How To Respect the Dead Without Disrespecting the Living

How do you do that? How do you respect the dead without disrespecting the living? I’m asking you personally for personal answers, personal experience perspectives, rather than for impersonal answers… impersonal answers I can find by Googling.

Impersonal answers I can find simply by sharing my own story online and putting it out there… like a worm on a hook on the end of a fishing line, which wiggles and jiggles enough to capture the attention of one of those people who likes to make themselves feel superior, enlightened, zen by dropping a comment here and there on social media to let other people know that other people are doing it wrong.

And they say things like: “You must forgive your father now that he’s dead because he was your father, he loved you, and you must now only speak well of him since you can’t speak ill of the dead.”

Ah, thank you very much for sharing, person who doesn’t know me (and has no intention of getting to know me), for telling me what I should do (because no one in this world ever does that), for letting me know that my father (whom you also don’t know) loved me (he never actually told me he loved me, but he did tell others he loved me when he wanted them to think he was a wonderful father saddled with a terrible daughter… and maybe they could have a word with her because he was trying to manipulate her but she was being difficult, a brat, refusing to be manipulated), and informing me that I can no longer tell my story, speak my truth, release myself from years of silence where I had to only say what was appropriate for a child, even as an adult, about my parents (while my parents could say whatever they pleased about their child). Of course the dead matter more than the living, how silly of me to think otherwise, and appearances matter more than what lies beneath, the false matters more than the real thoughts and real feeling hiding behind a proper facade.

The above is a hypothetical scenario of sorts. I haven’t had one of those kind of comments in awhile, but I have had them during the time I was writing about my relationship with my father, venting, ranting, cathartically releasing… basically going through the stages of grief online (or more to the point the stages of healing from a very long and complex relationship with a narcissist which are similar to the 5 stages of grief).

A week or so ago I looked at one of my old posts – The Absent Father and The Devouring Mother – because someone on a forum had linked to it, someone else had followed that link recently, and while I could recall parts of what I wrote, I thought I’d reread it. The last comment I received on that post before I closed comments on old posts said: “I hope someday you are able to forgive your father.” and at the time I remember thinking: “It’s interesting that they hope someday I’ll forgive my father but don’t give a shit if I forgive my mother… they must be a father who perhaps is estranged from their child.”

 

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

― Mark Twain

   

Impersonal answers I can find just by mentioning that my father died…

awkward silence

person rifles through their mind for the socially correct thing to say which will give them an escape route out of awkward situation silence and socially interacting with me

Person: I’m sorry for your loss… 😦

Me (thinking): Thank you (Why are you apologising, is it your fault he’s… lost?)

Person: It must be a difficult time for you, just know that your father is at peace now, and would want you to be at peace too 🙂 (omg, I can’t… I don’t… have time for this, how do I get out of here… did I leave the iron on? Did I remember to tell Alexa to turn it off, if only she could do the ironing too. I need coffee, where’s the nearest Coffee Shoppe?)

Me: Thank you very much (well, at least they didn’t do that other thing where my father’s death becomes all about them and their father’s death, and after three hours of listening to their life story, and their relationship with their father story, I end up having to console them and apologise for having triggered such painful memories for themthey’re struggling, I need to help them get away from me), hope to see you later after I’ve done all the mourning stuff 🙂

Person (looking relieved and a bit disapproving of the way I phrased that last bit): Of course, you must have lots to do… um, let me know if you need anything, any help, a shoulder to cry on (please, please, please don’t do that, I would like to be that person who says that and means it but I’m not… I don’t really want to be that person)

Me: Thank you so much, that’s so very kind of you, I will give you a shout if I need you (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that)

I realise that everything I’ve said up to now (and probably everything I say after now) probably sounds really bad, makes me seem like I’m… well, sometimes I can be an a-hole, sometimes it’s liberating to be one.

  

  

When my father died, several years ago… one of the things which stood out for me was the way people behaved towards me once I informed them of the news.

A few people in particular took what I realise is a difficult situation for them (I have been on the other side of this situation, and also struggled with how to deal with it… I think I’m better at it now since I’ve been on both sides, maybe not, no one ever gives you ratings on such things, and it does depend on the other person and what they need from you, from others) and turned it into a difficult situation for me adding to the already difficult situation I was in because my father had died.

