by Madeline Laughs
A notorious abuser dies and the folks that once labeled him Abuser and swore him off completely, start to essentially canonize him. They choose to remember only the good things about him and to ignore all of the heinous events that transpired over the entirety of his life here on Earth.
In doing so, they throw the victims of this abuse under his bus ride to eternity.
Why do people act this way when someone dies?
I did some research on the subject and was surprised that this is not the norm in society. Take for instance Margaret Thatcher’s funeral procession. The folks that loathed her while she was alive made no bones about turning their backs as her coffin passed by them in the streets of London. Some even toted signs that read “Ding Dong, the Witch is DEAD!“. Perhaps government officials and some celebrities are exempt from the same etiquette the rest of us can take for granted.
The one biggest fear all of us have as we live and breath, is to die. The fear of death, while overwhelming, must not even compare to the fear of being forgotten about or remembered badly, when we pass on. All of us would like to think that our funeral will be standing room only and the eulogy filled with platitudes and praise of our heroism and selflessness throughout our lives.
Thus our need to forget the bad of anyone that passes on and only speak of the good they did and what nice things we can remember.
Of the dead, nothing unless good.
Lest we forget this person had a family and sometimes children that are also missing them. As they learn to build the rest of their lives without the constant presence of someone they once knew and shared a bloodline with, it is our responsibility to pave this road for them with as much love and understanding as we can muster. Above anyone else, they deserve to hold their heads high.
Society teaches all of us that it is considered bad manners to speak ill of the dead. For some of us this means keeping our head down during the time of mourning and not reminding our friends of the dirty deeds we can’t seem to forget. It can be frustrating to see lies retold and laughter shared over an incident that caused us a great deal of pain and suffering. Even more disappointing is to watch someone that warned you away from the abuser, be first in line to sing his praises.
When someone dies, do we forget the bad?
The answer is no, we do not. But in living we can make a positive difference by reminding ourselves that we are still alive and we survived. We can breath a deserved sigh of relief that the person can no longer hurt us. We can now move on and help others to understand that just because an abuser dies, it doesn’t mean we are behaving in an unacceptable way just because we choose not to forget. We know the truth, but that never means the truth will be what is shared during a time of grief and loss.
I spoke with a few friends that were victims of abuse. I found that the overall feeling was one of resignation, relief and finality. One friend told me that this was the only thing she felt could stop the abuse she suffered in the past from continuing to rear it’s ugly head whenever the occasion called for a reminder, or her abuser had a little too much to drink. Those drunken moments would now be a thing of the past and not something that could constantly trigger her anymore. Another friend said that when her abuser dies she will be able to move on with her life, knowing that the secrets of the abuse she suffered as a child dies with him.
Some also expressed confusion that there are folks that step right into the shoes of the abuser by taking up his vendetta and continuing the plight against them. In an effort to make the abuser into a saint, they set about making the victim into a devil.
This is also something that is quite common and the best thing you can do under this new set of circumstances is to take note and consider the source. The people that take this kind of action are merely showing their own fear of death. Just like we might want people to remember our abuser was horrifying, these people might see this as a personal threat to themselves and to their own remembrance once they die. If they can successfully show that this person was a saint, then perhaps when they pass on there will be no one brave enough to bring up their past deeds for speculation either. It seems to be a macabre practice of Paying It Forward, I guess.
I received some excellent advice from a professional and that is to allow people in my own life to grieve in whatever ways they saw fit. If they only want to remember the good, then they have that right. It doesn’t mean I have to agree with anything they say, or participate in any way.
As for my own feelings about recent events in my life, only I know how I have been affected by this passing of life into death. Only I can express my feelings about the past and only I know how this feels to me today. The people that may take it upon themselves to cast a dirty light in my direction are telling their story and sharing their fears, they are not telling mine. The aspersions they cast tell more about them than they will ever tell about me.
If this happens to you, don’t play into the drama people like this try to stir up. Let them do and say whatever they please, they can’t hurt you, unless you allow it. See their actions for what they truly are and know that this is their own fear and guilt coming out. Keep in mind that what they are doing is just as detrimental as speaking ill of the dead. They are not honoring anyone when they behave this way, except themselves.
The people that choose to participate in this are not people that you need to have in your life anyway. Take comfort that their true colors come out now, while you are still alive to see it and extricate yourself from their presence. Do not allow them to continue to victimize you after your abuser has died by listening to anything they say. You owe them nothing. You can’t control them so don’t even try, but you can control yourself.
I can rest easy that I know the truth and even though I was afraid of him, I was the only person in the last 4 years that ever tried to help him. I was the only person that went out of my way to knock on his door one day and encourage him to take a step outside and to start living again in the real world. I know that he didn’t die of loneliness because he had everything he truly wanted right there within the walls he called home. He had people he could chat with from all corners of the Earth and he was happy with that. He had food in his cupboard and he had his stories to tell to anyone that took the time to listen to him.
I think the time to speak up and to show mercy and forgiveness is while the person is alive and can benefit from the goodness all of us hold in our hearts. The time to show solidarity, to take a stand, to have an intervention, was then.
When someone dies we don’t have to forget the bad just to be socially acceptable, but we can be respectful. Every life holds value and from what I have gathered over the past few weeks there was a lot of unknown joy and laughter being shared across the globe. I am not so damaged that I can’t remember the times I laughed or smiled or felt important and for that I am grateful.
When I finally decided to cut off all contact with him and he knew he could no longer get to me or engage me, I know it was a loss for him because he continued to rail against me long after I had stopped participating in his life. I decided that at least once a year I could be compassionate, in spite of it all. Each holiday for the last three years I took a moment to send him the same text message, “Wishing you the best and hoping that you are taking care of yourself.” And he always sent back the same response, “fuck you“. I was never disappointed or hurt. I knew he was alive and it let him know that someone out here that knew his truth still cared enough to reach out.
While I may never be able to forget the times I suffered, I had forgiven him and moved on long ago. There is nothing I can share today that will change the past or change who he was and so I choose to honor him in my own way and that is nobody’s business, but my own and the people I choose to share it with.
Time loves a hero, but I was reminded recently by someone I dearly love that sometimes a hero is just a sandwich. One is not any better or worse than the other. It’s just one word that has a different meaning to different people. That was my old friend. He was a sandwich to some and to others, he was a hero.
Blessed be to all those who suffered.
May we only remember that which makes it hurt less.
Godspeed to the person I knew long ago.