Stories for the Dead | Language for the Living

In 400 words, here are my thoughts on the Wheeler Centre’s Stories for the Dead

The 2017 Wheeler Centre Gala got me thinking about death in different ways. Given that my work is all about death and funeral matters to find something that gets me thinking differently about death is always appreciated. There were twelve performances: talks, some unaccompanied singing, deep breathing as well as a rollicking performance by Amanda Palmer that left me singing the last line of her song well into the night.

Some speakers took a long time to make the stories for the dead link… and when they did it was disappointing. Others when they got there it was breathtaking. Read more about the story tellers on the evening at here. And to use the Gerry Maguire catch phrase, David Astle had me at “hello”.

I hadn’t heard of him before this night, but boy did he get me thinking.

There were a couple of pieces that particularly got my attention. There were the myriad of expressions from around the globe that speak to the culture attitude towards death. Like the German expression when translated literally means to “eat the grass”. Others were a little gentler. About finding the path taking the journey and the like. Astle highlighted the richness of the English language’s ability to describe and the Australian ability to colloquialise English to euphemistically reference death. Kick the bucket. …

But the piece that impacted me most, to the point where I’d like to create some new words in the English language was having the language for those whose parents die before they are adults themselves..

When both parents have died, we become orphans. But there’s no distinction between one’s status when parents die after we’re entered adulthood – let’s say 18 here in Australia, cos that’s when we can vote, drive and imbibe in our choice of alcohol – and losing them in childhood or adolescence.

We seem to have it stitched up with respect to the language for spouses dying in widow and widower. But a parent whose child or children die doesn’t have a word to describe them in the English language. Astle noted that both Hebrew and one indigenous Australian language have words to describe a grieving mother or a mourning father. Similarly, there is no word for a sister or brother who remains when their sibling dies – certainly nothing that captures either the sense of loss if the death occurs when the siblings are still in childhood or adolescence.

What words would you suggest to fill the gap?

We have just one life…

Jacqui Chaplin

Independent Funeral Information | Life Story Collector & Writer | End of Life Tributes | Easier End of Life Experiences | Funeral Planning and Celebrancy

Just One Life… doing and designing dying and death differently and with dignity and distinction.

For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.

Call +61 (0)412 741 531 or email

Check out what they’re saying about Jacqui’s end of life commemorations.

Find out about Jacqui’s end of life commemoration services here.

Follow Jacqui Chaplin Funeral Celebrant on Facebook.

 Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime & End-of-Life Commemoration Specialist (a funeral celebrant among other things) based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories about the nature of life and being human, as well as, celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.