I had for a long time been out of contact with my father (because I went No Contact with him, which wasn’t that hard since he regularly didn’t bother, since I was a child, keeping in touch with me). I had tried as an adult to have an adult relationship with him, but it was never going to happen (if at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail, fail again),  especially with my mother around to put a spanner in the works as always.

The last time I tried, she interfered, and once again I became piggy-in-the-middle of their incessant games. My father would telephone me to announce that he was going to kill himself. I knew he wouldn’t (and he didn’t, he died over a decade later from natural causes). He did this several times. It perplexed me… until I found out from my mother that she had phoned him (after I’d stupidly told her I was back in touch with him) to let him know that she still loved him and if he ever needed her to save him from the clutches of his awful witch-mistress (see below to find out whether she really was an awful witch) he should call me and I would pass the message on to her. My mother had not discussed this with me before doing it, and I was very pissed at her – but of course I had to forgive her for trampling all over me for the umpteenth time because she was concerned for my father and wasn’t she wonderful.

“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”

― Oscar Wilde

I was informed of the news of my father’s death by my mother with who I’d established No Contact for over a decade (should have done it sooner but it seems that I was a masochist or a sadist towards myself). Through an intermediary she sent me a letter dated a month after my father had died, but she knew about his death much sooner even though my father had also gone No Contact with my mother decades before.

In that letter she said: “Happy Birthday! Your father is dead. Oh and I need your help to get my grubby little hands on his inheritance, I tried to do it without you so that I could have it all to myself but the dumb legal system said ‘No’, how very dare it doesn’t it know who I am, and I never take No for an answer.

Okay, I messed a bit with what she said in the letter, that’s more what I heard… but she did start it off by saying – Happy Birthday! Your father is dead – which was jarring to see as it appeared as though… well you can see exactly how it appeared to me as it probably appears that way to you too. I know what she meant, the letter was written a few days close to my birthday, so lucky me wasn’t it wonderful of her to remember. Once she’d gotten that out of the way, she immediately moved onto what really mattered to her. She did then go on to discuss how I had to contact her immediately because she didn’t want my father’s mistress or his greedy siblings and their equally avaricious kids (with whom she is now Facebook friends – sometimes I Google her to see if she’s still alive) to steal the inheritance.

There wasn’t actually that much of an inheritance (there was an old crumbling house which my father hadn’t lived in for years and which had accumulated some fines, his lawyer’s bill which his mistress settled… bet she wished she hadn’t because the lawyer didn’t do the job she was paid to do – to get a divorce from my mother, luckily my father died shortly after the divorce was supposedly approved thinking he had finally freed himself from her clutches, a bit of money to cover the costs of settling his estate, and some artwork my father had painted but hated because his strokes had affected his ability), but my mother was never one for truth and facts, not real ones anyway, all she valued was her version of truth and facts. And my father’s mistress was a better wife to my father than my mother ever was. My father had been ill for years before he died and his mistress had cared for him – he was a very difficult impatient patient.

He thought he was immortal… wonder whether he was surprised that he wasn’t?

I was surprised by his death. Not because I believed him when he said he was immortal – he said that to me and my partner the last time I saw him in person (which was before the phone call debacle from above), and explained why and how he was immortal. I’d only gone to visit him because I wanted my partner to see up close and personal the sort of family I came from and the hell he’d be getting himself into by loving me. As always, my partner was cool AF. My father was a hard man to impress, he hated people, he loved to mess with their heads and was very good at it, but I could tell he thought my partner was cool AF. There was a glint in his usually dead-bored eyes. I knew that glint of his well, knew what it meant… I have his eyes (not like that! That’s sick!).

