Funerals, Rhetorics, and Constructions of History

Clichés about “funerals being for the living” abound. Funerals assist with grieving and with accepting one’s own mortality, popular mores say. 

Funerals can also hinder this grieving process: Without realizing it, people sometimes talk about the deceased in ways that can be inaccurate and uncomfortable for others. Sometimes intentions might be more malicious and consciously aim to delete, to rewrite, and to utopianize and control History and its narratives. Sometimes victims themselves will manipulate the past as a healing mechanism or to selflessly make others more comfortable. 

The public personas of a person do not necessarily parallel private ones. Different people have completely different experiences with the same person.

Consider the possible pain that might, sometimes, be caused when you attend a funeral and tell relatives of the deceased, “Your [relative/relation] was such a wonderful person. We will really miss [relative’s name].”

Other clichés say, “You should not speak ill of the dead.” Such upholds silence. Upholds the Imperialist White Supremacist Capitalist (Heteronormative Ableist) Patriarchy. Silence that can hinder this otherwise celebrated–selective–grieving process. If funerals are to heal the living, then people must be able to publicly vocalize, or at least internally acknowledge, any (final) grievances. No one is perfect. 

Funerals are for the past, present, and future. They shape and reshape History. Especially for everyday people, such rituals are battlegrounds that help crystallize what will be the “official” Histories. 

People don’t like accurate History. As a culture, however, we must move past it being taboo to discuss abuse and oppression and all of its manifestations. Moving past hagiography is equally important. 

“Myths are motors of history. Facts that happen are often powerless to affect behavior. People act on the basis of the falsehoods they believe.”

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda