Death 1 a permanent cessation of all vital functions t:he end of life 2 the cause or occasion of loss of life 3 the state of being no longer alive : the state of being dead- Merriam Webster
There is no death, there are no dead– The Spiritualist Church
The “D” word. It’s an awkward in our community. It’s every bit as dreaded, full of shame, and reviled as the word nigger has become. Why does this word have such power? I’ve been engaged in many conversations around the use of the word. As an amateur counselor, I am very careful not to use it with bereaved parents. Susanne Wilson, world class medium, reclaims the word in her latest book “Soul Smart”. She uses the word over and over, unapologetically. She knows its a trigger for some in our community. But, she is trying to remove the stigma from death and dying by desensitizing us to the word by its repeated use. Unfortunately, it’s such a trigger for some in grief, especially parents, that we can’t even read the book because of the use of that word. People use the word dead to refer to other people all the time. And, for many, they are using it properly, from their perspective. When they say dead, they mean dead, gone, finito, no more. For us who have shifted our perspective on death. We know the word is being misused and we bristle at its use. Don’t tell me my child is dead. I know she’s not. She’s alive. She’s right here. She’s thriving.
When I was in counseling right after Shayna passed, I remember the counselor saying a sign people were accepting of the transition of their loved ones was when they could start to use the word “dead”. She saw the euphemisms for dead as being in denial. Clearly, I was not accepting yet because I refused to use the word (and still do). Accepting the physical departure of our loved ones is a necessary step on the road of grief, the road to recovery. Thinking they are coming back is a delusion that does no one any good. Using euphemisms like “fell asleep” can be confusing, especially to children because when we fall asleep, the assumption is we will wake up.
I have said I don’t use the word “dead” because of the connotation. I’m a big fan of precise language. The connotation of a word is every bit as important as its definition. Words carry implied meanings (that often change with time) that the dictionary might not reflect. The word “dead”, I thought, has such a connotation. In our society, we think dead means no longer alive. It’s a permanent state of being inanimate. Dead is gone. It wasn’t until last night it struck me that I was wrong. It’s not just the connotation of the word dead, it’s the actual dictionary definition that makes it wrong to apply it to people. We have been using the word incorrectly all along. Dead is what we commonly call someone whose body has stopped functioning. It’s the simplest, easiest way to refer to them. To use any other word requires a lot of thinking and coming up with awkward euphemisms. Passed away? No, they’re not away. Passed on. Crossed over. Graduation. Made her transition. None of them as quick and to the point as “dead”. So, wy not use simply use the word dead? It’s short and to the point and everybody knows what it means.
As the spiritualist church rightly says. There is no death, there are no dead. It is most certainly true our bodies die (and decay). That is an undeniable fact. Shayna’s body is dead. I have no problem saying that. My body will die. (Hallelujah). The problem is that we identify ourselves with our bodies. When our bodies die, we are no more dead than if our car stopped running and we stepped out of it. It’s our car that has stopped running. We go on. When Paul said we are changed in the twinkling of an eye, he was right. The thing is it’s not in the sweet by and by, when Jesus comes and we are raised from the grave. It’s immediate. We simply do not die. Our bodies stop. We go on.
Susanne Wilson is using the word dead as it’s commonly used, trying to take the sting out of the word. However, Susanne uses the word mindfully. Susanne is buddies with people in the dead community. She talks to them on a regular basis. She knows to be “dead” is to be more “alive” than many of us still walking around in bodies. Susanne has physically witnessed spirits departing from their bodies and making their way to the world to come. Since the time she was a little girl, Susanne has not just believed, she has known, there is no death. So, the word death has no sting for her.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15