Shelburne: A new way to say 'she died'

I was disappointed when one of our finest funeral directors (a longtime friend) used the latest jargon to tell me that somebody died. It jarred me to hear this death-expert using the current euphemism. He told me that the man “passed.”

Really? What did he pass? Gas?


All of my life it has been common to say that a dead person has “passed away.” While this also has been a way to cushion the reality of death, at least the meaning of that expression is clear. But “passed”?

Somebody asked how our son did on his law exam. I bragged, “He passed.” But he’s still breathing almost four decades after that.

New signs on four-lane highways all over Texas tell us that the inside lane is for passing only. While driving several hundred miles today, I got into that far-left lane multiple times to get around some slowpoke. It worked. Each time I passed. But I’m still alive.

A friend of mine wrote that Zsa Zsa Gabor died when she was 96. I didn’t know that. But for sixty years-plus before they laid her to rest, over and over in her films she passed for a heroine or a harlot.

Roger Staubach passed hundreds of time. Last time I checked, though, he’s still among the living.

Local authorities suspected drug ring connections for crooks who defrauded garage sales and church offerings with counterfeit twenty dollars bills they passed.

My wife’s dear mother grew old gracefully and never seemed bothered to see that her goslings were aging too. Until her baby — my lady — qualified for Medicare. That blew the old lady’s mind, unlike any other birthday Nita passed.

I knew a fellow who years ago had a chance to invest a modest sum in barren desert land that later became one of the poshest resort areas adjacent to Phoenix. Friends who took the deal became multi-millionaires. But he didn’t. When he was given a choice, he passed. No, it didn’t kill him, but years later he groaned like he was dying every time he thought about it.

I hope this new word for dying dies quickly. Not only does it have far too many alternate meanings, but those of us who serve a risen Lord don’t need a poorly chosen term like this to water down the reality of death. After all, we expect to live in the house of the Lord forever.

Gene Shelburne is pastor emeritus of the Anna Street Church of Christ, 2310 Anna Street, Amarillo, Texas. Contact him at, or get his books and magazines at His column has run on the Faith page for more than three decades.

This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Shelburne: A new way to say 'she died'