   

The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet

  

While I was in the early stages of going through all of the palaver which happens after someone dies, one person in particular…

Well, I asked them to give me some personal space while I figured out how I felt about my father dying, the way I found out, and what I would have to do next because of my mother… I was going to do nothing but then my father’s mistress contacted me some time after my mother had and asked me to step in to sort things out, etc…

And this one person in particular said they understood, their father had died too years before, but they didn’t understand at all and proved that they didn’t by first harassing (why do I try to use words which are a nightmare to spell correctly) me to share my feelings with them… and when I repeatedly refused to do that (mainly because I didn’t know what I was feeling other than increasingly annoyed by their pestering me after I had asked them to leave me be, but also I barely knew this person and they certainly didn’t know me although they were certain they knew me better than I knew myself which if that was true they’d have known I effing hate it when people think that as they’re usually the sort of people who don’t know what they think they know), they created a big drama over a nothing which I had done, and… yeah, thanks, I really needed that (actually I did really need that, it woke me up from lethargy, which led to blogging about narcissists… and so in many ways I am grateful that they disrespected the living daylights out of me), so glad you offered to help me in my difficult time of trouble and mourning.

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”

― Anais Nin

 Just the other night I was reading a post on an astrology blog – Aquarius Papers: “We Are But A Moment’s Sunlight, Fading in the Grass” – which wasn’t really about astrology, it was about the sense of death approaching and what to do with life while we are living it. It is a thought-provoking post, with many wise words sharing a personal feeling.

I liked this bit:

“As this is “the time of the Dead,” where I am remembering people long dead as well as the more recently dead, it seemed to be a perfect time to explore the edge of Eternity where our life confronts the inevitability of ultimate transformation someday down the road of Time.


The friend who emailed me said she was struck with the uncertainty of how much longer her life would be, and how futile it is to be embroiled in negative thoughts, especially about what others were doing. She realized that life is about bringing hope, joy, and love to others, and to live life with as much gratitude as she could, every minute of every day.


I told her that’s exactly why we must chart our own course, and keep our “head and heart space” regardless of the outer world. Though the world may throw us curve balls, offering us things that we believe will happen and don’t, we do not have to get upset at the “bait and switch” situations that tempt us to lose our equilibrium. All we have to do is accept what we must while still making the best of every possibility on our “trip of destiny” which brought us to where we are here and now.


Others’ bad attitudes don’t matter in the slightest. Wherever we find ourselves, we simply have to remember to be true to ourselves and our integrity, and devote our precious time, energy, and money to what we believe is good. Sometimes that means saying yes, and other times saying no, while always remaining the Loving Wise Intelligence we ARE that stands above our personality.”

– Robert Wilkinson, Aquarius Papers: “We Are But A Moment’s Sunlight, Fading in the Grass”

These days I bask in the warm glow of the Sun even when the Sun is behind clouds. As I write these words the room in which I write is bathed in the colourful rays of a setting Autumnal Sun… when I was a child my room was always on the shade side of the house, as a child I was forever in the shadow of my parents, even as an adult I was under the spell of their darkness (even the light of the love and support of my cool AF partner couldn’t get through much of the dark fog within), until… my father died.

The living need our respect more than the dead. No, we don’t have to respect them just because they are alive but maybe that’s the problem… are we waiting for them to die before we’ll give them respect.

If a person disrespects the dead and we think they shouldn’t do that… why do we think they shouldn’t do that?

What if the dead person when they were alive disrespected this person, what if this person spent a lifetime being respectful to the dead person when they were alive and they were still disrespected, perhaps because the dead person was this live person’s parent and they demanded respect because of that role, title, label, and yet what if they were a terrible parent, what if they disrespected their child day after day until that child lost all respect for themselves, more so because they kept respecting their parent in spite of the abuse…

Perhaps they need to disrespect the dead now to respect themselves, and by disrespecting the dead to respect themselves maybe they’ll free themselves from a burden of a lifetime and be able to respect the living (including themselves) more and more…

The dead don’t need our respect anymore, they’re dead… but if they still want something from the living, maybe it is to be left to rest in peace.

“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

― Plato

This post was partly inspired by Ragtagcommunity‘s Rag Tag Daily Prompt: RDP Saturday – Bask (and yes, it’s Friday today not Saturday… yesterday, Thursday, I was convinced that it was Friday until my partner said the day felt like Friday, and I replied that’s because it is Friday, and he said it’s Thursday, and he was right, so… I love that they said today is Saturday! I hope they don’t correct it!)

This post is also partly inspired by reading the Dear Blog posts on A Guy Called Bloke and K9 Doodlepip. His father recently died, and he’s going through a very difficult time. He writes about it, sharing his experience in a deep and thoughtful manner. I haven’t ‘Liked’ all of the posts because sometimes it feels like I’m eavesdropping on a private conversation and I should not intrude, but I have been following his story of his experiences. Thank you for sharing, Rory!

