Why is there such strong feeling about “speaking ill of the dead”?
True, the deceased are no longer able to communicate their objections or defend themselves, and there is some merit in preventing posthumous defamation and character assassination.
But there is also a superstitious reluctance to speak ill of the dead, even if their character and behaviour caused great pain to others. In my personal experience, people write a tersely factual obit, attend a strained and conventional funeral, and then never speak of it again. The deceased is wiped out in the collective memory, erased from conversation.
How much saner and comforting it would be if the victims could gather and speak the truth in their hearts. “Grandfather”, let’s say for an example, “was a selfish, mean-spirited, violent crook, who squeezed all joy out of our existence, undermined our confidence with his scathing criticisms, and emotionally abused his terrified family. We are glad that he can no longer exert his malevolent influence. Now, let’s share our secret pains and begin some healing.”
My father, who absolutely could not afford to do so, paid for the funeral of an older brother, the “black sheep” of the family. All the traditional trappings that our family “expected”… notice in the paper, elegant coffin, three days of “viewing”, minister paid to give the traditional sendoff, etcetera. It was a lonely event… even his other brothers and his sons did not attend. The pall bearers were paid staff from the funeral home.
I remember my mother weeping… probably remembering the many times this man had deceived and embezzled, insulted and conned. As well as the times that she had taken in his children when he was “away” (our euphemism for jail) and that my father had visited various hospitals and rehab centers because he was, after all, family.
Following one such unexplained absence, my kind, generous, and dare I say stupid father, actually employed his reformed and penitent brother… until unreliable attendance, drunkenness, erratic behaviour, and unexplained financial losses made this impossible. And now, even in death, my uncle was conning us again, embezzling my father into debt for a funeral his brother didn’t need and didn’t deserve.
This is Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on an intimate scale. I blogged about that here.
I feel sorry for the family. I applaud their courage for casting off social and religious hypocrisy about rituals of bereavement and finally speaking out. I hope they are able to achieve personal peace and to feel good about speaking out against child abuse!