A Word Misused

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I do not like this word at all.  And the use of it is becoming more and more popular in spiritual circles, meditation groups and other enlightened people (including many dear friends and family).

The word is transition.  It’s partner words are: transitioning and transitioned to replace the words death, dying, died and dead, referring to time after the last breath of the physical body, or death.

In a conversation the other day with my good friend, Dee Meyer, we were speaking about this word.  I explained that to say “My father transitioned yesterday” sounds very sterile, extremely emotionless and ultimately an attempt to stave off fear not only about death, but about the word death.  This doesn’t even address the real possibility that someone may have no clue what you are talking about.  Transition, every time I hear it, takes me out of the moment of really hearing the words and feelings of someone’s loss.

When I hear “transition”, the first things I think of are transactions and transistor radios~which I realize having nothing to do with transition.  I know that sounds funny, but that is exactly where my head goes and I do know what the “new” intention of the use of this word means.  The second thing it does to me, is makes me wonder why it is frowned upon to say “My father died yesterday.”  “Transitioned” seems so generic to me, it has no heart in it.  Dee added that “It has no room for compassion.”

And, for me, this word replacement possibly has a subliminal warning in it that says there is NO reason to be sad because it is only the death of this life ~ what if I want to be sad, want to embrace the end of this life, the loss?  Know that I fully believe that the death of this body is only the death of this life, that a new life or new journey begins.

“Your father transitioned about an hour ago”  feels cold to me and when someone speaks these words, I’m not sure how to respond.  Because the person has used this word instead of died, I’m thrown off my game of heartfelt pain.  I’ve been jerked out of the moment and can’t think of an appropriate thing to say or the appropriate feeling to have.  Pain is part of life~pain helps us grow into more compassionate people.

Using “transition” (in any of its forms) takes away an opportunity for emotion from the listener, because the emotion of the teller, just by the use of the word “transitioned,” catapults me into a, well, dead zone.  And if transition is being used to avoid the grief that accompanies the word dying, died, death or dead, that  means there is great fear around those words which point to grief.  Let us not reinforce fear into the death of a loved one by using this no-nothing word.  Don’t encourage denial of the emotions~that is what is to be feared.

I know I’m particularly sensitive to “transition” because I’ve experienced a lot of death in my life and for a time I even had mixed messages about the acceptability of grieving.  Grieving is necessary for the living to move on…it doesn’t prevent the person who has died from being dead.

This new description of death simply does not work for me, ME.  When someone I love or care about dies, it is about my loss and others that were close to that person; I get it and always have that the person who has died has begun a new journey…but that’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m vacillating between tears, laughter, exhaustion, restlessness and the sadness that that person won’t be physically with me anymore~I’m thinking about my own transition, getting used to life with out my father, for instance.

Further, and finally, to see a lighter side of this new word and this piece, I’ve considered how ridiculous it would sound if we were to change the names of things in order to avoid the words of death:


The Transition of a Salesman

On Transition and Transitioning

As I Lay Transitioning

Transition Be Not Proud

The Transition of Ivan Ilyich

The Night of the Living Transitioned

The Transitioned Zone

Transitioned Man Walking

When Transition Comes Knocking

Things to do in Denver When You’re Transitioned


Pray for our sins, now and the hour of our transition…

Until Transition do us part…

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of Transition

Transitioned as a doornail.

Give me Liberty or give me Transition.

Drop Transition Gorgeous.


The Grateful Transitioned (of Jerry Garcia fame)
And their followers: Transition Heads

I am a very spiritual person and I have always and forever believed that this life right here does not end with the death of our physical body~the word “transition” is not necessary to me for this understanding.


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6 Responses to “A Word Misused”

  1. Debbie Blair Says:

    It sounds completely like denial to me. My son died 20 years ago and I have never seen him since. Never felt him. Never went to his grave. He died. Where ever he went his body is buried under a tree near the Rocky Mountains. His body is dead as is he. His spirit well I have no idea. Transitioning is what happens when you move to another country.

  2. Theresa Quizon Says:

    Hi Nannette,

    This is your cousin, Theresa (Weber) Quizon. This is a very honest article and I feel the same way. Language today is being sterilized and often, I get a very Orwellian feeling when I see it happen just as you have described.


  3. nannette rogers kennedy Says:

    Thank you Debbie and Kathy!

    You will both laugh…I had the hardest time trying to figure out how to respond ~ just had to scroll down a little…I love being able to laugh at myself…

    love to you both,

  4. nannette rogers kennedy Says:

    Thanks for your words Theresa…Orwellian is an excellent way to put it.


  5. nannette rogers kennedy Says:

    From my sister-in-law, Sande: It’s a lousy euphemism for a profound human experience, and people use it to protect themselves from something they fear may be contagious at some level. Though death and grieving can be extraordinarily painful, these fully human experiences should not be anesthetized.

  6. nannette rogers kennedy Says:

    Love this response, Sande…anesthetized says it all! love, nannette

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