Jincy Willett, The Writing Class
Had Jincy Willett written her novel in 2017 instead of a decade ago, I wonder if she would have written those lines, for it seems to me that in those few short years the terms passed, passed on and passed away have gained much wider acceptance.
Such euphemisms have long been favored by the general public, especially when loved ones die. Euphemisms serve to distance us, at least in our minds, from an unpleasant subject, whether it be death or defecation. In more official circles, not counting funeral homes, the usual practice was to say that someone had died.
During my newspaper career, which ended in 2010, people died, they didn't pass away. When funeral directors used a euphemism in an obituary, we would change it to "died." But then, like most other papers, we began charging funeral homes to print obituaries, with the costs passed on to the families or estates. If someone is paying to have something printed, they can say whatever they want. Whether someone died, passed away or went to glory is now up to family members.
More recently I have notice phrases like "passed on" showing up even in front-page stories and headlines in major newspapers. If it once sounded smarmy, at least to some of us, it doesn't anymore, although I continue to favor the word died even when talking about my own parents.
I found a Huffington Post article in which William B. Bradshaw comments about a minister using the word died at a funeral. The word choice seemed a bit shocking when the funeral home and everyone else had been using a euphemism. Bradshaw notes that nobody says that Jesus passed away on the cross, so why should the word died be too strong for anyone else? Good point.
At some point in the future, perhaps not many years from now, even the phrase "passed away" will begin to sound too blunt and a new euphemism will be required. Euphemisms tend to need euphemisms themselves in time. Who knows what the new euphemism will be, but it may have already started and I just haven't noticed it yet.