Don’t Turn the Deceased into Perfect Person

After you lose someone you love very much, it is only natural to think about that person in a very positive way. But sometimes we can go too far, and if we do, we end up with unrealistic memories.

I know my husband, Sid, was very bothered when a friend of his died, and his wife promptly turned him into a saint. Sid scolded me about that, saying, “When I go, don’t turn me into some super guy!”

Of course to me, he was a super guy. But after he died, I tried to remember those words. We are all human, and if we put someone who has left us that far up on a pedestal, it can cause problems in many different ways.

An acquaintance called me and gave me that same advice. She said after her husband died, she turned him into such a perfect person, that no one else could ever measure up to those high standards.

She was a very young widow, and in her case, she said she wasted a lot of years ignoring “some really wonderful men who were right in front of me.” Of course not everyone wants or needs to get married again after the death of a spouse, but her point was well taken. To really move on—no matter what direction your new life takes you—don’t create unrealistic memories.

Many other relationships can be affected by this also. For example, I know families that have lost a son or daughter and turned that child into a perfect human being. That can often put so much pressure on the other children to try to live up to expectations they cannot meet. It is impossible to become perfect like the deceased child supposedly was.

This can be a difficult situation for parents, too. I know a father who feels like his children do not love him as much as they did their mother, because of their lavish praise about how she was the most perfect parent in the whole world.

Friends often tire from hearing “hero talk.” No one wants to constantly be told a deceased husband did absolutely nothing wrong during a marriage. First of all, it isn’t true, and it can be insulting to others. When you brag about the fact that you had a fairy tale marriage, it belittles theirs.

I think my mother had a good approach to this. Right after my dad died, she encouraged us to remember everything about him, even the things that weren’t so wonderful. And Mother did not do this in a negative way.

Her idea was to recall his flaws or quirks with humor. We went out to dinner one night to share our memories. We talked about what a gentle, loving father he was, of course. But Dad, a military officer, was also very strict and demanding.

One time, Dad ordered my sisters and me to cancel our dates for a weekend camping trip. Apparently, Dad’s answer to distant teenage girls was to force us to participate in family time in the great outdoors. But then it rained, and he ended up with a bunch of pouting teenagers crying over ruined hair and cold, wet clothes. We were so mad we didn’t talk to him for a week. We all laughed and asked, “What was he thinking?”

I have tried to follow Mother’s lead. My niece and I like to get together and talk about Sid. She lovingly tells about things like how he was so sweet and patient with her when she was learning how to drive. Then we both giggle when we recall the fact that he was so cheap, he wouldn’t buy a new muffler. The old one literally fell off his car and even though you could hear him coming from a mile away, he took the risk of getting a ticket rather than spending a few dollars.

It is great to remember someone’s wonderful qualities. But it is even better to remember everything that made that person unique. After all, flaws, quirks and even odd or unusual habits are just part of who we are.

And, as my grief counselor so wisely put it, our loved ones would not want us to remember them with unrealistic memories. They would want us to remember them the way they really were—not perfect but close enough for us.

 

 

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Melinda Richarz Lyons

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Melinda Richarz Lyons earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas and has been a free lance writer for over forty years. Her articles have appeared in many publications, including "Nashville Parent," "Cats Magazine," "Reminisce," "True West," "Frontier Times," "Kids, Etc.," "Cincinnati Family Magazine," "The Tennessean,"The Fort Worth Star-Telegram," "Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love," and "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers." Ms. Lyons is also a published songwriter, and was the 2004 co-recipient of the Academy of Western Artists Will Rogers Award for Best Song of the Year. She is the author of several books, including "WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty," "Murder at the Oaklands Mansion," and "Crossing the Minefield," the story of her journey from grief to recovery. She has four step children and nine grandchildren and currently lives in Tyler, Texas with her husband Tom.

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  • Sarah says:

    Thank you for the great advice! Often we want to remember our loved ones in a positive way, like you mentioned. This can sometimes harm our other relationships with our children, friends, and other family members. While in the middle of grief it is sometimes hard to remember that there were “not so positive” things about our loved ones too. Thanks for the reminder to not put the pedestal too high that others can never achieve it either.

  • Thank you for this reminder, Melinda. I think all bereaved people can benefit from it. We need to keep telling ourselves that our deceaed loved ones weren’t perfect and we’re not perfect either. We’re human.

  • Charlene says:

    I just want to say that my husband passed away 3 months ago of lung cancer. I took care of him until he took his last breath. He was not perfect but as perfect as a human being can be. I will not discuss with any one his faults. I will not turn them into a joke either. I will always just remember the good things about him and if people do not like that I talk about him like he was perfect or a hero then they do not have to listen, he was my hero. He lived for 15 months and surprised all of his Dr’s. they had only given him 2-3 months to live. My husband was a great man, he treated me like a princess and took care of me for 24 years. There will never be another man in my life. I am only 45 years old and my husband was my soul mate. I could not ever love any one as much as I love him. the whole time this man was sick he did not worry about himself he worried about me and what his death was going to do to me. In my book that is a hero.