Grief and Personal Revisionist History

The Queen died today (the day I wrote this, I mean). As a US citizen and a person with a great deal of disdain for the parasitic ruling class of wealth, nobility, and power, I’ll admit I’ve never had much concern for the UK’s royal family. I’m pretty sure I’m breaking some kind of rule about ways to refer to monarchs who have passed away in the transitional state between one ruler and the next, but I’d be lying if I said I cared enough to actually look it up. All I know is I started to recognize patterns in the ways that people were writing about the event on Twitter before I got tired of how EVERYONE was talking about it and found a new comic to read instead of doing my usual Twitter scrolling (Vattu, by Evan Dahm). Which I found because someone shared an image from said comic of a character saying “it’s a tragedy for an emperor even to exist.” If that doesn’t just about capture my feelings on the matter, then I don’t know if anything ever will.

Originally, I planned to never even mention this event on my blog. I don’t really care about the royal family outside of the abstract annoyance I feel about any news item that takes over the entirety of the internet for longer than an hour (there’s already YouTube videos about it, of course), so why would I waste my time on it? I almost deleted the whole post so I could write about my identity or how much I’m dreading the end of Spiritfarer because it’s everything I’ve thought it would be, but while I was looking up the exact text of the quote above, I found another tweet, this one from an account I follow because of her frank discussions about the difficulty of growing up and trying to heal from an abusive family and the grief involved therein: “You don’t have to pretend someone was kind or good because they died. Everybody dies.”

Since my grandfather passed away, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grief, loss, and the way those things can warp our view of the past. Or perhaps the way we deliberately misrepresent the past in order to justify the grief and loss we feel. I’m still not sure which it is and I strongly suspect that the true answer is that it’s a bit of both for pretty much everyone. When he passed, my mother’s family spent a lot of time waxing poetic about my grandfather, sharing funny stories, and looking at old photos (which is when I had the uncomfortable realization that my older brother is the spitting image of my grandfather when he was younger). It was a difficult event, in part because of the emotion involved and my (to put it INCREDIBLY FLIPPANTLY) difficult relationship with that side of my family, but also because I could see my mother, aunts, and uncles leaving out parts of stories that cast my grandfather in a less than positive light.

Now, the way my mother and her siblings tell it, my grandfather was a jokester and a mischief maker who was well-liked by the people who knew him. He could supposedly talk his way into or out of just about anything. However, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about generational trauma and who has learned to recognize the signs of trauma in other people via the details they leave out of the stories they tell about themselves, the past, and the people who hurt them, I think the truth was more complicated. As it almost always is. I think that my grandfather was not always the kind, accepting, friendly person I knew. I think there’s a reason he used to threaten to slap people upside the head or that my mother and her siblings never tell any stories that involved them getting into actual trouble. He changed, I suspect, as he grew older, but that doesn’t absolve him of what he did in the past. I think that if he had acted to address the generational abuse he perpetuated, my mother might have been able to do so as well, rather than resist the notion that she has anything to apologize for.

As I reflect on how little I know about the life my grandfather lived and the way that people are reacting to the death of the queen–waxing poetic, noting the harm she, her family, and the UK have done to the world, or just avoiding the topic entirely–I find myself wondering if we’re ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with grief. Will we (collectively, I mean) ever be able to mourn a person’s passing and the grief that engenders without trying to paint over all the harm they might have caused? I think there are probably a lot of people who have had a genuine emotional reaction to the passing of the queen, and I don’t mean the people obsessed with celebrities who personally feel the loss of a public figure. I mean people whose lives were touched in a positive way by a public figure through a small interaction or even act of kindness. Not even to mention her family, some of whom may have had a troubled relationship with her but who probably still care about her. I think we could make space for those people to grieve without needing to ignore all the harm the royal family has caused to so many people around the world.

I’ll admit that the idea works a lot better when you’re talking about someone whose impacted was primarily felt within a family or family-adjacent social unit rather than all over the world. I think a lot of people are justified in their anger and resentment at the way that the queen is getting all of this attention despite the literal and direct harm done to the world, their country, or even their lives directly by the queen in her time as the (figure)head of the UK. But then again, this post was never really about her. She was just a convenient focal point for my reflections about loss and grief and this was really me trying to grapple with the flawed person my grandfather was, the flawed people my parents are, and how I’m striving to end the cycle that hurt all of us, so much as I can by myself, anyway.

I mourned my grandfather’s passing even as I recognized that he wasn’t always the person I knew. I will mourn my parents when they pass, if I’m around to see it, even if they are still the people I know they are right now. I will speak honestly of them, just as I do my best to speak honestly of my grandfather and as I hope people will speak of me when I’m gone. The passing of a person is a chance to grapple with the full weight of their life and it would be a foolish disservice to everyone who was impacted by them to do anything less. I just hope the world eventually gets on board with this idea. It would be a lot more healthy for everyone if they did.