The words we use when people pass away

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By Caroline Miller

Write Away Blog
Portland author of Heart Land & Gothic Spring

My alumni news magazine reported recently that two classmates from my under graduate days had died. They were my age, naturally, so I was brought up short.

75 is a respectable age for dying. Most of life’s experiences have been sampled: a career, marriage, family and friends. Still, it is unsettling to read about the lives of acquaintance written in the past tense. “She lives in Pasadena,” and “She lived in Pasadena,” isn’t a matter of style; it’s the distance traveled between existence and non-existence.

That little “ed” at the end of a verb is a reminder to squeeze as much joy and adventure into every 24 hours as we can… while we lie above ground and not under it.

I don’t say living is easy. Disease and natural disasters are what flesh in heir to, not to mention the catastrophes we bring upon ourselves, like war. But Marcus Tallius Cicero grasped the essence of existence centuries ago (106 – 43 B.C.):

“While there is life, there is hope.”

James Arruda Henry knew that truth as well. Illiterate all his life, he learned to read and write at 91. At 98, he has written his memoirs, “In a Fisherman’s Language.” It will be published later this year. (“The Week” March 16, 2012)

James Arruda Henry is a man very much in the present tense.

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— Caroline Miller is an Oregon author of several books.  Her recent novel, a Gothic Spring recently received a great review  from national book critic Alan Caruba.