Adorable Work Anecdote

13 February, 2007, Tuesday

The company I work for has several funeral homes as clients, and so I speak to a lot of nursing homes and assisted living facilities who call to report the deaths of their elderly residents.  

This was the opening statement of a death call I got last night:

“Hi, my name is Sally Jones, and I’m calling from Such and Such Assisted Living Center to report that one of our residents, John Smith, went to Heaven.”

………I’ll pause a moment to let that properly sink in……

A grown woman, nay, a grown professional woman said that one of her patients had, literally, died and gone to Heaven. Oooh boy.

I’ve been doing my current gig for a long fucking time, and I have never, ever taken a death call where someone left the deceased’s eternal forwarding address. 

Is she kidding? She has just got to be kidding, I thought to myself.  

Because nursing home staff sometimes get jaded to the whole death thing, they do occasionally get a little flippant and borderline disrespectful to jazz things up a bit when they call us. 

However, having never spoken to this particular nurse before, I was wary.  So I took the information I needed and refrained from adding my own jokes (“Was Jesus driving the bus?”). 

At the conclusion of the call, and since I was almost near death myself with curiosity about whether this woman was serious or not, when I patched her through to the funeral director so he could dispatch the body removal service, I couldn’t resist listening for a few seconds to hear how she introduced herself to him:

“Hi, I’m Sally Jones, calling to report a resident who’s gone to Heaven.” 

She was as serious as a malignant tumour. 



  1. Let’s hope the resident is happy in his new home and gets to meet Anna Nicole Smith and God, not necessarily in that order.

  2. When a patient dies while I’m on duty at the hospital, there are several procedures to carry out. When I call to get things in motion, I always say “I’m calling to report a patient death” because concision and clarity are very important in my field. But to the rest of my team, or the nursing staff, or so on, it’s always “Mrs. Jones just passed away” or something similar—a little euphemism doesn’t hurt and it’s a small way to pay some respect. I never talk about their next destination, though…

  3. I really appreciate when people say that someone “died” instead of using a euphemism. But anyway, that reminded me of a joke I heard last night (and I wonder why Sally Jones was so sure the resident had gone to heaven).

    Karel dies and goes to hell. Satan (who is clearly a lot better mannered than most people give him credit for) is showing Karel around and reassuring him that hell is not really all that bad.

    Karel, do you like the booze? Did you drink much when you were alive?

    Oh, yeah, I like to drink. I always went out to the pub with my mates.

    Well, then you’ll like Mondays. Monday nights are all you can drink – beer, fine wines, vodka, gin, tequila, whisky – whatever your poison. But you don’t have to worry about your liver because you’re already dead. Tell me, Karel, do you like gambling?

    Well, yeah, I enjoy a good game of poker or betting on the horses.

    Well, then you’ll like Tuesdays. Tuesday nights are gambling nights – we’ve got poker, roulette, blackjack, baccarat, horse races, dog races – whatever you want. And you don’t have to worry about gambling debts because you’re already dead. So, do you like women?

    Of course. I love women!

    Then you’ll like Wednesdays. And we’ve got all kinds of women – younger, older, slim, full-figured, large breasts, small breasts – whatever you want. One at a time, two at a time, three at a time. And they’ll all do anything you want them to do. You don’t have to worry about STDs because you’re already dead. And do you like drugs?

    Well, sure, every once in a while.

    You’ll like Thursdays then. Thursday nights are all you can smoke, snort, swallow, inject or whatever. We’ve got crack, smack, lsd, pcp, mushrooms, dope, speed, ecstasy – you name it. And you don’t have to worry about overdosing because you’re already dead. Tell me, Karel, do you like men?

    What?! No! I’m not gay, if that’s what you mean.

    Oh. Then I’m afraid you are not going to enjoy Fridays very much at all.

  4. Extermie: Of the two, I think Anna Nicole probably has better stories. I know who I’d rather bunk with.

    Darmok, you are obviously a very nice, respectful man (and oh, if only I were half the man you are). Do you ever say a patient has “expired”? That’s the one that rouses a few of my colleagues to anger. To that, they always say: “Milk expires, people don’t!”

    Max: Very cute joke! (and you’re right, Satan doesn’t get enough credit for his suave demeanour)

  5. Well…I am very nice and respectful to my patients, though I can be a jerk to others.

    As a matter of fact, I do use “expired” on occasion, but in a more formal context (not as a euphemism). For instance, our documentation for patients who die include an “expiration summary.” I’m not sure why your colleagues are upset; I don’t see why a meaning of expire meaning “to come to an end” should have any bearing on its meaning “to die”—in fact, Merriam-Webster considers the latter to be the primary definition.

    Or perhaps your colleagues are easily confused by words with multiple definitions?

    (OK, I was trying to not be nice and respectful!)

  6. Darmok – Good try, but you didn’t even break skin.

    The whole issue is made even more odd when it’s a Christian who claims to find the term “expire” distasteful.

    I should think that they, of all people, would be happy to accept that each and every one of us has an expiration date stamped on us by God’s own big rubber stamper.

    Maybe it’s just linguistics – it’s not really a very pretty word. And it semi-rhymes with ‘perspire’- another word some people find icky.

  7. I guess I don’t find the word to have an unpleasant sound, but as a doctor I do use technical terms often. Other semi-rhyming words include inspire and aspire which are arguably better matches than perspire.

    Perhaps it’s a local complaint? Your post is the first time I’ve come across someone complaining about this usage, and the word does come up frequently for me.

  8. Frightening isn’t it?

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