Death, Euphemisms, and Bad Words

Today’s Word Wednesday is a departure from our regularly scheduled programming. I’ve been ruminating on what certain words mean to me, so we’ll have at it.

January took a sorrowful turn when my father lost his battle with cancer. I have not spoken of his health on the blog before, except in the loosest of references. Honestly, it has been too painful, knowing as we did that his diagnosis was terminal.

And in speaking of it now, it’s difficult to say–much less write–the words “my father died.” We have so many euphemisms for describing the end of life.

Words We Use to Describe Death

One friend recently called it “transitioning,” which was a new term for me, but which makes me think of a new job (or of Caitlyn Jenner).

An aunt has always referred to her deceased as “expired.” But when I think of expired milk, if it’s not gone a little sour, maybe I could still use it up. And my husband and I joke, as stinky people do, when our deodorant has quit for the day, that we’ve “expired” in the sense that we now smell a bit sour ourselves.

Technically, “expire” also refers to an exhalation from the lungs, so using expire to describe the exhalation of the spirit from the body and the fact that an inhalation is not sure to follow may be appropriate after all. It was, ultimately, respiratory failure for my father: an expiration his last mortal act.

Then there is “lost,” as in “I lost my father.”

I didn’t lose him in the sense that I don’t know where he is. I know exactly where he is, saw for myself the funeral home, the cremation oven, the ashes, and the flowing water where we poured them.

Because despite the many definitions of “lost,” the first one that registers for me is always being unable to find one’s way.

Sure, there are other definitions: something irrecoverable, as he is now, or in which a defeat has been sustained, as he did with cancer.

And now, more than usual, I find myself struggling to find my own way, not fully knowing where I am as tears threaten the surface at the slightest provocation and at the most inopportune and unexpected of moments.

So “lost” doesn’t seem appropriate to describe my father so much as it describes me.

The word “loss,” however, carries with it the sense of something now absent and greatly missed despite its rather redundant and unhelpful definition. Yet “I experienced the loss of my father” is rather a mouthful though it is quite accurate.

Moving Forward

And as for my resolutions for 2017, the verb for “resolution” is “resolve.” I resolved to do certain things in 2017. We make resolutions usually with an aim toward achievement or self-betterment. At this particular time, self-betterment dictates that I treat myself kindly. The time for aggressive writing achievement is not now.

Writing has always provided a solace for me, and making it a burdensome chore or stressor at a time when I need comfort more than ever will backfire. I do not ever want to publish a work that I’m not proud to sign my name to, so if that means my writing needs to take a backseat to my emotional health, so be it. I am still writing, and I am still going to meet my goals.

Final Thoughts

Many people think of four-letter words as the worst ones they know. Well, the vilest word I know is “cancer.” It’s an evil disease. I’ve watched it destroy a strong man and take a  terrible toll on his caregivers, primarily my mother.

Toward the end, certainly, and even before that, what cancer did to my father was no way for a person to live. It was no way for my mother to live either, constantly in fear and worry about what the next hour might bring. His suffering is at an end, but the rest of us still have to come to terms.

Please, please schedule your preventive care visits for 2017 now, when you have time for the things that get in the way, to reschedule them so that you fit them in this year. Prevention, especially with cancer, is so much more reliable than the cure.

Short but frequent doctor’s visits can allow you to avoid the nightmare of chemotherapy, the pain of physical therapy, and the horror that is cancer.

In memory of my father, I beg of you to do it for yourself.

Salutations for Women: Miss, Ms., or Mrs.?

In the spirit of Word Wednesday, let’s look at the correct way to address women in professional correspondence. The following is a message I sent to my alma mater in response to a card I received for my annual donation:

Dear [redacted]:

It was a pleasure to receive the goody bag from UT for my donation, but I was a little troubled to be addressed as “Mrs.” Sharma. Considering that my professional relationship with UT predates my marriage and that my employment–not my husband’s–provides me the resources to make an annual donation to my alma mater, I found this reference to my marital status unwelcome and unnecessary.

While I speak for myself alone and not for any other women Longhorn donors, it is a sad fact of our society that as a woman working in a STEM career in a male-dominated environment, I have had to work to overcome a perceived lack of industry knowledge and other gender stereotypes in order to be taken seriously and to earn the respect due to a subject matter expert by my colleagues both past and present. This work is mine alone, and being addressed as nothing more than my husband’s wife by the same university that provided the education that has enabled these successes truly saddens me.

In future correspondence, I strongly urge you to use the general salutation “Ms.” to avoid misunderstandings, especially in correspondence of a professional nature. “Ms.” places women on equal footing as men, who are universally recognized as “Mr.” regardless of their marital status.

With sincere regards,

Hook’em Horns!

Preeti Sharma

Now, it may seem that I’m being excessively hard on someone who, after all, was sending me a thank you note. But when I read the note, I was genuinely upset!

I intensely disagree with any use of “Mrs.” outside of social correspondence, like wedding invitations addressed to my husband and me. How is it any of the university’s business whether I’m married or not when I’m conducting a financial transaction with them? I did not have to get my husband to write the check, as I might have had to in bygone eras, nor did I need his permission to spend the money as I saw fit beyond the joint and equal discussions we have about our budget.

Use of “Ms.” is always appropriate. It was in fact devised to eliminate the confusion of addressing women of unknown marital status. So let’s use it.

Have you ever been addressed incorrectly in correspondence? How do you respond?