Judy comes home from vacation and asks her brother how things went.
“Your cat died.”
Stunned, tears welling, Judy says, “Did you have to be so cold and heartless with bad news like that?”
“What do you mean?”
“You could have prepared me for it. You could have said something like: ‘Well, Whiskers was playing on the roof. He lost his balance and fell, twisting his little leg. We took him to the vet and he appeared to be okay, but after a few days he didn’t look so good. Then, slowly but peacefully he faded until he finally, quietly, passed away.'”
Judy wiped away a tear. “You could have said something like that, instead of being so blunt and uncaring.”
“Sorry,” her brother said. “I’ll try to be more sensitive.”
Judy blew her nose. “So, how’s the family?”
“Well, Grandma was playing on the roof…”
In journalism, people don’t “pass away.”
I’m hearing and reading a lot more people passing: On CNN, the networks, and the Internet. Like Lord Voldemort, journalists suddenly cannot speak the word, death. I must have missed the meeting when the Associated Press, Reuters, and the other news services decided passing away is the acceptable euphemism for you-know-what.
If passing away is acceptable, why not
- JFK passed away today from an assassin’s bullet.
- The Queen has kicked the bucket.
- Serial killer Ted Bundy has gone to live on a farm where he can romp and play with other serial killers.
Call me an old school, insensitive curmudgeon, but as a journalist, I tell my colleagues our job is to give the facts, straightforward. Don’t put Grandma on the roof.
Trust me, I tell them, the viewer can handle the truth.
(I paraphrased the joke from an old Bob Newhart record I inherited after a relative you-know-what.)