(A quick weirdly relevant irrelevant note: If you’re looking at this post on my blog and not in the reader, the colour I’m using for the links today is hex: #dadada – I didn’t do that deliberately, sometimes the universe just… things come together and you notice them doing that.)

This post is also partly inspired by my finally deciding to go through the long list of all the WordPress blogs I follow to unfollow those who are no longer blogging – I didn’t want to upset people by unfollowing them, but I’m shifting away from being that way. I checked to see if they’d left a final post to explain why they’d stopped blogging, and one of them had a message from a friend announcing that the blogger had died.

Here’s a beautifully poignant post by the ever raw and real and writing and sharing force of nature, Melanie, of Sparksfromacombustiblemind: Of Death and Dying. I was looking for a different post of hers which she wrote awhile ago about the death of a blogger, but I couldn’t find it… I’m glad I found this instead.

The post from a friend about the death of the blogger reminded me of recently finding out that at the beginning of this year one of the very first people I met when I finally decided to enter the fray of social media had died.

I did wonder why I hadn’t heard from him through posts on his social media, but he’d become very disillusioned with social media and had considered leaving it behind so I thought it was that. He was one of the loveliest warmest funniest people you could meet online. He was an inspiration, he will be missed (sorry, I didn’t miss you sooner, Laet, and check on you, but I know you’d understand, thank you very much for welcoming me into your fold, for helping this odd ball of mess that I am, and thank you most of all for being you and sharing yourself! Muito obrigada!).

     

13 comments

  1. Um, wow. And thanks for the shout out…. I’m deeply honored, and promise to find the blog I wrote after Terry (that’s the blogger here who passed away) died and share it with you. I heard something interesting – a different take on death from someone after hubby died. They said “the funeral or *insert mourning ‘event’* is for the LIVING, not the dead.” I’d never thought of it like that. Anyway to answer your question: How do you do that? How do you respect the dead without disrespecting the living?” I don’t know. In your circumstance (with a narcissist as a close relative) I think it’s complicated because the narcissist insists on a lot of hoopla…and all about THEM (screw the dead person). My mother, who suffered from borderline personality disorder (which is the first cousin to narcissism IMHO) was in her element when Pops died. She had everyone’s attention and it was great. For her. For those of us who loved Pops and didn’t want a lot of fuss and bullshit and a circus, that was torture. Me? I respect the dead by remembering them IN MY OWN WAY. Fuck ritual, tradition, other pushy assholes who are related to the dead person TOO; each (IMHO) should remember and honor the dead in their own personal way and not expect the other people (living) involved to do it with them. That’s respect for the living. Remembering that individuals don’t all grieve the same way is a way to respect the living too. To me.

    I started to write a whole book on this comment, and thought of you and decided to make a blog post about this whole thing because I’d be interested as well to see what people think of that question.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, Melanie 🙂

      Your reply is brilliant!

      And yes, if you can share the link to the post about Terry, that’d be great!

      I agree that the ceremonies for the dead are for the living, since the dead really DGAF even if they did before they died. And if there is life after death and the dead are being all “I didn’t want that!” about what the living are doing about their death… yeah, well, aren’t there other things in life after death you should be focusing upon, like maybe what comes next!?!

      I also totally agree that each person has to grieve in their own way, and remember those who have died as they choose to do so (which may change as they change, as they continue with their life). Sometimes the way people grieve and remember the dead is by interfering in how others grieve and remember the dead – that can be very annoying, but whatever 😉 it can become a merry-go-round if you get too annoyed.

      There’s quite a bit of discussion on psychology forums about the overlaps between Borderline and Narcissistic personality disorders… if you’re the child of either it’s a circus with them as the master of ceremonies, and your needs, wants, etc, aren’t relevant. There’s a weird love/hate about it.

