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How would you explain death to a younger person?
“Telling the truth and making someone cry is better than telling a lie and making someone smile.” Paolo Coelho
Hospice Educator, Lisa Patterson, tells the story of an eight-year-old boy who thought he was going to die.
“An eight-year-old boy was with his Mum a lot after his Grandad died and people kept coming up to her and saying ‘sorry for your Dad’s passing and ‘sorry your Dad passed away’.
“One day when the boy was at school, he fell over and sustained a nasty cut that bled a lot. The teachers were concerned as he looked a funny colour and said I think he is going to pass out. The boy became more and more distressed and the teachers could not understand why he was acting in this way. When Mum arrived to collect him, the boy asked if he was going to die. Surprised by his question, she asked why he would ask that question. The boy explained how everyone was saying he was going to pass out and that’s what Grandad did ‘passed’.
“Mum had to explain the difference between ’passing’ or dying and passed out/fainting.”
This story demonstrates how we need to use honest words and meanings when it comes to talking about death with young people. This ensures there is no confusion.
Cultures are different and not everyone may understand the different meanings for death, for example ‘gone to rose cottage’, ‘gone to a better place’. A child can find euphemisms like this difficult to understand and confusing and ask ‘why would they want to leave me’ and ‘what’s better than being with me, am I not enough?’.
There are over 200 Euphemisms for death in the English language
The English language contains many euphemisms related to dying and death. The practice of using euphemisms for death is likely to have originated from the belief that to speak the word ‘death’ was to invite death. This may explain why death is a taboo subject in many English-speaking cultures. The use of euphemisms often involves metaphors for the person moving into another state or another place which seems to be more acceptable for those dealing with bereavement than using the term ‘dead’.
Some common euphemisms for death include:
• Fading quickly
• Kick the bucket
• Brown bread (cockney rhyming slang)
• Gone to a better place
• Passed away
• Passed on
• Checked out
• Bit the big one
• Bitten the dust
• Popped their clogs
• Pegged it
• Taken to Jesus
• Met his maker
• Turned their toes up
• Cashed in their chips
• Pushing up daisies
• Sleeping the big sleep
• Checking out the grass from underneath
• Six feet under
• The last breath
• Paying a debt to nature
Further support offered by St Nicholas Hospice Care
Nicky’s Way is a programme of support for bereaved children and young people, where they can meet others in the same situation.
Gravetalk is a café space initiative to encourage people to think and talk about life, death, society, funerals and grief. Through conversation, people are encouraged to interact with others in the group.
Bereavement groups give people the opportunity to meet regularly with other people who have had similar experiences or concerns. All groups are facilitated by the Family Support team and what is shared remains in confidence within the group.
For further information on how to explain death to a child, visit the Child Bereavement UK website.