Monday 24 October 2016

Why dying has become a thing of the past

In the good old days people didn't pass on, pass away or pass over. They just died...

Muriel Bolger

Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30

David Bowie: Did he die, or did he pass away? Depends on who you ask
David Bowie: Did he die, or did he pass away? Depends on who you ask
Hero: Brian O’Driscoll’s passes were legendary.

When I was growing up neighbours died, so did old aunties and uncles, grandparents, country cousins and favourite pets. Even one of the nuns died while we were still at school and we had to walk around quietly and talk in hushed tones. So did a Pope - we had a special Mass and got off class for that. In fact, until relatively recently, people in my sphere who departed this mortal world simply died. Sad and all this event is, no one was afraid to say the word.

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People didn't 'pass away', 'pass on', 'pass over' or just 'pass'. They died.

In our house you passed the butter, the milk or the salt and pepper. At birthday times there were scrambles and squeals as the parcel was passed around and fought over for its pound shop enclosures.

We passed the church on the way to the school, and collection plates were passed around at services. Our Jewish neighbours celebrated the Passover. We passed cars, buses and cyclists. We passed the time of day when we meet people out walking their dogs.

We did a lot of passing at games - in hockey, lacrosse and volleyball - and we all know about Brian O'Driscoll's legendary skills in that department.

If we were lucky or diligent, we passed exams and driving tests and such achievements often merited a Hallmark card of congratulations on the achievement.

When we have a new wave of Gardaí ready to protect us, photos of their passing-out parade will be splashed across the newspapers and other media.

Catherine Tynan Hinkson left us with "The sheep with their little lambs passed me by on the road" and Musical Youth entertained us with their catchy "Pass the dutchie 'pon the left hand side. Dum-a-dum-a-dum-biddly-bum-biddly-bum. Bum-biddly-biddly-biddly-biddly-biddly-biddly-bum."

Broken romances and brief encounters were filed away in the 'ships that pass in the night' drawer of our memories.

Legislators passed unpopular bills, like those commanding us to pay property and water taxes, while financial instructions decided not to pass on dividends to their investors.

They talked about passing in the Bible too. Camels, according to Matthew, had a better chance of passing through the eye of a needle than the rich had of getting in to heaven. But nowhere did we hear of people passing away, wherever away is.

Now it seems 'died' is a taboo word, uttered much less frequently that any other in that four-lettered category.

Passing in the context of dying was only a term we ever heard being used by television mediums when they claimed they had channelled some long lost relative - in the types of shows where 'Uncle Pat' came through from 'the other side.'

"He's here. I can feel him, beside me. He is talking about his dog - a shaggy mongrel - did he have a dog?"

Cue tears and response from the chosen one in the crowd who put up a timid hand.

"Did you have an Uncle Pat who passed?"


"And did he have a dog?"

"He had, he was called Gutsy."

"He's saying something about an accident and there was no time for goodbyes before he passed over."

"Yes, he was knocked down by a tractor," the relative volunteered, clutching the hand of the person next to him or her and letting out a sob. "He was going to visit a sick friend in hospital."

"Yes, yes, he's telling me that, but he never got there, did he love?" prompts the medium.

"No. He didn't." Another sob.

"Well, he says it's all right. You're not to be upset by his passing."

"We still have his dog at home."

"That made him laugh. He's smiling at me. He just wanted you to know that he's happy and you're not to be sad for him. He didn't suffer."

It was always such a relief to hear words like that from the other side. After all, the old fellow must have been miserable having to wait since his passing for this medium to book the Palladium, the Odeon, the Olympia or whatever venue could accommodate the gullible hordes, so he could say hi to his folks and find out that his dog was okay.

It may be fashionable these days to pass, but when I die, I'll do just that.

I won't pass, pass over, pass on or pass away, and if anyone says I have, I'll come back and haunt them.

Irish Independent

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