When my sister-in-law was just a little girl, her ballet teacher died; trying not to upset her, her mom told her that the teacher had gone to New York. We all embraced that concept, and “went to New York” has become my family’s euphemism for dying. I think this is much better than “she’s gone to a better place” or “she went to a farm where she can run free with other ballet teachers.”
I like New York, although I wouldn’t want to spend an eternity. I wonder if Lisa’s mom just used the quickest place she could think of, or if she actually thought going to New York was a fate as bad as death. I kind of like the way “she went to Paris” rolls off the tongue, but “she went to California” would certainly work too. I guess “she went to West Virginia” would sort of be the ultimate; no one comes back from West Virginia.
When Dan and I had our wills drawn up, I was very tempted to use the family euphemism in the paperwork, but the lawyer stared at me and then pretended I hadn’t said anything. That happens a lot though. My mom called one day to tell me she was going to New York, and I assumed she had a fatal illness or something. Really, she was just going to visit my niece at NYU.
You may be familiar with the Darwin Awards, presented posthumously to people who die doing really idiotic things. Their mission is clearly stated on their website:
The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.
I’m a big fan of vacuuming the bottom of the gene pool, and as I always say; if you can’t laugh about death and devastation, what can you laugh about? I think the funniest death of all (if you find that kind of thing funny) is an ironic death. For example, a Darwin Award was given to a gentleman who, while riding his motorcycle bare-headed, flipped over his handlebars and “went to New York.” What’s ironic is that this happened while he was riding in protest of helmet laws. According to the man’s brother, he cared so much about eliminating helmet laws he would probably do it again if he could.
Another story reports that a man died of electric shock after forgetting to turn off the invisible fence around his car. He didn’t want the car to get stolen, but I’m guessing he would have preferred that than dying at the hands of his own booby trap.
Another of my favorites is a man who died when he was skydiving-his parachute got caught up in the airplane prop. If it weren’t for that pesky plane, everything would have been fine. You can read about all kinds of idiot-related deaths at http://www.darwinawards.com/darwin/
Frankly, I’ve done some pretty idiotic things in my life; I’ve just been lucky. When I was in college I moved into an apartment that had a gas oven. The one time I tried to use it in the year that I lived there, I was having some difficulty understanding how the whole thing worked. Gas on, I lit a match and tried to light the oven, but nothing. Two more tries, nothing. It never occurred to me that there was a bit of gas accumulating in the oven, so I went in for a 3rd time and kaboom! Do you know how bad I look without eyebrows? Really bad. Do you know how long it takes for eyebrows to grow back? A really long time. I learned my lesson and never tried to use the oven again. I just ate the cookie dough raw, which worked out OK.
I’ve also been known to be a tad insensitive on death related matters, but it is not intentional I can assure you. I have this way of saying exactly what I’m trying not to say in a given situation. For example, if I’d known the family of the motorcycle rider, something would come out of my mouth like “it takes a long time to get over this, but you just have to ride it out.” I would say something equally stupid to the family of the invisible fence guy, like “he always had such an electric personality.” Not even something I would ordinarily say in any context, but it just comes flying out of the trap.
The worst, and the one no one will ever let me live down, is when I was 2 or 3 days into a new job and someone in my department died. I had barely met her, but I did feel bad and all. The problem is I got a little too focused on work and emails and sort of forgot to tell anyone. Late in the morning someone asked me if she was feeling better, or coming in that day, and barely turning around from my keyboard I said “Definitely not. She died.” Naturally the person who was standing in my doorway and had worked with the other person for quite some time burst into tears and moments too late I realized I could have phrased it a little differently.
Then there I was with this woman I didn’t know sitting on the floor of my office sobbing, and me the picture of awkward. I believe I patted her on the back a few times and actually said “there, there, it’s OK” as if I was in a movie where that might sound even a little natural.
I learned my lesson. If I had it to do over I would have just said “She went to New York.”