For most of my life, a big thing in my life was being told not to speak ill of the dead. When I was a kid I thought that was because if you talked smack about dead people they’d come back and haunt you. As an adult, I realize that if the dead have a problem with how I talk about them now, they know where I’m at.
I wonder if that belief in not talking ill of the dead is because the dead can’t defend themselves. I don’t buy that argument because I wasn’t aware every discussion about the dead was supposed to be a group debate session. Now I realize this argument is just to shut people up in talking about things they have every right to talk about.
I’m going to hang myself out here with an opinion that might not be very popular: the dead don’t need their legacy preserved without honesty. A lot of people keep things to themselves because they don’t want to hurt people’s perceptions of their long-gone loved ones. I will respect anyone’s decision whether or not to talk about someone who’s dead but I don’t feel you have to venerate the dead for the rest of eternity either.
As I begin to write my book ‘Breaking Radio Silence’, I will be talking about the dead and some of what I write might not be ‘nice’. When it comes to my parents they would be the first people to tell you they weren’t perfect. They never claimed to be and even after they’d gotten pissed off and raged hard, they were able to apologize when they’d been wrong and said and done things they shouldn’t have. NO ONE IS PERFECT (I put that in all-caps here to make a point) so I don’t see any need to treat people as perfect just because they’re dead and gone.
My mother has been gone for twenty years so I’ve had twenty years to live without her. I’ve had to learn to live with memories and memory is a tricky thing because you want to remember good things but you also get the bad stuff with that. My father once said he chose to remember the good because the bad was always there. And he was right on the mark with that so that’s why I will talk about the bad stuff, the painful stuff, the stuff that’s taken me years to put into words. And if this makes someone uncomfortable, that’s on them and not me.
Many years ago, I heard people say that I was too comfortable with death. No, I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ at all. I just had to learn how to talk about it because I was watching it slowly advance on my mother first, then my father. And in death there’s a fair amount of paperwork involved so there’s that to deal with and if talking about that makes people uncomfortable then that’s on them.
Not long after my mother got her cancer diagnosis, my parents asked me to sit and talk with them about what to do when my mom died. I got up and walked out of the room. The thought of death slammed into me I couldn’t think or speak at that moment, but I eventually bucked up and started having those conversations with my mother and father. There was no comfort in those talks at all. They were just about working out the details that were going to need to be taken care of. And again, if anyone has a problem with that now, I’ll say to them like I should have said back then: go fuck yourself. My parents trusted me to take care of things for them because they knew how good I was at keeping my shit together and that I’d found the guts to face those damn details and get things done the way they wanted to. I’m not talking about this with pride, but I will not talk about it with shame or guilt either.
I know it might be hard for people to understand grief and pain when they haven’t experienced it themselves. It’s not an experience I wish on anyone though I know most people will have to go through it at some point in their lifetimes. If you haven’t gone through it, don’t judge people who have. If you have to, just walk out of the room until you can deal with it. My parents didn’t hold that walk-out against me in any way. They told me they’d understood why I had done that and knew that I would come and talk to them when I was ready. I talked to them because I knew that’s what they wanted me to do, and that they believed in me to shoulder the responsibility they were giving me.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with in the process of working this book project here is feeling shame and guilt for things that I didn’t do wrong. I took on too much bullshit and insecurity from people I never should have. Every single person deals with things in their own way and anyone who insists on conformity in dealing with shit is an asshole. For in the end, there really isn’t any control over things. You just deal with them as they come and work through the fallout in the years after.