Speaking Ill of the Dead

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.


7 thoughts on “Speaking Ill of the Dead

  1. Carole

    Just a couple of weeks ago, a newspaper pulled an obit of a woman whose children, stated her shortcomings, abusiveness and wickedness as a Mother. So many people sided with the family.
    Death should not automatically give somone honor when they lacked any form of goodness in their life. I saw honor those children. Though they are grown, they have not outgrow their lifetime of scaring. Let them share with the rest of the world their cloak of sorrow for what they have endured, so that maybe they can release the pain in their hearts.

      1. That is still just a defensive reaction… they don’t see well… we are just huge blobs of heat… so they lash out. If a giant foot came down on your living room, you might stab it with a fork… okay… the van thing is a little creepy…

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