Death in France


Anyone who has had a chance to look at the obituaries in French newspapers like Le Monde and the Figaro would notice that the French have a special approach to death and notices of death.  It is an aspect of French culture and attitude that has always interested me. Their attitude toward death and dying is in many ways different from ours.  In my student days while living in Brittany during the summer I was able to visit families where a loved one was laid out at home as once was the custom here.   


There was no undertaker and no embalming.  The deceased lay on his or her deathbed surrounded by friends and family. There was a sense of familiarity.  People did not hesitate to touch the beloved and   converse with family members and other visitors. There was a horse- drawn carriage to take the person to the church, along with   the mourners on foot (pedestri itinere) on the way to church. The church was draped in black with large silver tears on the drapery.   After mass the person was buried in the churchyard right next to the church.  Following the Napoleonic code there were different classes of funerals: how many tolls of the bell, incense, catafalque, music,  Office of the Dead sung or recited in Latin – all depending of the class of funeral and stipend received.


Much of this class consciousness was abolished with the Second Vatican Council and today the norm is: Egalité devant l’autel All are equal before the altar.


Times have changed.  Have attitudes? I friend of mine supplies me with the daily issues of Le Monde and Le Figaro.  I find the obituaries often creative and always interesting.  They reveal much about French culture and attitudes to anyone interested.


First of all the obituary announcement (faire part) is always made by members of the family, even distant ones.  There will appear name after name listed, as announcing the death, such as:


Pierre, her husband or Catherine, his wife (son époux -  épouse)

Pierre and Marie, his son and daugher-in law (son fils et sa belle fille),

Jean and Lisa, his grandson and granddaughter (ses petits-enfants),

nieces and nephew (ses nieces et neveu)

on and on, distance relatives, sometimes for 20 lines ………

…. all announcing the death of the person in question.


Some extraordinary obits.


 Besides the usual formulas (below) one encounters some truly extraordinary expressions, some tender, some almost humorous:





A musician:


-          have the regret to announce to you that Jean has played his final “Blues.”

(ont le regret de vous announcer  que Jean a joué son dernier blues.)


A writer and journalist :


-          Jean-Michel put down his pen on Wednesday, January 21.

           (Jean-Michel – journaliste et écrivain – a posé son stylo le mercredi 21 janvier)


A doctor :


-          Doctor Peter X loved children more than flowers.  Thank you for your donations to the children of UNICEF.

(Le docteur X aimait les enfants plus que les fleurs.  Donc il vous remercie pour vos dons aux enfants de UNICEF.)


A reader:


-          Bernard, an avid reader of Le Monde, died in tragic circumstances

(Bernard, lecteur assidu du Monde, et mort dans des circonstances tragiques)


An  organist :


-          I  lived for music

J’ai vecu pour la musique


A friend 


         - He has departed from us,  but he has left us his roses

           (Il nous a quitté mais il nous laisse ses roses.)


A special friend :


        -  We have lost a visionary, an exceptional spirit, nourished by a culture from the                                    

            past  that was open to the present.

           (Ont perdu un visionnaire, un esprit d’exception, nourri d’une culture du passée,       

           ouvert sur le présent.)


An unforgetable friend :


-          our memory and sorrow are always felt.   We will go forward with this “pebble” in our shoes.     

(le mémoire et la douleur sont toujours vives.  Nous avançons avec ce

caillou” à jamais dans nos chaussures.)


Euphemisms for the word “death”   (la mort)


The word “death” (la mort) is not used very often}


I only found a few obituaries using it.


La Mort  (death)


Usually an interesting euphemism is substituted, often creatively:


-          have the sadness to announce the death of (ont la tristesse d’annocer la mort de)

-          weep over the death of their friend Claud (pleurenet la mort d’un ami Claude.)

-          are sad to announce to you the death of (ont la peine de vous faire part de la mort de X)

-          learned with chagrin the death of (ont le chagrin d’appredre la mort de X)


Le Décès  (decease)


The most common word used is decease (décès) as in


-          have the infinite sadness to announce the accidental  decease of (ont l’infini tristesse de faire part du décès accidental de)

-          We have been asked to announce the decease of (on nous prie d’annocer de décès de)

-          have learned with  profound sadness the decease of (ont appris avec profonde truistesse le décès de)

-          have the immense pain to announce to you the brutal decease of

(ont l’immense peine de vous  faire part du décès brutal de)


Other more creative euphemisms for death are most common.


Quitter (to leave)


 - Jean left us peacefully at the age of 82 (Jean nous a quitté paisiblement à l’âge   

   de quatre-vingt deux ans

            - Marie-France left her own (folks) Marie-France a quitté les siens

            - Jean quit his life`s sojourn after a short life filled with beautiful things.

             Jean a quitté ce séjour avec  une vie brève replie de belle façôn.

            - Pierre chose to leave us  (Pierre a choisi de nous quitter)


Eteindre  ( to extinguish, to go out like a candle, or a light bulb)


-          Doctor Jean X`s life was extinguished  on January 13 (Le docteur Jean X s’éteint le 13 janvier

-          Pierre-Louis (died) went out in the hope of the Resurrection.

( Pierre-Louis s’est éteint dans l’espérance de la Résurrection)

-          Louise`s light went out in her 94th year  (Louise s’est éteinte dans sa 94ième année)



Rappeler (to call back, to call back home)


-          called back to God in the hope of the Resurrection (Rappelé à Dieu dans   l’espérance de la Résurrection

-          called back while at home in Paris  (rappelé en son domicile parisien)

-          in His peace and His light God  called Louis to himself

(Dans Sa paix  et Sa lumière Le Seigneur a rappelé à Lui Joseph.

