Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Myth of Ghosts

This post has been circling around my head for a few years, came out of an experience that happened when I was younger and has resurfaced because of the Amy Whinehouse discussions of the past week. In fact this post really has nothing to do with her at all apart from to illustrate an observation of disturbing human behaviour - the re birthing of the dead into saints and angels.

Let me start at the beginning. When I was 16 my father died. He died suddenly and was only 39 at the time. My mother and father had divorced when I was 5 and the majority of my family memories involving my dad include my mum's anger at him being unreliable (not paying child support on time, turning up on his visitation days... you know that kind of thing). As a child I did what any child does - I did anything I could to prove that I was worthy of his love. A futile exercise given he died before I could even accomplish graduating high school. I only disclose these details to explain why at 16 I didn't really know who my dad was - as a real person.

After my dad died though, he was no longer a somewhat irresponsible risk taking, unreliable parent. He became perfect. Stories of his humour and cheekiness where shared freely, while those that showed a darker or dare I say more human side were kept from me. Looking back on the behaviour that followed his death, I can now see the wider family dealing with the shock of his death as much as I was. But the outcome of this behaviour was to create the myth of a man who never existed and that I didn't know. That became another painful dart in addition to the one of never getting to know who my father really was anyway.

Think now to the death of pretty much every celebrity and can't you see the same process happening? Micheal Jackson is no longer a drug-addicted, recluse with questionable relationships with younger people but just the King of Pop and a misunderstood rock idol. Today Amy Whinehouse is no longer the butt of "how pathetic" comments (which were never helpful given that I believe addiction is a disease) and is now a shining musical talent taken from us tragically too soon and number 1 on iTunes.

Obviously influenced by my own experiences I find this need to re-invent human beings into angelic creatures that never did anything wrong extremely dishonest and disrespectful to the memory of the person affected. If I die tomorrow I might expect people to say I was kind, clever and funny but you know what I was also equally pig-headed, irritable and selfish and to forget that is to forget who I really was (or am).

Just my opinion.

Jac x


  1. Thanks for sharing this story Jac, it is so true what you said about human behaviour. I think we've been brought up with the notion of never speak ill of the dead, and in some cases do no not only not speak ill but we also over exaggerate any of their good points. I think it's just everybody's way of coping.


  2. Very true and very sad. Also, I wish we said nicer things about living people than dead people. Not glorify or flatter but just see goodness in everybody. If I heard nice things about me now, it would make me happy and maybe I will get better due to positive reinforcement.

    This reminds me of a play that I had seen long ago. It is about a man who is going through a mid life crisis and has a dysfunctional family. His family is given the news of his death due to a misunderstanding. The man actually overhears his family say nice things albeit exaggerated about him that he never got to hear when they thought he was alive. He understands who really cares about him, who doesn't, etc. It was sad and funny at the same time, especially when he 'comes back to life'.

  3. So courageous of you and so true. I loved and lost my mother a few years but I remember her as she was, a flawed human being, like most of us really.

  4. Lilit - yeah looking back I can definitely see it through more compassionate eyes and see it as a sign of coping. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on this one x

    Su - such a good point - I wish we did say nicer things about each other everyday instead of perhaps over compensating when people are gone. That play sounds like a good one x

    Vita - I think by remembering your mum how she was you cerish her memory even more. I am gloriously flawed and proud to be so. x

  5. Thanks for sharing, Jac.

    I've never understood the swift transition from drug addict to tragic icon in the celebrity sphere. However, I've had a very different experience. When a troubled family member passed, they were far from being spoken of as a perfect being. They were, and still are, never spoken of.

    Happy mediums, please.

  6. Michelle - it clearly works both ways then. Perhaps it is an even bigger betrayal to act as though one never existed at all I would think. Thanks for sharing back. Hugs x

  7. Great post Jac. I am always quite honest about people that have died- if they had traits or behaviors i didn't like, i would always remember them.
    I know that feeling of trying to prove that you are worthy of their love.
    My mother left me when i was a toddler. She decided she didn't want to have me or my father in her life anymore. To me- she has died. I have never known her. And i have a very low opinion of her, when she dies my opinion will remain the same.

  8. I know what you mean, I guess that's why I couldn't bring myself to mourn my bio-grandad's death. I met him a handful of times and admittedly I didn't like him, he was a drunk. I felt sad for his wife and children/grandchildren but I wonder really if they liked him much either in reality. I guess they say you shouldn't speak ill of the dead, perhaps because they can't defend their honour. I had another grandpa that died over five years ago now, I loved and respected him with all my heart and will forever.

  9. Tara - great comment and thanks for sharing your comments about your own experiences too. It is definitely your mum's loss at not being actively involved in your life.

    Jade - I hear ya especially as someone who had grandparents I adored too. I also definitely think it is unkind/unfair to lash out at those that aren't there to defend themselves.