Death of a jerk: How I handled the post-mortem etiquette

Andrew Wright was faced with the situation of honouring the death of someone he didn’t particularly like; He was good enough to share how he handled it.

 

A few years ago, I was involved with a small group of enthusiasts wherein I was part of an online rivalry that began because one of our group took a dislike to me for reasons that are still a mystery.

For a year and a half, I didn’t even know who this person was. We seemed to always miss connecting in person and since his profile picture didn’t show his face, I had no idea who to even look out for when I physically met with the group. I wasn’t the only member to whom this person took a dislike. He was obnoxious and looked down his nose at many.

As it was to transpire, this man had an accident, breaking his collarbone. People rallied. Flowers and cards were sent. Donations were arranged.

Soon after, he died. Actually, he committed suicide.

Again the troops were rallied. A guard of honour was arranged for his funeral. I was asked to join in. I was horrified. How could the people who, had as many reasons as I not to participate, be asking me to let it all go?

My refusal earned me a stern talking to from one of the elder statesmen. But resolutely, I stood my ground.

Was I wrong?

Authenticity. Was my touchstone throughout that period. I knew that any other approach to the situation would be, at best, disingenuous. At worst, I saw a part of myself dying should I accept the invitation to the lie. The Path into the ‘unexamined life’ was not one I was willing to tread. I didn’t judge the others for blindly following the tradition — or should that be ‘superstition’ — of not speaking ill of the dead.

I merely decided they had not adequately thought through the consequences of allowing their words and deeds to be governed by a dead man whom none of them really liked.

Epicurus, although not writing directly to this situation, wrote about judging the benefit —or pleasure — of an act against the pain required to gain the benefit. It’s a reasonably straightforward equation most times.

When this man died, and those we knew came out of the woodwork in his defence, I made the cost/benefit analysis. On one side was the ease with which I could, in my own eyes, lose my dignity and sense of self, versus the pain of having to look myself in the eye in the bathroom mirror. On one side was following an outdated social norm for the benefit of keeping up appearances for someone who was, genuinely, an arrogant prick.

Why should I, the one left living, take on the responsibility of assuring this man was ‘well-remembered’? I owed him nothing. I was a disinterested observer in his demise. I had many years left in which to live with the consequences of my actions. He, on the other hand, had nothing to gain from my support. He was as much on his own with the consequences of his actions, and I had next to nothing to gain from bending to his whim.

So, the next time a jerk dies, let them be dead. Weigh your own costs in supporting their cause, and remember, they’ll never know if you did. Or didn’t.

Husband, father, cyclist, teacher and writer. Andrew has lived in every mainland State, went to 8 schools in 3 of them, completed a BA (which took him 10 years) with double majors in English, and a Grad Dip (which only took him one year). Andrew is interested in Philosophy as a way of living a well-examined life, Epicurean thought as a way of enjoying more of it, and the essay as a way of expressing it to others.

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2 Comments

  1. Andrew Wright said:

    Thanks for the vote of confidence Rainer. As far as forgiveness, I assume you mean me forgiving this man. I don’t think there’s any need to forgive a dead man. It makes no difference to them. On the other hand, once I got over the shock of being asked to participate, I did allow the impassionate, logical part of me to take me past the point where this man even came to mind very often.

    This is merely an event in my past. Not negative. It enabled me to learn much about myself, so on that count, I guess I should thank the man, but as he won’t hear that either, it’s a moot point.

    Cheers!

  2. Rainer the cabbie said:

    Oh geez Andrew, you have no idea how much I missed your writing. Thanks for this, great to see you back.
    Key to this piece is your sentence ” I was a disinterested observer in his demise”. Hope you managed that the way it’s sounds, for” forgiveness” should be exactly expressed as this. Problem is not too many people manage it on those therms.
    Do you?

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