Saturday, August 14, 2010

Speaking Ill Of The Dead

I have heard this old adage more times than I can say in my life. "Never speak ill of the dead." I have never really seen the logic behind it. Why is it that once a person dies, they become candidates for sainthood?

I did some research and found that the saying originated in Ancient Greece. At that time, people believed that the spirits of the dead could hear what you were saying and punish you if you maligned them in any way.

In modern times, most people think that it is just good manners since the deceased are not present to defend themselves. In any event, I fail to see how death erases any of the damage done by people while they were alive. What about Hitler, Stalin, Jeffrey Dahlmer, Ted Bundy and other famous villains? Did all the damage they did just go away when they met the Reaper?

•George Carlin referred to this phenomenon in a routine on his album On the Road:
"Hey, when you die, you get more popular than you've ever been in your whole life. You get more flowers when you die than you ever got at all. They all arrive at once, too late. And people say the nicest things about you! They'll make shit up if they have to! "Oh yeah, he was an asshole, but a well-meaning asshole." "Yeah, poor Bill is dead." "Yeah, poor Bill is dead." "Poor Tom is gone." "Yeah, poor Tom." "Poor John died." "Yeah, John." "What about Ed?" "Naw, Ed, that motherfucker, he's still alive, man! Get 'im outta here!" "
 
It seems that when a person shuffles off this mortal coil, a nostalgia filter suddenly snaps into place and everything a person did that was wrong or harmful during their life is forgotten. My parents are both gone and I loved them. My mother was a very good woman, but she made a very bad mistake with the way she handled me when I became pregnant. I will never forget the pain I felt when she wanted me put into the maternity prison as soon as I started showing because she was afraid I might corrupt my younger sisters. This was the same loving mother who told  me I didn't have a right to a white wedding. My father? Well, he was a womanizer, an underachiever and a pathological liar (and those are the nicer things). Gee...I am speaking ill of the dead. But that is who he was.
 
Now don't get me wrong. I loved Mama and and there is much about my memories of her that I cherish. I also know that she did love me, but also thought, erroneously, that she was protecting me and my sisters. But she missed the boat with this one. I once had a friend tell me that "your mama was a rose, but a rose has its thorns." I had a conversation with my mother in a therapy session..well, the therapist played the part of my mother..and I think the truth set us both free...me to realize that I was not a bad girl for life, and Mama had the burden removed from her shoulders of being some kind of picture of perfection. If anything, the fact that she died at age 46 prevented a lot of the mellowing that comes with aging. She was just a woman, a mother, a human being and she wasn't perfect or, in the case of my unwed pregnancies, right.
 
I posted about reunion, yesterday, and about how those who adopt can sometimes wreck a budding reunion relationship with their insecurities and demands and I cited my own experience. Whoops! Someone read my blog who really shouldn't read my blog and now I am, again, on the down slope of the roller-coaster. Well, what am I supposed to do? Lie? I got a heated lecture on "speaking ill of the dead" and I say WHY? Death ends a person's mortal life. It does not erase the harm they have done in their lifetime. The people I spoke of were adopters who acted like, well, adopters.
 
Don't get me wrong. I do, honestly respect the feelings the adopted people have for those who adopted them. However, I don't feel that I am under any obligation to feel the same way. I don't necessarily hate adopters. I know a few that I actually like and it leaves me torn. But I do hate the act of adopting and the sense of entitlement that accompanies that act. That is a long-established fact about me and one that the person in question knew. Hell, anyone who know me, knows that. To be honest, I think she was just waiting for me to do something to give her an excuse. She has never resolved her anger towards me. And, I am not one of those "good barfmuggles" who apologise for what they didn't do and lay down like a rug to be walked on in the name of motherhood.
 
So, I have to choose between being honest and being "polite." I choose honesty. And if the truth hurts, then so be it. The most respectful thing anyone ever did to me, when I was in my own LaLa Land, was to treat me as an adult and tell me the truth. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
 
There is a thin, fine line between caring about feelings and ignoring the truth. I guess I crossed that tenuous barrier and the bitch of it is that I am not sorry.
 

7 comments:

Sandy Young said...

Seems that there are many of those thin fine lines that mothers must not cross. Really, nothing much has changed in the adoption arena...mothers must still mind their place or there will be someone who will try to force us back into them! I, for one, defy "my place" and feel that, as an Uppity Woman, I can make "my place" wherever I damn well please. And, that anyone who would force THEIR fiction over YOUR truth has the problem.

jenny81271 said...

