In the days following the death of Nelson Mandela, there was talk of the South African people being a society that doesn’t like to “speak of death.” A month earlier, I remember hearing or reading Skye Jethani speak of the “myth of continuity;” the idea being that we tend to think things are just going to continue just the way they are. Maybe that’s why stories of typhoons in The Philippines or tsunamis in Japan upset us: They not only are devastating stories but they devastate our thinking; they disrupt the paradigm.
It was in the middle of all this that we encountered these particular sympathy cards. Do they have these where you live? Your loved one hasn’t died, they are merely “away.” Is this anything like when I was in Grade Four and my friend Frank was “away” for two weeks with bronchitis? Not exactly. These are cards you send when your precious friend or close relative is “no longer with us.” This takes the phrase “passed away” — which I notice has recently been abbreviated to simply “passed” — and provides the “away” part instead.
So it’s not just the South Africans. Death sucks. Better to be away than to die, I guess.