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.