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When Someone Dies, How Do You React to the Phrase, She Got Her Wings?

I have written more than once about the “d” word avoidance our culture seems to practice. And when someone dies from cancer, I still say, it’s downright insulting to say so and so lost her battle with cancer. Irks the heck out of me. Do you ever wonder why so many work so hard to avoid using words like died, death, dying? I sure wonder.

And then there’s that phrase often used when a person (generally a woman, right?) dies that goes something like, so and so got her wings last night.

I mean, really?

Got her wings?

Every time I hear this particular phrase, I think about the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. I love this movie. It’s one of my favorite holiday classics and Dear Hubby and I try to watch it every year. Even if you hate this movie or have never seen it, you likely know Clarence, an angel, gets his wings at the end of the movie. And yes, I think it’s sweet and all that, but it’s a movie. Sweet and sappy work in a movie.

When talking about real life and real death, saying someone got her wings, sounds flippant and annoying to me.

I suppose we say this sort of thing to take some of the heaviness out of the situation death. Saying, so and so got her wings, isn’t so dark, so bleak, so final, or something.

When someone dies, how do you react to the phrase, she got her wings?

One of many from my angel collection

To be clear, I am certainly not implying others should not use this phrase if they want to. If the phrase makes you feel better, by all means, use it. I am merely sharing how hearing it makes me feel. And I am wondering if anyone else cringes when they hear it.

Maybe I’m just an oddball. (probably)

And btw, I love angels. I even have a collection of angel ornaments and figurines.

Dear Hubby and I have actually joked around about this. When I am being highly annoying (I know, hard to imagine, right?) he teases that should I die before him, he will say in my obituary that I lost my battle, or got my wings. Yes, we’re weird. I know.

As I’ve also written about before, when someone dies, why not just say the person died?

If the cause is known, why not just say what the person died from be it old age, a heart attack, cancer, a self-inflicted wound, a car accident, or whatever? And yes, saying a person took her/his own life is acceptable to say, too, or should be, because truth should always be acceptable, even when talking about death.

Perhaps especially then.

What do you think?

How do you react to the phrase, so and so got her wings?

Do you avoid using the “d” words or do you make a conscious effort to use them?

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When Someone Dies, Should We Stop Saying, She Got Her Wings? #death #grief #loss #wordsmatter


Monday 18th of January 2021

Cancer killed my mom and I also despise when people say the battle was lost. To me it sounds like the deceased is being blamed for something they actually cannot control the outcome of. I like the wings phrase for my momma. We are catholic and enjoyed sharing our faith. However I never assume others have this cultural leaning, so I only use it when referring to my own mother. I too have noticed our society's reluctance to use the word death. I think its too naked that it seems irreverent. When I asked my boss for bereavement I said "my mom died". When she wrote back she was very kind and compassionate but used the regular euphemisms (loss, passing, etc). Interesting post. I'm glad you posed the question. It's interesting to see the variety of perspectives and explanations


Thursday 21st of January 2021

Vanessa, I am so sorry about your mom. I understand your disdain for the "lost the battle" type phrase. Completely agree with your take on that. You might want to read: Personally, I think society should stop with the "d" word avoidance. I thought the responses to my question were interesting too. Thank you for sharing your insights on this.


Monday 18th of January 2021

PS Now that we're examining euphemisms why does "taking one's life" not stir a similar reaction as "passing", "getting wings" or "losing the battle"? I think there really aren't good alternatives to the words death and suicide.

Ronald Purviance

Thursday 27th of August 2020

A customer at my job today said this about her brother "Got his wings" today. I started to say "Congratulations, is he Air Force or Navy?" when my coworker said "I'm sorry." I then realized what she meant. I had never heard that before. I assumed he became a pilot or aviator!


Friday 28th of August 2020

Ronald, Well, why wouldn't you assume what you did? I'm certainly not a fan of that phrase. I know it works for some, but well, you read my post. Guess now you've heard 'this one' too. Thanks so much for reading and sharing.


Thursday 30th of January 2020

I agree, My son died, and I hate all euphemisms for 'he died,' though some are worse than others. As a Christian, I especially dislike 'got his wings' because nowhere does the Bible teach that we turn into angels when we die. I hate 'lost,' because I know exactly where my son is, and I don't need to find him. I dislike 'passed,' or 'passed away,' because they mean what? Just say 'he died,' it is exactly what happened.


Wednesday 29th of January 2020

It has been mentioned multiple times already, so I won’t “beat a dead horse” stating what’s been said. As with others, it does imply a religious connotation for me. I’m not religious, atheist, or agnostic ~ if that’s understandable. However, I do try to be very conscious of any religious implications when responding on social media. Some are even annoyed by the emoji - which can be interpreted as high five, or praying hands.

I never say someone “gained their wings,” but it doesn’t annoy, insult, or cause me discomfort when someone else uses those words.

To be honest, I’m more annoyed by overly (& constantly) annoyed, hypersensitive people than I am by comments that I don’t agree wIth 100%. Those people lurk on social media, almost as if engaging in conflict provides them pure pleasure. They tend to pick apart & twist peoples words, regardless of how innocent they are.

I’m completely ok with saying someone died, or passed away. In fact, it’s one stipulation I have in my “end of life” wishes. Just say I died, or if that causes you too much discomfort, say I passed away. Because, in the end, we all die.

Paul Mosier

Monday 23rd of December 2019

I agree on “lost her battle.” Our nine year old daughter took her last breath on this earth in May 2018 after a two year battle with cancer. But her bravery, her lust for life—her holding her eye open with one hand so she could draw with the other ten days before she passed—- none of that seemed to describe someone who lost. And at the celebration of her life, I said celebrations are for the victors, and nobody has having a celebration for Rhabdomyosarcoma tonight. None of us know when we will take our last breaths, but what is important is how we live when we do. If I die of a heart attack tomorrow, people won’t say I lost my brief battle with a heart attack. Harmony, our daughter, said “this isn’t real” three days before her last breath. She was lucid, not heavily medicated, no tumor mass in her brain. We were all there as her oxygen level plummeted, and poured our love out to her, but she showed no signs of fear. Wings or whatever, religions are trying to understand the same thing quantum physics and astrophysics are trying to figure out, the ineffable experience that Harmony and others see but can not describe as they walk from here to wherever. I’ve never been a believer or much of a seeker of any sort, but watching my daughter’s experience with “dying” has awakened a curiosity in me. One day I’ll know what she has come to know, and I suspect it’ll feel like returning to a universal consciousness that I’ve forgotten while looking through my own eyes. That’s what the sum of my experiences has made me feel intuitively.


Wednesday 29th of January 2020

I'm agnostic athiest, so I don't like the phrase because it refers to Christianity, and most people who get breast cancer in the world aren't Christians. I do use the phrase "passed" and "passed away", because I, like many people, don't like to say someone died. It does sound a little cold. But if someone uses a religious platitude, I will say something along the lines of "sorry to hear about their death".

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