Musing on the consequences of death in the time of COVID-19 (please feel free to insert here your preferred cause, time and place of death: perhaps Black Death, Spanish Flu and/or Cholera, with Ernest Hemingway in the Afternoon and Thomas Mann in Venice). A friend rings and among other things lets me know that she’s definitely not ‘passing on’. No immediacy in her statement, it’s just that when the event inevitably occurs, she wishes it to be known that she will have simply died, euphemism free.

In my family nobody ever died, as letters from early in the 20th century make clear. They reflect the Christian ethos of the time – a fervent belief in the afterlife:

go beyond the veil’; ‘pass to higher service’; ‘called home’;

‘gently vanished into the Bright Land’;

‘passed into the Great Beyond’; ‘after life’s fitful fever she sleeps well’;

‘life’s work well done’; ‘now comes to rest’; ‘gently fell asleep’; ‘

is in perfect blessedness’; ‘escaped from this world to a better’.

Over one hundred years later the death notices in the newspaper make it clear that nowadays most people ‘pass’, though often qualified: peacefully or after a long struggle. Inherent in this is that they’ve come from somewhere and are going somewhere else. My favourite alternative view is that their performance has been adequate, 50 out of 100 and not boasting of a pass with credit, distinction or even a high distinction. Occasionally in what might pass as gallows humour somebody had ‘fallen off their twig’, ‘gone fishing’, ‘gone swimming’, or ‘gone to the beach’. Presumably respecting physical distancing – or perhaps they didn’t! – ROBERT KING.


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