Monday, January 12, 2015

Transitions

My friend C's father died yesterday. C's wife put up a photo on the internet, with a note that he had "transitioned peacefully...no suffering."

I was struck by the use of the word transitioned. I found it so perfectly apt, yet so unusual. Here in Bristol, where the local obituaries are a prominent feature in the newspaper, and I read them every day as part of my writerly education, I've never seen that word in context. In Bristol most folks can't bring themselves to say "died." They might use "passed," or its sisters "passed on," and "passed away," but it's much more likely they will invoke their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to describe a loved one's death. "Went to heaven," is too vanilla; instead it's "was received into the arms of Jesus," or "was welcomed through heaven's gate," or "flung off this earthly body and received robes of glory."

I'm not being comical about it. The words, phrases, describe both people's beliefs and how people feel about their beliefs.

In writing a transition is the paragraph or two of nothingness that separates big events--it's a stepping stone. In riding a transition is a change of gait--not speed but the rhythm of the horse's footfalls. In chemistry a transition is a change of phase--moving from solid to liquid or liquid to gas, or, in rare cases, solid to gas, or back again.

Life itself is transitory, and death is certainly a change of phase. I believe in Jesus, but I've always told my family that when my obituary is printed in the paper, I want it to say, "died." Not "put on her golden crown." Died. But now I've changed my mind. When I die, like C's father, I want people to write that I've transitioned.