An acquaintance of mine died this week. I would say unexpectedly, but others seem to have known at least a little before it happened that it was coming. We saw each other occasionally for breakfast –Darren and she were friends and we spouses came with — but we hadn’t seen them for months. Anyway, my phone rang at work and I silenced it, only finding out a couple of hours later that Darren was calling to tell me this old friend of his was dead.
She wasn’t even retirement age, and she was a successful writer, so added to the usual “why?” of it all is that: the waste. She was still doing stuff.
None of this is surprising; it happens all the time, to someone somewhere. People die and their friends and family and coworkers blanch, struck by how casual and random the end can be.
This isn’t surprising either, not really, but it really struck me: reading the emails and Facebook posts in the hours and days after she died, I found a person I didn’t know. I don’t mean, Gee, I had no idea that she liked lobster, or Wow! She once worked on a submarine? No, I mean the accolades were needlessly sprightly, like “She always had a kind word for everyone.” Like, “Her positive outlook made us all feel good.”
Not so much.
There are lots of good things you can say about her. She had no kids of her own, by choice, but was generous and thoughtful to others’ children, remembering them when picking up souvenirs on vacation and sending a gift at graduation. She loved animals. I mean, she LOVED animals. She felt their pain. She had a dog named Bear, as if to multiply the effect of the animals she could have in her immediate surroundings. She always said you can’t call yourself a real writer if you don’t write every day. I don’t agree with this, but she lived by it. She walked the walk, publishing her first stories when she still had a day job, until she earned enough from her writing that her husband said that, tax-wise, it was better if she retired early. Eventually, she published novels, and she did not flinch from the tedious work of promoting her sales at conventions and signings and in interviews and by judging contests.
There’s plenty of good to say about her. And yet, the people who wrote about her said things that seemed way off-base. The person I knew was highly critical of others. She hated confrontation so much that she once bought a new two-seater car so she wouldn’t have to tell a friend she didn’t want to give her a ride to a convention. But behind that person’s back, she nit-picked her every action. She ran more than one person out of the writing group she and my husband belonged to. Sometimes she mocked people to the extent that I used to get stomach aches when we socialized. She wasn’t the type of person who took disagreement well; a friend of hers, so close that she hosted the woman’s wedding, suddenly was banned because of a simple point-of-view disagreement. The woman told me that she had tried and tried to get our friend to talk to her, to be friends again, but no dice.
I’m not saying this is the kind of thing one should write in eulogy. But why make things up? Why concoct a personality that didn’t exist? We all have a bad side, and we all have a good side. But if your friends can’t describe your true goodness, what the hell?
When I die, I don’t want lies told about me. I would prefer people not dwell on my worst traits. I would prefer they forgive me for the wrongs I have done. But if you can’t say anything true, don’t say anything at all. Please.