Euphemisms and polite conversation about death, in this week’s Dear Prudie extra.

Help! I Hate Telling People My Husband “Passed Away.” Can’t I Just Tell It Like It Is?

Help! I Hate Telling People My Husband “Passed Away.” Can’t I Just Tell It Like It Is?

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July 10 2017 4:55 PM

Help! I Hate Telling People My Husband “Passed Away.” Can’t I Just Tell It Like It Is?

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.


Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sam Breach.

Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q: He died: This may be kind of a weird question, but do I owe it to strangers to temper my language when talking about my husband’s death?

He passed away a couple years ago, way too young. I’ll admit I take some pleasure in saying “he’s dead” bluntly when telemarketers call looking for him, but it came up at a pet store the other day because our points card was under his name and they asked for his email. I stood there like a fish with its mouth open for way too long, because I couldn’t come up with anything else but didn’t want to scare the poor clerk! I know the easy response is “he passed away,” but those words apparently fled me.

Is it unkind for me to just go with the first and easiest thing that comes into my head? I know I’m probably overthinking this, and yes, I’m in therapy.

A: It’s not unnecessarily detailed or gory—you’re not giving anyone the specifics on how he died—it’s just that the word death often makes people uncomfortable, which is neither your fault nor your responsibility. You are not obliged to supply a polite euphemism; if “He died” comes to mind before “Tragically, he passed away and is no longer with us,” then you should just say “He died.” Don’t beat yourself up over it.

Q. Marijuana at my parents’ house: I am a woman in my mid-30s who just moved back in with my parents. The point of the move is to help them out during a financially difficult time, and I would otherwise be happily living on my own.

I love my parents, and we get along great! I am happy to help them out. The only problem is I am a regular pot smoker, and they have no idea. They would be strongly opposed if they knew about my “hobby.” I am gainfully employed and socially active—I just like my weed!

My question is, do I have an obligation to give up the habit while I live with them (indefinitely!), or should I be upfront with them, knowing they will throw a fit? Sneaking around with it seems challenging, and I don’t like the idea of being deceitful. Any ideas?

A: Have you considered alternative marijuana delivery systems? Edibles, ingestible oils, tinctures, vaporizing? (Let’s go with the usual caveats; I’ll assume you’re not planning on getting high and then driving your parents to a doctor’s appointment but plan on using recreational weed in a responsible, safe, private way.)

You can’t completely control for the possibility that one or both of your parents might someday stumble upon your stash, but you can do your best to be as discreet as possible while you’re living with them. You might consider, at least for the present, cutting down on your habit or trying to reserve getting high for occasions when you’re not in your parents’ home.

But that’s simply an option, not an obligation. You’re in your 30s; you’re not “sneaking around” if you refuse to disclose all of the habits you enjoy that your parents might disapprove of. You’re already helping them out by moving in—you don’t owe them veto power over your personal life, as long as you’re not risking anyone’s health or safety.

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