Happy 9/11 everyone! Mass death makes me think about general death, which makes me reflect on our social toe-stepping around the concept of death. Cheers!
No one passes. Or well, old people why to die in their sleep pass away, they slip from being something to be not something or whatever something your religion tells you you become when you die. Your grandmother may pass away. A firefighter is killed doing his job. The way the person dies helps define the language we use to describe the act of their current non-existence in the physical world.
There is such a stigma to saying that a person just died. But that's what happened, people died before you, your parents will (hopefully) die before you, and then you will (hopefully) die before your children. Friends die, pets die, and plants die. They could be killed, by cancer, drunk drivers, or themselves—in the case of life habit-caused disease and other quicker versions of suicide.
My father killed himself when I was 7. Which sucks and everything, and when I reveal this fact about myself, people always say "I'm sorry for your loss." I think that loss is measurable. And that measure decreases over time. When he died, I lost a third of my being, me being one-third, and my mother is the other third. But every day since then, with a few exceptions, like Christmas, my dad's birthday and Fathers day, that has become less and less. The foundation of who I am as a person's foundation rests on that event. But, if this death happened a while ago, the person you are speaking to isn't the same individual that the death happened to—of course—literally, they are—but metaphorically if it affected them greatly, it would have changed the foundation of them as a person.
So what do you say? My mom and I have had a lot of conversations about this topic. We agree that saying "I'm sorry for your loss" not only does nothing but in many cases makes things worse; either by bringing up settled emotional sediment or by bringing up anger at how little the "sorry-er" understand the situation at all. "I'm sorry for your loss" also brings the conversation back to you. Someone shared something with YOU, and although it may feel like a polite way to convey your empathy, all it does it bring the conversation to surround your feelings, which, at this moment aren't the important ones. Find another way to express empathy, without announcing your feelings about this very feeling-full event in the other person life.
Instead of "I'm sorry for your loss," ask a different question. "I'm sorry for your loss" is the answer from someone who has never experienced a significant loss. When other have told me, my answer is usually "that sucks." Because it does! It sucks. It really sucks. It's awful to have someone close to you die. If it's a recent death, just bring food, or sit with them and let them talk, or not talk.
We are uncomfortable with death. No healthy human wants to die. It is programmed into us to be afraid of our death, so using terms like "passing away" and "loss" help us become comfortable with the awful idea of our death or the death of those who feel like they're a part of us. So please, please just remember death is not a passing and "I'm sorry for your loss" means nothing. Confront death and use proper language and emotional empathy in your answer to someone sharing an emotional event in a person's life.
Stay healthy (mentally & emotionally), happy, and stare in the face of death and say its name. It's not he-who-must-not-be-named. (;