In the first of a series of short blogs looking at the importance of naming the words death, dying and died, Trinity Physiotherapist Katie writes about how euphemisms can be misleading and damaging when talking about the end of life.

‘She’s asleep’

I called the care home ahead of my scheduled visit later that day.

The senior carer who took my call told me, ‘I’m sorry, but she’s asleep.’

‘That’s fine,’ I answered, ‘I can perhaps come a bit later? Or maybe she won’t mind if I wake her briefly?’

The conversation continued for a further two minutes before I understood that the carer meant my patient had died. I think that was possibly the most unhelpful euphemism for death I have come across so far. I mean, imagine if I had been a family member and received that explanation? I hope very much that they were told clearly that their loved one had died. Of course, there are a great deal of cultural and literary references to sleep representing death – not least in the Bible. However, I think that using this description on a practical basis… is not practical.

‘He is lost, we lost him’

‘You lost him?’ I echoed, trying to make sense of this. Suddenly panic came through my mind… this gentleman was so vulnerable, how could he manage if he escaped from the nursing home?

The last time it happened, the nurses found him about to try to climb over a gate. He was at risk of falls, he couldn’t express himself to ask for help, and how on earth could he cross the main road safely?

The receptionist cut into my silent whirlwind.

‘We lost him,’ she repeated. ‘He died this morning.’

It is rare that I feel relief at the news of one my patients dying. However, this was one of those occasions.

This is why we should say the D- word. The person died.