Funny thing...my opinion never counted in adoption until after my parents were gone...Daddy died two years after my daughter was gone, so he never got to see how it wrecked my life...probably good because although he helped break my heart..I still don't blame him..he was much older than mom and HIS GENERATION dealt with things in a different manner. He came home as a 16 year old and found his sister dead..she had committed suicide because she was pregnant and unmarried (1926) Fast forward to me, and my mother who never talked of "that time" again and forbade me too. I harbor all sorts of resentment that she basically abandoned me in a time where she shouldn't have. I've always said that if she came back to life for one minute I would tell her exactly how I felt and make her see the pain she caused me and my only daughter. Compound the fact that not only did she sneak and copy my only link to "Jennifer Lynn", two baby pictures from the hospital, she actually carried them around in her purse until after she died. How dare her deny me a chance to be a mom, but she could be a "grandma". Then this summer I finally decided to clean the storage unit with her things out..money and time..she has been dead for 16 years, and I find letters from Daddy to her, and from her father to her, that at best insinuate that she was pregnant before she married my dad. I am still reeling about that one,....so until I sort that out I am feeling ill of the dead...and maybe I will speak ill later.

Just Me said...

In your case, because the adopted said what she said and treated you like you didn't belong I think you had every right to do what you did and telling your story is not speaking ill of the dead. Whoever is blasting you for that should also understand that it was unfair of the adopted to do that to you. It was just plain mean.

What if the shoe were on the other foot and you did it to the adopter? I'm sure the adopted would have stood up for herself. Just like you.

Like when my a-mom stood up to my b-grandma (who was against me reuniting with her daughter). B-grandma was looking for any reason to stop the reunion; any way to take control. And my a-mom politely put her in her place by telling her the decision was not in her hands or in my a-mom's hands. It was mine and my b-mom's decision.

We all have the right to stand up for ourselves. And relaying the story of that moment is NOT speaking ill of anyone.

Anonymous said...

"The truth will set you free."

Keep speaking your truth, Robin, and don't let anyone try to censor you.

This adoptee is one of your biggest fans!!! Keep writing, your words are so refreshing. If people swimming in the kool-aid can't handle it, then they need to get out of the pool.

(((HUGS)))

Lori said...

Robin, Sometimes the ignorance of the ages passes to us. It is up to us to make that ignorance go away. Keep on talking, because the fact is, it doesn't matter what the dead think, I am pretty sure that they don't hang around forever wanting to know what we are doing or saying.

As for having a place - LOL - I have a place, but it sure isn't the back seat anymore. I drive the truck in my life and have for a lot of years. I won't ever take the backseat again.

@JustMe, I have a great forum for the words an adoptee can share to educate and share - and teach - what it means to be an adoptee and what it doesn't mean - look me up!

Chris said...

I had to wrestle with this quite a bit after my ole Joe died last year. Dare I say anything negative about him to anybody, even his own children and my family? I didn't for awhile..but now I do...nothing hateful...but true is true...Joe was a big Asshole..but he was the Asshole I chose to be in my life and we managed to produce some good-lookin' and intelligent kids between the 2 of us. And I too could be quite the huge asshole with him, at times.

Same thing when my mom passed away...god knows she was no saint..but truth be told I am probably more protective about her memory, than I am of ole Joe. She was my only Mom..I came from her body. I was a long time ago connected to her most intimately for 9 months thru that Rope of Life, they call an umbilical cord.
My step-father died long ago...and No Way, No How...did I ever mince words about that creep!! Was a most merciful day for my mom, my sibs and I, when he dropped dead in the kitchen. Goodbye To Bad Rubbish! And I never shed one tear for that horrid person.

Is a load of horse-shit that all dead people become Saints upon their deaths. Some were good people, some were assholes, some were someplace in the middle of good & asshole and some were downright awful! There are NO perfect people in life..but is amazing how many can become perfect when dead!! There is a definite difference between reality and fantasy, but somehow fantasy becomes reality for some people after some one they were close to dies.

BTW...I still miss that asshole guy I lived with for 43 years!! Bless Him wherever he landed...

Von said...

I'm all for the truth, if the adoption industry was many of us wouldn't be in such a mess.
Speaking as we find works for me, dead or alive.