for death can be comforting to those who believe existence continues after we leave our earthly vessels. When the culture believes there is something after death, it keeps them going.”

Is it just culture, or is it the church too? Is it more comforting if people read that someone “passed into the church triumphant”? Or is it better to be a straight-shooter?

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