Hundreds of people reached out to me after Amanda’s frighteningly sudden suicide.

 

Elementary, middle and high school friends of hers from Taipei emailed me. Former teachers and professors from her high school in LA tracked me down. Her colleagues and mentors from undergraduate and medical school in northern California contacted me. Even people she worked with very briefly (as briefly as mere weeks) reached out. Many, many people attended her viewing with extremely short notice. Her colleagues in Tucson put together a wonderful scrapbook of her residency for Mini. Amanda’s boyfriend, Mini’s dad’s family stepped up communications, and I got to meet Mini’s Nana a third time and her paternal aunt for the first time. Even people from around the globe who connected with her in the blogosphere have written me here and privately.

 

From all the hundreds of people, and the tens of thousands of words that were exchanged, a pattern quickly and unmistakably emerged. No one had a bad thing to say about Amanda. Obviously she has said and done not so great, even terrible things, all of those things just categorically vanished from conversation. I know that people reach out, driven by decorum or empathy, could never think to say to me– as I grieved my sister’s death– A Bad Thing about Dead Sister. I get it. Only, this complete and total avoidance, created a bizarre alternate reality.

 

People praised Amanda’s bubbly personality and seemingly boundless energy, without addressing her hair-trigger temper and tendency to steamroll others, or even acknowledging her (at times apparent) mania. People expressed awe over her prolific writing, without noting the glaring lack of editing and her pushy spamming. I did the same gliding over. I found it hard to speak to flaws of hers or mistakes she made when people very obviously omitted them, so most of the time, I didn’t. This was irresponsible of me, and I’m working consciously to change.

 

I don’t mean that I ought to be more confrontational towards or more critical of any party. I just want to shed the blind-eye comfort of unthinkingly, by default, skirting difficult topics, such as poor behavior of a dead, loved one. I can’t speak for everyone grieving, trying to find ways to cope. I’m only one person processing her loss. But I’m saying it’s okay! Go ahead and speak ill of the dead when it’s necessary, productive, or simply unavoidable.

 

I was fortunate that not one person who came forward to meet me did so with malice. No one abused me on the subject of my sister’s death, her mental illness, or her suicide. Hardly anyone even said anything ignorant or “tone-deaf” to me. But why stop at finding myself lucky? There is still work here to do. We still need to engage, to speak, and to strip away stigma so that fewer lives might end in tragedy.

 

We can always do more by being honest and kind than we can operating on either virtue alone. So that’s what we ought to aim to do.

It Is Completely Okay to Speak Ill of the Dead
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5 thoughts on “It Is Completely Okay to Speak Ill of the Dead

  • March 20, 2019 at 5:28 pm
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    Hey Latecomer, sorry for the late ;D response. For some reason I had to approve your comment this time before being allowed to reply, and I was trying to figure out what happened. I’m still learning here.

    – “it is ok to question everything”
    I agree. And this isn’t mutually exclusive with being honest and kind. I’m a bit of a skeptic by nature, and really work to make sure I don’t come across as cynical or dismissive.

    I’m sorry about your friend. Thank you for the book suggestion.

    You’re are most definitely not trespassing! You’re very kind to bring words of encouragement, and so many excellent recommendations!

    – “I’m not sure why there is a wall of silence about that.”
    Everything about death is so taboo it even extends to the living. Since I am getting married this year, I’m getting a lot of unsolicited advice. And people invariably want to talk about “what if”, and they always would rather insinuate divorce than death. It’s weird to be because divorce is just one possible outcome of a marriage while death happens to everyone!

    – “we might be surprised that we’ve been mistaken at some stage.”
    So many great writers have written about how easy it is to know everything when we’re a young age. Youth is wasted on the young and all that.

    I once considered writing about boyhood/family in Whitman “Out of the Cradle…”/”There Was a Child…” and Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Then it was going to be Civil War poetry of Whitman and Melville. Then, this, I guess. I hadn’t remembered until just now you mentioned it.

    Speaking of which,
    – “I’m sure we can have a lot of fun talking about poetry.”
    You right!

    – ” Is it true ?”
    I can’t really say! I’m someone who thinks life is something we will, sometimes in circumstances beyond on control, or even our grasp. “time and chance happen to all” certainly rings true, but that can’t be all, can it? I don’t know. I’m not young enough to know everything 😉

    Is shedding light on grief the same as soothing it?

    I’d never heard of Doc G before. You’re far more knowledgeable of physician finance/FI characters than I am. I need to study up!

