Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The rose-tinted dead

Not many people give their honest opinion about someone who's died. However extreme and infuriating they were, people find all sorts of clever euphemisms to dress up unpleasant traits as something quirky and endearing.

Whatever the grim reality, most of us want the enduring memory of the person concerned to be a little rose-tinted, with their more objectionable qualities carefully softened or ignored. Those awkward characters who tell the truth are seen as malicious and embarrassing.

As one journalist notes, obituaries can be little masterpieces of misdescription. An "eccentric" could well be a social outcast, someone with "blokey humour" is likely to be a fierce misogynist, and someone who "enjoyed a tipple" was probably a confirmed alcoholic. There's a vast vocabulary of flattering or at least neutralising terms to help us out.

Obviously no one wants to offend grieving relatives and loved ones, but why go to such absurd lengths to pretend someone was a lovable old rascal when in reality they were a total pain in the neck or even a vicious monster? If that's what they were, why not say so?

It's odd that people don't want to speak ill of the dead,even though it's no longer going to hurt or distress them, yet rabid criticism of the still-living and still-vulnerable goes on all the time.

In any case, however thorough the attempts to clean up someone's image and hide all the skeletons in the closet, sooner or later the truth will out in some no-holds-barred biography or a bit of careless drunken gossip or the chance discovery of some revealing love-letter or diary entry. Secrets seldom stay secret forever.

I really don't care what people say about me after I'm dead, as long as it's not total invention. Of course I can be selfish and argumentative and obsessive and timid and scatty and brusque. So what? I've never pretended to be a saint so why pretend I'm one after I've gone?

22 comments:

John Gray said...

My favourite comment about a death comes from the actor and comic

Red Skelton, who remarked of harry Cohn's well-attended funeral, "It proves what Harry always said: give the public what they want and they'll come out for it

Bijoux said...

Yesterday I came across a whopper of an obit on line. Here is part of it: William Freddie McCullough - BLOOMINGDALE - The man. The myth. The legend. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. William Freddie McCullough died on September 11, 2013. Freddie loved deep fried Southern food smothered in Cane Syrup, fishing at Santee Cooper Lake, Little Debbie Cakes, Two and a Half Men, beautiful women, Reeses Cups and Jim Beam. Not necessarily in that order. He hated vegetables and hypocrites.

It went on to list his 3 ex-wives and a slew of girlfriends. Now, you just know this guy was probably the biggest misogynist out there, but someone paid good money to give him a nice obit!

Nick said...

John: Presumably those blatantly false obituaries are what the public wants.

Bijoux: Interesting. I looked it up. It sounds like an honest, upfront obituary, but maybe it's just as fake as the more traditional ones? Did the media outlets do any fact-checking, I wonder?

CheerfulMonk said...

I plan to slip quietly away. No obituary.

Nick said...

Jean: You may slip away quietly, but that may not stop your loved ones praising you to the skies after you're gone....

Grannymar said...

My lot would probably shout out: Hallelujah! She has gone at last! :lol:

Rummuser said...

Like you, what difference will it make to me when I am dead and gone? Most likely the reactions will be "Thank God the old geezer is gone."

Nick said...

Grannymar: Oh, surely not? Just because you're a saucy little minx....

Ramana: You mean, you won't be remembered as a charismatic philosopher and racconteur?

Rummuser said...

That is an interesting suggestion, but I would not be there to appreciate it!

blackwatertown said...

My favourite obituary euphemism is a pause, followed by "well, he wasn't the worst."

Nick said...

Ramana: True. You'll be merrily carousing in Heaven's dining room....

Paul: Long time no see! I had no idea you were blogging again! Yes, that's a pithy comment. Along with "Well, he was no angel."

CheerfulMonk said...

Don't forget, everyone brings some joy to others. Some when they come, others when they leave.

blackwatertown said...

Hi Nick - Yes, I'm back-ack-ack.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I'm not sure I care all that much about what people write about me when I've died. As long as they don't say anything about me going to heaven or in anyway indicate a belief I don't have.

I read that obit from Nevada when it first appeared. I'm glad the woman was outed as a terrible mother.

Wisewebwoman said...

I think these type of obits contribute to the overwhelming feeling of failure many have. I see wonderful mother, devoted grandmother, etc., but no effing specifics - do you know what I mean?
For the most part.
It is all in the details, how can anyone be a wonderful mother, full stop? What did she do? Their laundry? Changed nappies regularly?
It's late.
I'm going to bed now, my writerly muse has deserted me.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Jean: I love it!

Agent: Indeed, as long as there isn't total invention, as I said. As for religious belief, I'm more concerned about it being attributed to me while I'm still alive.

www: Good point. Yes, how can a mother be wonderful as opposed to simply doing the job competently? And you're right, it can just make those of us aren't so "devoted", "selfless" etc feel guilty.

bonsaimum said...

Ditto.

Nick said...

Bonsaimum: Glad you agree.

kylie said...

at my aunts funeral it was euphemistically said that she had been "badly treated by men" which actually meant her husband. i was insulted because my husband, father, brother, (male)cousins and grandfather had all treated her well. then there was a list of exceptions made, it was a list of about three men and none were family. the euphemism did everyone a disservice

Nick said...

Kylie: Good example of how euphemisms can actually cause more offence than being honest. And as I said in the post, probably most people knew the truth anyway.

Liz said...

i was talking about this very subject with some people only this morning. I attended a funeral a few years ago and you'd have sworn the woman was a saint. She was perfectly nice but this over the top glorification is just nonsense.
I was asked to say a prayer at my father-in-law's funeral last year. He was a fervent atheist who was consistently rude about God and all things Christian. I had to make some reference to that when I prayed and I'm not sure my sister-in-law approved!

Nick said...

Liz: Why do people feel the need for such glorification? Why can't they just accept that we all have or had our personal failings and blemishes? That's what makes us human, after all!