A Complex Grief

When you have a complicated personal history with a community icon.

Most, if not all of us, will leave behind a complicated legacy when we pass from this Earth. In all lives lived there are mistakes, triumphs, missed opportunities, grudges, passions, heartbreak, disappointments, inadequate parenting (received and/or given), and more. People will remember us (or be determined to forget us) for a variety of reasons. But I think the most complicated legacies are those left by people who do great things creatively, or devote themselves to a cause or community, but who struggle in their personal lives (for whatever reason).

Those who create and struggle in the larger arenas generally attract people to them who admire their work but who may expect the greatness of the work to have an exact correspondence to the character of the human being. However it doesnʻt always work that way. Or it may work that way sometimes but not others. Itʻs true that expansive vision and tireless service can co-exist with pettiness or cruelty in the same human being. Or maybe I donʻt need to use an example that is that extreme to make my point–maybe itʻs simply that tireless service (for example) can also co-exist with laziness in intimate relationships or forgetfulness when it comes to filing taxes on time.

You get the idea. Weʻre a mix. Weʻre all of us a mixture of good, bad, and indifferent qualities and we show different faces to different people, who are also turning their own curated personality facets toward us. But what happens when someone you once knew very, very well–and who may have even done you great harm–becomes an icon to a community?

And when that person dies, who do you turn to to help to understand the truth of your own relationship to that person? Must all secrets be told? Of course not. But must the lived reality of an interaction, or a long-term relationship, be denied for the sake of the community who wants to keep the iconic personage pure and golden?

Style: “1768589_vol2”

It seems like most people would rather erase the person or people who may have had a less than golden time with said icon rather than say: “Well, he, she, or they were human. They made mistakes. They did good things. They tried.”

Iʻve had a couple of intimate relationships with historically significant partners in my life, both brilliant human beings who also had their foibles and their follies–just as I have mine–and who also inflicted some great hurts on me and others. Iʻve also had relationships with people who were less well known, but also difficult (as I am difficult), but also beloved within their circle of friends for very good reasons. So unless weʻre the kind of person who enjoys living with bitterness, we tend to remember the good times and excuse the bad when a person passes from our lives or from this Earth. And yet I think we should be allowed sometimes to “speak ill” of the dead (or the ex)–not to the point of gossip or talking stink in a toxic way–but in the context of trying to sort out feelings of grief (and sometimes relief) when that person is no longer in your life.

I am struggling with some of these issues myself at the moment. Fortunately there is one other person I can talk with who has experienced some of the same things Iʻve experienced. We are able to acknowledge the full spectrum of behaviors and responses in our intereactions with a person we know in common and understand the complexities of our grief (and perhaps relief?) as a result.

I donʻt know how I would be handling things right now if this werenʻt the case.

That is all.