    Until next time 🙂
    Elva

    Reply
  • March 8, 2019 at 7:23 am
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    It’s pretty normal to idealise the dead. But it makes being angry with them hard. But it’s probably normal to be angry with someone for dying, even if it might not be logical. Or maybe it is entirely logical.
    Grief is such an individual thing. No right or wrong way. I read a book on grief once by George Bonanno called ‘the other side of sadness…”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bonanno

    From wikipedia the source of knowledge these days:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grief#Death_of_a_sibling

    Reading your articles, it seems to me your sister was very lucky to have a sister who cared for her. And vice versa. Keep up the blog, it’s great reading.

    Reply
    • March 9, 2019 at 6:27 am
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      It is strange to think about, nearly all of us will experience grief in our lifetimes, but it can look so different from person to person.

      I’ll have to check that book out. You’re bringing me so many intriguing recommendations!

      I’d never read that wiki article before. The first thing I read after my sister’s suicide was this blog. Then I read some memoirs by people living with Bipolar (Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, Brilliant Madness by Patty Duke) I hope I figured out how to do links in the comments, otherwise this is going to look a mess! Then I read books on suicide (Night Falls Fast by KRJ, No Time to Say Goodbye by Carla Fine, and Dying to be Free by Beverly Cobain. I even bought a DSM-5 though I haven’t read it and I’m not sure why I bought it. I’m surprised I didn’t think to look things up on Wikepedia. It was a very knowledgeable source indeed! It was pretty much spot on in terms of how I felt especially for a long time at the beginning, shock and disbelief. I didn’t think it was UN-real, but only out of necessity. It seemed so hugely incomprehensible, larger and more difficult to digest than all of the rest of reality combined, I didn’t really dare question it. I felt like if I questioned it, I’d have to question reality itself, if that makes any sense.

      Thank you! I didn’t want the blog to go away, and I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m here 🙂

      The “flowers poem” you linked me read kind of sad? Interesting the blogger who posted it said it was “light-spirited”, I found it a bit dark? It also reminds me of a lot of religious texts on the impermanence of stuff (buddhist teachings and Ecclesiastes in particular). As always, thanks for sharing that with me. I’m convinced it’s good for me to read a poem when I wake up.

      Reply
      • March 11, 2019 at 8:50 am
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        “We can always do more by being honest and kind than we can operating on either virtue alone.” That’s very true. Although I think it is ok to question everything, somehow a lot of things are left unspoken.

        I looked up a youtube video by KRJ, it’s very interesting. Bipolar can have a big effect on people.

        I had a friend die around 2 years ago who was in her late 30’s of a brain hemorrhage quite suddenly at work. I found this book helpful:
        https://www.amazon.com/Wasnt-Ready-Say-Goodbye-Surviving/dp/1402212216#customerReviews
        I remember watching a youtube video by compassionate friends where they talk about those who died close to them like a child or sibling, and then at the end they sing a song. I can’t seem to find it, but I thought it was quite amazing and a great song too.

        “Thank you! I didn’t want the blog to go away, and I don’t know what I’m doing here, but I’m here”.
        – Thank you. This blog has got me thinking about a lot of important things. I’m not sure what I’m doing here either and hopefully I’m not trespassing ! I guess we’re all trying to find our way and if we can help each other that’s great as well. I think your posts are very thoughtful and there is something waiting to get out there. I think this post is clear, balanced and a great thing to allow discussion on dead people. I’m not sure why there is a wall of silence about that.

        The flowers poem is a bit dark. I think there is an insinuation that we all get old or death is around the corner or we might be surprised that we’ve been mistaken at some stage.

        When we last talked about Walt Whitman, it got me thinking about another of his poems I hadn’t looked at for a long time. I think it gets back to the earliest source of grief for me which is the family. When I read “out of the cradle endlessly rocking” again, it struck me that maybe I’m more sensitive to grief because of that family dynamic (overinvolvement with the mother, alienation or abandonment from the father). I guess that is the initial grief for me and other things in life can bring that up again. I think it’s a fascinating poem.
        https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48858/out-of-the-cradle-endlessly-rocking

        Please keep going with the blog, and hopefully more readers come out of the woodwork to comment. Even if they don’t, I’m sure we can have a lot of fun talking about poetry.

        Eccesiastes, particularly 9, I always found a bit pessimistic and perhaps a bit too Catholic for my liking. But then it was written before Catholicism came about, so maybe I can’t say that. But it does remind me of the Catholic teachers I had in primary school.
        https://biblehub.com/bsb/ecclesiastes/9.htm
        9:11 always intrigued me. Is it true ?
        “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; neither is the bread to the wise, nor the wealth to the intelligent, nor the favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all.”
        For me it doesn’t shed light on grief. I found the Buddhist interpretation mildly more helpful “all we can say is: there was a glass and it broke…” But not all that soothing either.

        I listened to some podcasts recently from a medico about the effect of the early loss of his father:
        http://diversefi.com/2019/03/07/whats-up-next-podcast-episode-21/

        Reply
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