A Note on the Vocabulary of Death from Raphy Rosen

by |August 5, 2010

A quick note: I spoke with one of the nurse managers, Ms. Rose Smith, who has a background in palliative care and worked as a hospice nurse for many years. She made one particularly interesting point about palliative care which is well worth sharing:

Ms. Smith hates the word “expired”, which is common parlance in nursing homes to mean that someone died. Ms. Smith derided the usage of this word because, in her view, it is being used to shield the speaker from the raw reality. Instead of needing to think about the awful thought that someone you care about is dead, it is easier to pretend that they are a carton of milk that had a set expiration date that has now passed. But it is offensive to the memory of the person to refer to them as if they are something subhuman simply so we can shield ourselves from thinking about the truth. In a facility like this, where death is a constant presence, we must train ourselves to view death as a natural occurrence that is not to be feared nor is to be blamed on a particular person’s negligence. It is simply the next stage of life. And to quote Albus Dumbledore (my quote, not her’s), “Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself.”


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