Make room for all feelings when someone dies

Never speak ill of the dead

I must admit, there’ve been times when I wondered if I was at the right funeral, as the deceased was eulogized into sainthood.

I grew up in the tradition of “never speak ill of the dead.” I had many losses in my early life, and was confused to hear the adults pretend everything had been sunshine and roses with the deceased, when I knew it wasn’t so.

The dead were always spoken of in the most glowing of terms. It seemed they were canonized into sainthood once they’d passed, yet it was confusing for me as I remembered the complaints against them before their passing.

Then I learned there was a rule: Nil nisi bonum or speak no ill of the dead. The custom of never speaking ill of the dead has been with us for centuries.

It seemed, to lay claim to the right to grieve, one must forget the negative or challenging aspects of being human. And, so I learned to pretend, just like everyone else seemed to.

It seemed, to be loved, someone had to be perfect, devoid of real human foibles and tendencies. I felt alone and unable to process the complex feelings that often accompany the loss of someone close to me, especially if the relationship had difficulties.

Being unable to reconcile the good parts of my relationship with a person with the challenging parts, left me stuck in my ability to grieve.

Why do we tend to want to avoid the complicated parts of people we’ve loved and lost? Let’s face it, there’re difficulties and complexities in every relationship, we all have quirks and foibles, and they don’t suddenly vanish because we die.

According to grief experts John W. James and Russel Friedman, the tendency to enshrine deceased loved-ones isn’t helpful in our journey with grief. According to James and Friedman: “It’s impossible to complete the pain caused by death, divorce, or other significant emotional loss without looking at everything about the relationship, not just the positive.”

In my many journeys with the dying and bereaved, I’ve found making room for all of the feelings and experiences inherent in a relationship helps people heal on their journey with grief.

For one friend, the greatest healing came from being able to share, openly and honestly, the brutal and violent characteristics of his father. To the outer world, he was such a good guy, beloved by all. Behind closed doors, it was another story. He was a violent and angry man who often terrorized his family.

With wisdom, the minister created space for the family to share the challenges along with the good. This helped my friend reconcile the good with the bad and offered the family to an opportunity to heal.

As a person who works with the dying and the bereaved, I find it’s important to make space for the not so wonderful to be shared and accepted. It’s not that I recommend defaming the life and character of one who has passed, but there is value in making space for sharing the wonderful as well as the challenging, recognizing the complexities of the human condition.

As humans, we all have flaws and make mistakes and we can be loved anyway.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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