At lunch today, I sat with other Social Workers having lunch. The subject of people dying came up and how we as Social Workers use words to describe this. One of my team used the term that someone had ‘passed away’. Another Social Worker – one of our Senior ones – expressed something akin to horror that we should use such a term. She stated that as clinicians we should say that someone had died, so that there was no room for confusion or misunderstanding.
On one level I kind of get it as a professional. However, as I tried to say to her, we need to use words and terms that people are comfortable with. She is someone who at times seems very ‘black and white’ and she argued back that we need to be clear and say someone has died. She said, ‘you can say it kindly, but tell them that they have died, not ‘passed away’, ‘didn’t make it’ or other way of saying it.
I sat there and thought of my own loss of my son just over two years ago. I still don’t like to say that he has died. I use the term that he has ‘passed away’ myself. It just sounds gentler somehow, just a little bit easier to pass my lips than to say, ‘my son died’. I had to get up and leave the table as I didn’t want to open the discussion of talking about my own loss. I don’t have the energy right now to battle someone over the words she chooses to use and the way she chooses to practice. However, if I work with someone who has lost someone in their lives who is special to them, I will be using the words that they wish to use. Clinician or no Clinician…. I will continue to work with people in a way that works for them, not with hard and fast rules that feel like they are more serving the needs of the ‘Clinician’ to be seen as a professional than for the sake of those they are there to support.