-          it pleased the Lord to call to Himself  His servant

(Il a plu au  Seigneur de rappeler à Lui Son serviteur)


Retourner   (to return)


-          Sophie  returned to God (Sophie est retournée à Dieu)

-          to notify you that Jacques returned to God

-          (vous font part du retour à Dieu de Jacques X


S’endormir  (to fall alseep)


-          Gabriel fell asleep for eternity surrounded by all the love of his family

-          (Gabriel s’est endormie pour l’éternité entouré de tout l’amour des siens)

-          Charles fell asleep in the peace of the Lord

(Charles s’est endormi dans la Paix du Seigneur)

-          Jean Dominique fell asleep in the peace of the Lord and nourished by the

      sacraments of the Church. (Jean Dominique s’est endormi dans la paix du  

      Seigneur, muni des sacraments de l’Eglise.)


Terme (the end)


-          Richard  reached the end of  his earthy voyage

(Richard est arrivé au terme de son voyage terrestre)


Disparition (disapperance)


-          have the sadness to announce to you the disappearance of Francine

(ont la douleur de vous announcer la disparition de Francine)


S’en aller  (to go away)


-          In spite of all the love of his family Alfred went away at the age of eighty

(Malgré tout l’amouir des siens Alfred s’en est allé à l’âge de 80 ans.)



Entrer (to enter)


-          Lionel entered into the light of God

(Lionel est entré dans la Lumière de Dieu)


Rejoindre (to rejoin)


-          Madame Pauline has joined her husband in the joy of the Lord

(Madame Pauline a rejoint son mari dans la joie du Seigneur)




The Name of the deceased is then given


Once we read the phrases that announce the death of someone the name of the deceased is given, centered and in bold type.


If the name is that of a married woman, her maiden name will be given (née Monique…)


If there are any specific titles they will be listed beneath the name of the deceased, such


       -    received the Military Medal (médaille militaire)

-          knight of the Order of Merit (chevalier de l’ordre du Mérite)

-          Croix de Guerre 1939-1945 (Croix de Guerre 19390-1945)

-          Organist (organiste)

-          Priest from the diocese of Le Havre (prêtre du diocèse du Havre)

-          Doctor of Economics (Docteur en sciences économiques)

-          Mayor of the …th arondissment (maire duième arondissment)

-          Comedian and painter (Comédien  et peintre)


Funeral services to be held


      The common image of a non-religious France comes into question at the end of life.

Most of the obituaries in Le Monde and Le Figaro have a religious tone.  Here are examples of both:


-          the religious ceremony will take place at

(la cérémonie réligieuse aura lieu (se déroulera, literallyunfold’) à)

-          (various formulas  are  used here) the funeral mass or the will take place at

      (la messe de requiem, les  funerailles, d’adieu, l’office réligieux, aura (auront)  

      lieu,  sera (seront) célébrées  à)

-          the funeral services will take place (les obsèques auront lieu)

-          Hommage will be rendered at (un homage sera rendu à)

-          Burial will take place at (l’inhumation aura lieu à)

-          Cremation will take place within family intimacy

(la cremation aura lieu dans l’intimité familiale)


Some other phrases that occurred this month:


Survenu:  suddenly, unexpectedly take away (used when giving the actual date of death)


Muni(e) des sacraments de l’Eglise: strengthened by the sacraments of the  church


Requiescat in pace:  Rest in peace


Selon la volonté du défunt, ni plaques, ni couronnes, ni fleures, (ni messes)


According to the wishes of the deceased, no inscriptions, wreaths, flowers,

(sometimes, no masses)


Fleures naturelles.  No artificial flowers


dans la plus stricte intimate   In the strictest intimacy


A l’image de sa vie, il aurait apprécié qu’on lui rend hommage dans la simplicité


In keeping with his lifestyle, he would have appreciated it if we would commemorate him with simplicity.




An obituary for a veteran of WW II:


Qu’ils se rappellent qu’ils lui doivent un peu de leur liberté.


Let us be reminded that we owe him some of our freedom.




Another obituary quotes Bazin :


N’attendons pas, ne pesons pas nos risques.

Il n’y a qu’un seul

Qui n’est pas de finir,

Car nous finirons tous

Mais de finir sans avoir commencé.  (Bazin)


Let’s not hedge or weigh our risks.

The only risk is not that we didn’t finish,

but that we finished without ever having started.




Another obitiuary quotes Avicenna :


Le corps est une monture

Qu’il faut savoir abandonner

Lorsque le but du voyage est atteint. (Avicenna)


The body is like a mounted steed

That one must abandon

When the ride has ended.




A memorial published in the paper on Valentine’s Day


Pour mon fils Frédéric.

A quoi ça sert que, pour le cinquième fois,

Je ne puisse te le souhaiter

Par la faute d’un chauffard récidiviste, ivre  et drogué?


Ça sert à pleurer plus que les autres jours.


Je t’aime.


Ta maman.


For my son Frederick.


What good is this Valentine`s Day for me,

For the fifth year now,

when I can`t greet you

because of a recidivist, drunken and drugged driver?


The only thing Valentine’s Day is good for

is for me to weep more today than on other days.


I love you.


Your Mom.