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Death, Additional Subthemes

Subthemes: Survivor Guilt, Funerals and Eulogies, Alter History, Expressions

The preceding sections cover multiple subthemes of Death identified from four works of art: Donne’s poem that humbles Death, a painting by Cezanne related to a hanging, the violent end of a crime-spree couple, and the sadly-remembered death of honey. Here are additional thoughts about the theme of Death that don’t associate with any of those works.

Survivor Guilt: When a person unaccountably lives through a plane crash, a train wreck, or a mass shooting, they may be dogged by unanswerable questions about why they were spared and others were not. Often, sheer luck accounts for why one person on the Titanic was rescued and another drowned or one soldier on Omaha Beach was machine gunned but his buddy made it. That gnawing question – “Why me?” – and feeling undeserving may worsen Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. People can’t justify why the person next to them perished and they did not. A form of what they and Holocaust survivors suffered from has come to be termed “survivor guilt.” Dodging death carries its own pains.

Funerals and Eulogies: All cultures mark a person’s death, most commonly by burial or cremation. All groups of people recognize the passing of a person, but with a wide variety of practices. For an example, the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral includes a tearful funeral. Vikings buried royalty in a ship, Indians lit burning pyres, Egyptians constructed pyramids, Americans hold solemn processions or guide horses with no rider – the ethnographic catalogue of funeral rites is vast.

Alter History: History has pivoted in the aftermath of a bullet: Washington, DC in 1865, Sarajevo 1914, Dallas 1963, and Memphis 1968. Other deaths have set history or politics on a different course. Legend has it that in 1244 the death of Ögedei Khan halted the Mongol advance on Vienna so that all Mongol leaders in Europe could return to Mongolia and elect a new Khan. Tito’s death fragmented Yugoslavia. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 or Ruth Bader Ginsburg death in September 2020 may cause large-scale changes over time. Momentous consequences can follow from the death of one person.

Near-Death Experiences: None of the art works considered above address the reports of people who almost die. Someone drowning is revived, another nearly asphyxiated in a garage, the stomach pumping at the last second worked, a touch-and-go struggle in an emergency room brought back a flat-liner, or other miraculous rescues leave survivors to describe lights and sensations. Doctors attribute such perceptions to the body shutting down, notably the brain.

Expressions: The 31 idiomatic sayings presented alphabetically below refer to Death in a figurative sense. I exclude direct uses of the theme word and proverbs. The idiomatic expressions come from my own knowledge of English and various online sources:

7esl, ABCEnglish, befluentnyc, Cambridge, Free Dictionary, Grammar, Learn English Today, Literacy at Work, MacMillan Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, My English Pages, Owlcation, Phrases, Phrase-Thesaurus, PowerThesaurus, Reverse Dictionary, Twining English Centres, Using English, and Your Dictionary.

“A death blow” (An action or an event which causes something to end or fail)
“A death trap” (A building, a road or vehicle which is very dangerous and which could cause people to die)
“A fate worse than death” (Something you do not want to experience because it is so unpleasant)
“As baleful as death” (An atmosphere that is extremely evil and threatening)
“at death’s door” (Nearly dead physically or mentally)
“Blue screen of death” (when a computer crashes and you only see the blue screen)
“Brush with death” (An experience in which one almost dies)
“Catch your death” (Warn someone that they will become ill if they go outside while wet or wearing few clothes)
“Cheat death” (Stay alive in an extremely dangerous situation by narrowly avoiding it)
“Cot death” (Sudden, unexpected and unexplained death of an apparently healthy baby)
“Dance with death” (Do something very dangerous)
“Death by misadventure” (A legal term for death resulting from risk)
“Dice with death”(Do something very dangerous)
“done to death” (A style or subject is discussed so many times that it is not interesting anymore)
“Fight to death” (A life-ending struggle for the participants)
“Flog/beat something to death” (Discuss a subject ad nauseum)
“Hang on like grim death” (Hhold on very tightly)
“Hounded almost to death” (A continuing harassment)
“Jaws of death” (having a near death experience)
“Kiss of death” (an action that leads to another person’s ruin or demise)
“Like a death warmed over/up” (Feel or look very ill)
“Living death” (horrible existence)
“Nickel and dime someone to death” (small demands that add up to disaster for the other)
“On one’s death bed” (one’s last moments before death)
“Scared to death” (Feel extremely scared)
“Sign your own death warrant” (Do something that stops you from being successful)
“Social death” (being forgotten, excluded, or ignored in your social circles)
“Tickled to death” (Very pleased with someone or something, perhaps to the point of giddiness)
“Till death do us apart” (A common phrase at a Christian wedding, indicating togetherness and commitment)
“To death” (Extremely worried or bored)
“Toll the death knell” (To signal the end or ruin of something)

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