I was chatting with a coworker when he received a text message. “Whoa. My cousin just died.” I told him I was sorry for his loss, as you do. “Don’t be,” he said. “She was mean as a snake and hated my guts.”
Once upon a time I might have been shocked by that response. You’re taught that you should never speak ill of the dead. When I was little I used to think that was some magical rule, like they’d come back and get you or haunt you if you said mean things about them. Like some afterlife boogey man was out there, just waiting to pounce.
In retrospect I can see where it might be wise not to shoot your mouth off, but only out of respect for the living. There’s no point in hurting the complex feelings of the people who might actually genuinely mourn someone’s passing.
But frankly, I think it can be somewhat cleansing to be able to speak the truth about someone who has made your life a living hell, too. For instance, I jumped for joy when my abusive stepfather died, although the damage had already been done, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. If the man wanted to be lauded in death, he should have behaved decently in life.
Even if you don’t believe in some form of afterlife, something, even if it is just your legacy or reputation, will, as Charles Dickens so aptly said, wear the chains you forge in life. And what one chooses to forge is the responsibility of each individual.
I’m not going to revise history just because you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Dying isn’t some sort of get out of jail free card, or some special pass. Everyone dies sooner or later. It’s the great equalizer. It’s how you treat people while you’re alive that sets you apart.
So if you feel the need to vent about someone who has died and need someone to listen who won’t be shocked or offended, pat pat, come sit by me.