Monday, August 16, 2021

In Grief: Remembering Only The Good

[Reviewed and updated November 5, 2023]

You should never say anything bad about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good. 
~ Bette Davis on the death of Joan Crawford

A reader writes: Recently I read something about finding a balance in one's mind of what was good and what was not so good in a past relationship. The idea was that remembering only the good can make it harder to come to terms with the loss. And they used a term for finding this balance. Marty, are there any articles you could suggest on this topic?

My response: I'm not sure what you've read about this, or what specific term you're looking for ~ selective memory perhaps? ~ but it's certainly true that as children we may have been told "not to speak ill of the dead." It's as if when someone dies we are required to remember only the good things about them, forgetting that, just like us, they were mortal human beings, with all the faults and imperfections that come with being human. Some widows and widowers go so far as to put their deceased partners on pedestals or canonize them as saints, erasing all that was negative and forgetting whatever was bad or irritating or negative or less than perfect in their relationships with them. When we paint such an unrealistic picture of the one who has died, it's understandable that it can be even harder to go on living fully without that person's continuing physical presence in our life. And for some bereaved spouses, it might keep them from being open to the possibility of finding love again.  

 According to Wikipedia,

The Latin phrase De mortuis nihil nisi bonum (also De mortuis nil nisi bene [dicendum]) "Of the dead, [say] nothing but good", abbreviated as Nil nisi bonum, is a mortuary aphorism, indicating that it is socially inappropriate to speak ill of the dead as they are unable to justify themselves.   

Here are some articles that address this topic: 

Well-Known Expressions: Don't speak ill of the dead   

Is It Okay to Speak Ill of The Dead? It Can Be

Why is it still so taboo to speak ill of the dead?  

Just Because Someone Is Dead, Doesn’t Mean You Have to Like Them 

When the ancient taboo of speaking ill of the dead goes online

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Image by Catkin from Pixabay

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