Dying means that a person has ceased to live. Medically it means that the body has ceased to function and can no longer sustain life. Stating that a person has died is the acknowledgment of this condition.
When a person dies the phrase passed away' is often used to relate the news to other people. Saying that someone has passed away' is perhaps seen as a softer or more gentle way of saying that a person has died and is often just an alternative choice of words. However, sometimes passed' or passed away' is used in the sense that a person has passed on', which has a different meaning. Passed' in this respect conveys the belief that the deceased person has moved on to another state of existence: it advocates belief in some kind of life after death. Such a phrase acknowledges the death' of the body but the continuation of the non-physical element of a person; what is often referred to as the soul. In this respect, death is viewed as a stage or process rather than an ending. In the spiritual tradition, the term crossed over' is sometimes used to refer to people who have died, meaning that they have crossed over to the other side', the spiritual realm. Mediums often use the term in spirit' when referring to people to have passed.
Considering the difference between died' and passed' is really a question of determining what is meant by death'. In the Tarot tradition, Death' is a card in the major arcana. When this card appears in a spread it may cause alarm, but the meaning should not be taken literally. In Tarot, the appearance of the Death' card usually indicates the end of a situation, partings or changes in order to enable transformations or new experiences to occur. Therefore, Death' is necessary as part of a process, as part of a cycle. Human death is considered in a similar way in the spiritual tradition.
In some of the oldest mystery traditions, concepts of life and death were not understood in the way that they are generally understood today. In the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, dating from c. 1400 BCE, birth into the earthly world was actually considered to be death, for it meant that the human soul had become trapped in physical form, ignorant of its true nature. True' birth involved releasing the soul from this bondage by overcoming this ignorance and recognizing the true nature of the soul. The Eleusinian Mysteries were a precursor to Platonic philosophy, which taught that the soul was immortal but was submerged in the physical world during mortal life. Within these traditions, death' is ignorance of the spiritual soul.
Saying that a person has died does not actually make any suppositions about existence after death. It is the acknowledgment of a fact in an empirical sense. It does not preclude the immortality of the soul, so to speak, but it does not assume it either. It is recognition of the mortal state of human beings in the physical world. For people who have no belief in life after death, the word died' means something ultimate and finite. For those who believe that the soul does survive death, died' incorporates a different meaning. The use of the phrase passed' would be more appropriate in this instance, but it only has meaning for people who accept that there is existence beyond this world.
In the modern world, truths' are still very much accepted or refuted based on empirical data. It is because of this that the word died' will continue to be used to refer to the ending of a human life in the physical world, for passed' incorporates spiritual meaning which is considered to have no place in the diagnosis of medical science.