      Thank you for sharing yourself, Melanie, I… I don’t know how to express just how refreshing and inspiring it is knowing you (and I realise I don’t know-know you), reading your words, your writing ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “How do you do that? How do you respect the dead without disrespecting the living?” I’ll try to answer this based on my life experiences and beliefs but I don’t know how successful I’ll be, because I don’t understand why there’s any conflict there. I believe you should not feel obligated to respect someone who has died if you didn’t respect that person when he/she was alive. I suppose there must be a certain amount of play acting and stretching levels of tolerance in situations like you spoke about, just as there is in the rest of life when confronted with anyone whose beliefs and actions oppose your own. My solution would be/was to plan no funeral and a very simple, very small memorial service awhile after the death of the one close to me, to which I invited a few of his closest friends, which greatly reduced my need to smile and agree when I would have preferred not to. I found your question through Melanie B Cee, to whom I said that since funerals are really for closure for the survivors, they should be planned in the way that best suits the survivors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much for sharing and replying to my question, Carol 🙂

      I think it is great that you don’t see a conflict there, that’s a reflection of your personal wisdom and understanding. So many of the conflicts we encounter in life are dissipated by us realising that there is only a conflict there if we see a conflict there, to remove the conflict stop seeing it as a conflict. I love your perspective and approach, it is very respectful of everyone.

      I grew up with narcissists, which skews perception about even the simplest things. Narcissists are all about appearances, how things and people look to others, pretending to be who you are not, putting on a show for an audience to receive applause. Throughout my life I’ve had people (some of whom were complete strangers) lecture me on what I could and could not say, usually what I could and could not say about my parents because they were parents and a child must always be respectful even if they have to lie to do that – which clashed with the other rule I was told about not lying. When your parents are narcissists you end up treating yourself disrespectfully, and it becomes harder and harder to respect yourself.

      I’m mostly out of that woods now, there’s always some residue. I was reading someone else’s (that’d be Rory’s blog posts to which I linked) struggles with something similar and… this post spilled out of me.

      Thank you again for your wise words, much appreciated 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have always believed that respect is earned not given. I feel like you just have to be honest. If you want to go to a funeral to get closure, definitely go to the funeral. Just don’t feel like you owe anyone a explanation and if you don’t want to go, don’t go.
    My dads, dad (so my Grandfather) was a horrible father to all his kids really, except one. So half of his own children didn’t show up. Even though he and my Nan fought all the time and he was just as horrible to her, when he died. All of a sudden to her, he became this “Martyr” almost.

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    • Thank you very much for sharing and answering my question, Lolsy 🙂

      I agree about respect being something earned, and that people can’t expect it to just be given to them because of their position, their role, their title, or because they want it and demand it, especially when they’re being disrespectful to others.

      I do think you can give people a detached kind of respect, as in Humanitarianism ( = all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated as such), but that is more about self-respect, imo. You respect others because you respect yourself (many people who disrespect others tend to lack self-respect), however you don’t have to allow others to trample all over you just because you respect them as that would mean you’re not respecting yourself, and if you don’t respect yourself others won’t respect you either.

      You might find this fun:

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a really great post. 🙂

    I agree with Carol that “you should not feel obligated to respect someone who has died if you didn’t respect that person when he/she was alive.” My mother passed away many years ago and your posts and our comment-chats have helped me to come around to really seeing what she was. But there was a time when I had her up on a post-mortem pedestal. I felt pushed into it by the “but she was your mother” crowd and then I tried to believe it by not looking at her too closely. Lying to yourself to please others or to meet social norms can be a bad idea.

    The dead don’t automatically deserve respect because they’re dead – yes. But I also find myself in a conflict about that statement because Remembrance Day is coming up and I’m a veteran, as were both my parents. The war dead deserve respect, but they were human, too, and subject to all the human foibles.

    I will be thinking about your question for a long time.

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    • Thank you very much, Lynette 🙂

      I know you know where I’m coming from. If we had received a monetary contribution every time someone said – but she’s your mother – we’d have encouraged people to say that even more than they already felt the need to do so 😉 I’d now own a palace, because I would also have gotten money for – but he’s your father – why I spent all of that money on a palace… eh, it was a whim… does anyone want to buy a palace?

      I agree, lying to yourself to please others, to kowtow to social norms… seems like a good idea at the time, but then so did buying that palace!

      You’re absolutely right about respecting those who died fighting on behalf of their country, as well as those who were victims of war in other ways. There is a conflict about it, as there ought to be because we need to consider why there had to be a violent conflict which caused those deaths. We need to remember.

      Thank you very much for sharing and answering 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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