On Speaking of the Dead

I’m thinking about death this morning. Or rather, I’m thinking about a convention we use to talk about someone who has died. After the person, or a beloved critter, dies we start referring to them in the past tense. More to the point, we refer to how we feel about them in the past tense.In other words, when my dog, Hatha died, people said things to me like, “I know how much you loved him.” Loved. Not love. Loved.

My love for my dog hadn’t gone anywhere. I still love him just as much as I loved him when he was corporeal. But suddenly, when people talked about him they said things in the past tense. I’ve noticed it with TV shows and movies too. For example, on police procedurals, almost immediately when someone is talking about their beloved brother, the victim in a murder case, they say, “He was a great guy. Everybody loved him!” (or some language like that).

But they refer to the person in the past tense even an hour after the person has died.It’s as if now that the person is dead, we have to refer to them and their lives and accomplishments and how we feel about them in the past tense. It’s like we’re not allowed to talk about them and our love for them in the present.And the writers on TV shows and movies and in books follow the convention.

My feelings for beings who have died don’t pass away with them. They’re still there. They still exist, now, here today, in the present. And yet I, too, feel the pull to follow convention and talk about them in the past.No, they aren’t here any longer in the physical sense. But my feelings for them don’t change. I still feel what I felt before they died. Why would I refer to my love for them as something that passed on when they did?I will refrain from doing that from now on. I will communicate my feelings for someone who has died in the present because they deserve to know my feelings remain, and so do I.

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