We’re conditioned to speak well of the dead. When a California university professor criticized a former first lady upon her death, an outraged nation struck back. Exceptions to the rule are allowed for dictators, drug-addled rock stars, or exploitive mothers – people so obviously broken, their dysfunction becomes their legacy. But for the most part, eulogies emphasize the positive.
I felt that conditioning after the abuser’s suicide. I’m not a superstitious person, but I wondered if speaking of his brutality and abuse would stir unpleasant karma. I was practiced at hiding my secrets and questioned any need for change.
When the abuser’s coworkers offered written condolences, I shrank. He rubbed elbows with management, who viewed him as refreshing, dedicated, and intelligent – a new age man. They wouldn’t believe that he once attacked me with a baseball bat or that he’d force me to write sentences like a school child as penance for my disobedience. Because I once experienced the same charm he bestowed on these managers, I understood their version of him. In fact it was my determination to feel the warmth of his charm again that kept me trapped in abuse.
Which version of this cocktail of contradictions was he? My orientation toward right and wrong insisted that one was false, but which one? Like parallel universes in a science fiction movie, I eventually accepted that multiple versions of reality coexist. Consensus about how someone impacts his world is rare.
Once I accepted the concept of multiple versions, I examined why I needed to change my or anyone else’s version. We weren’t campaigning for votes. Others holding him in esteem didn’t discount my experience. Behind closed doors and under pressure, I believe I saw the abuser’s true self; and he saw mine. Changing my view to match others would serve me no value.
So, I decided to start telling my story, which included speaking ill of the dead, someone fondly eulogized by others. My intention was not to change opinions but to offer hope to others trapped in the pit of abuse. The specifics I gave were not to diminish him but to enlighten others who may be experiencing the same. Details matter because credibility comes when the details resonate. I think we all have a gut feeling for stories that feel genuine – when the truth is stranger than fiction. Besides, when described in generalities, abuse is easily minimized.
We speak ill of the living, why can’t we speak ill of the dead? Maybe we experienced having no say about our sabotage by an abuser. We worry that speaking ill of a dead person might be the same, and we want to be the better person.
Being more comfortable with writing than speaking, I wrote. I started by participating on internet forums for abuse survivors. Eventually, I wrote a memoir entitled Powerful, Beautiful, and Wise . . . a Transformation.
This blog progressed naturally from the book as my story of recovery continues to unfold.
Whenever I feel a pang of guilt for speaking ill of the dead, I remind myself, If someone has better information about him, they can write their own story.
Besides, If he didn’t want to be remembered this way, he should have behaved better.