Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

On October 18, Colin Powell – former US Secretary of State and war criminal – died of coronavirus-related complications.

The next day, while I was writing an article for Al Jazeera entitled “Stop Being Polite – Colin Powell Was a Killer”, my maternal grandmother Anne died of coronavirus in Florida.

And as with Powell, I felt no need for hymns.

My grandmother, of course, exercised considerably less power during her time on earth than the late statesman. She did not help inflict the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, or in 1989 continued the pulverization of the impoverished Panamanian neighborhood of El Chorillo – to the extent that local ambulance drivers began referring to the area as “Little Hiroshima”.

However, she has managed to inflict significant psychological as well as physical injuries on the persons who inhabit her own little world.

During my mother’s youth, for example, a perceived transgression by her or any of her four siblings could result in all five being marched in a circle while Anne braided them with a dog leash.

My mother’s earliest memory is of a bloody nose courting Anne’s fist, while an incident with a piggy bank thrown on the floor led to a whip of the belt making it impossible for a few days without putting on a pillow.

When her children were not required to serve as living targets for sadistic urges and verbal abuse, they were largely left to fend for themselves, as Anne pursued relationships with often underage men. My mother moved out of my grandmother’s house at the age of 17 to attend university – a farewell to Anne that was marked by biting my mother on the nose and clenching her teeth.

The last contact I had with Anne was at the age of 11, when she became overzealously religious. This apparent attempt at soul-cleansing did not prevent her from pushing her elderly aunt down a flight of stairs and breaking her hip – an episode caused by the said aunt’s unwillingness to continue to subsidize Anne’s habit of items mania to buy from television.

Anne’s self-proclaimed spontaneous closeness to God would also not stop her from threatening her own daughter – my mother’s sister – with a gun. As I note in my book Exile: Rejecting America and Finding the World, the firearm was confiscated by the authorities in Florida, but was quickly returned to my grandmother, upholding the inalienable rights of American citizens to militarized sociopathy.

When I received the news of Anne’s death by coronavirus in Tallahassee, I was in the magical paved town of Gjirokaster, Albania – the latest stop in my ongoing worldwide twists and turns that began nearly two decades earlier when I left the United States. looking for, I suppose, of places and people who felt more at home than my own alienated homeland.

There was, of course, a certain socially-induced expectation that I would feel something at the passing of such a close relative, and I watched on Facebook as members of my mother’s family began the necessary memorial service to rehabilitate Anne in death.

And yet I felt nothing.

In The Nature of Grief: The Evolution and Psychology of Reactions to Loss, psychology professor John Archer quotes an 1843 letter from Charles Darwin to a grieving cousin in which he claims: “Strong affections have always appeared to me, the noblest part of a human character and its absence an irreparable failure. ”

Darwin continued to urge his cousin to comfort himself with the thought that “your grief is the price to be born with … such feelings.”

But should we really feel like irreparable failures as human beings because we do not feel “strong affection” for recently deceased people who have barely qualified as human beings in the first place?

In the case of Colin Powell, it is more or less clearly ridiculous to grieve warlike politicians who have inflicted mass grief worldwide. In my grandmother’s case, meanwhile, I felt much more inclined not to grieve her, but rather the sick society that cultivates such individuals – and the country that prefers to spend resources on dropping bombs and otherwise traumatizing other human populations than to provide, for example. adequate mental health and other health services to its own population.

Why not abandon the persistent idea that the dead should be respected at all costs – even if they did nothing to respect the living when they lived? An honest settlement with individual legacies – which necessarily is an assessment of the societal contexts in which it occurs – not only involves more ethically coherent than hagiography, it can indeed provide a better and healthier conclusion than the call for dishonest and beautified emotions.

And while it is undoubtedly easier said than done, it can sometimes be sufficient to simply say, “Get rid of it.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

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