I promise I don’t intend to mock or make fun of anyone of the dead or live persuasion, but I’m curious about something. Is it just me or have you also noticed when someone dies, they often become elevated to sainthood, even if they were the nastiest humans to ever draw breath? I wonder why death — you know, the thing that said to be a natural part of life, a notion of which I’ve never been accepting — often erases all the horrific nasty stuff the departed spewed out all over people while they lived.

Have you seen the really wonderful — if you’re into violence, Italian style — TV series “The Sopranos”? Tony Soprano, played by the late, great James Gandolfini, had a cranky, mean old mother in the series, Livia Soprano, played by the fabulous actress Nancy Marchand. The character was a widow whose big, homely face would suddenly crumple like used tin foil into a major weep-attack when her late husband’s name was mentioned. She’d say in a sobbing voice that he was a saint. “That man was a saint!”

This performance was followed by son Tony’s saying, “Saint, Ma??  He wasn’t no saint,” suggesting, rather crudely, to his mother that his father was far from being a saint. Very, very far. Then Tony would give his fake-crying mother chapter and verse very unsweet remembrances about the old man. See what I mean? Livia Soprano’s husband had died, and he was far from being a sweetheart of a guy, but Livia chose to promote him, at least to anyone within earshot, as a saint. How come? I mean if someone was an SOB in life, why don’t we just continue calling him an SOB even after he’s gone to see the Light?

I had a relative who died young. I never knew her, but because her death at 36 was completely unexpected, people spoke of her in hushed tones with stricken, sad expressions on their faces, heads bowed and shaking slowly in torturously unending disbelief. Everyone said this woman was beautiful, good to all animals, adored by humans everywhere, especially children, brilliant in her school years, helpful in all situations, a selfless volunteer, a marvelous artist, musically gifted and everything else. The praise list was long and glowing. And annoying.

When I was 13, the age when some young girls can become, temporarily, we hope, ferocious — and I was — I sort of made a scene at a rather stuffy and boring dinner party. In the midst of all that swirling, worshipful adulation for the memories of this relative, who had dearly departed nearly 15 years before, I stood up and said: “I apologize if I’m ruining the party, but please, was there anything at all wrong with your friend? I am really awfully sorry for her that she died so young. That’s not fair, but all my life I’ve heard she was like an angel here on Earth and honestly, that just can’t be. Wasn’t she ever normal?  Didn’t she ever do anything wrong? Bad? Wicked? Did she even make one single mistake? Anything?”

I don’t think I have ever heard a silence like I heard then. It flowed into the room like frozen lava and was downright deafening. Forks and wine glasses were suspended, chewing stopped and all eyeballs, bulged of course, stared straight and hard at my ill-mannered face.

Knowing I had way overstepped a forbidden line, I sat down, let my head sink into my collarbones and began building tiny pyramids with my mashed potatoes, praying that I, or at least this moment in time, would disappear. I was in big trouble, because I’d questioned the perfect legacy of an adored deceased lady. Time stood still.

And then, thank the universe, it got better. Bless her soul, a family friend who looked, acted and spoke a lot like the wonderful, bawdy Elaine Stritch, broke through the frigid troposphere in that room and saved my unworthy hide by saying: “Yes, young Elsie. You make a very good point. In case all of you forget and it seems you have, she was an appalling snob. When she came to dinner at someone’s home, for example, and I’m sure you remember, she’d pick up the china dinner plate and turn it over to make sure she’d be dining from the finest, and if it wasn’t, she’d let you know of her disapproval. She’d clink the water goblets with her fork to see if they sang properly. She carefully examined the linen napkins. She did not care if she acted like a fool in public or if she insulted people. Yes, Elsie dear, she was just like the rest of us; an insensitive jackass. Not all the time, but often enough.”

I was so grateful. That nice woman took the heat off me and this relative was, at least to me, no longer amongst the cloud-born sainted simply because she’d left the planet sooner than she and everyone else had expected.

Another woman I knew had a long marriage to a great guy everyone loved, and so did she, even though he drove her to near lunacy. He was distracted, uninterested and pretty much checked out 24/7. She was icy, punishing, driven, cruel and demanding. Did he ever, in all their years together, grow a spine and stand up to her? Fight back? No, because, as he always said, “The price is just too high.” And it was.

The couple obviously deserved each other. When her remote husband finally departed this earthly sphere, and a week before his obituary was published, she was telling the world how close they’d been, how they’d had long, meaningful discussions every evening, how he’d always been at her side, attentive, chatty, caring and loving. This nice, deceased and now re-invented man had instantly been promoted to sainthood via the Avenue of Selective Memory.    

A few other examples were women married to men who rapidly showed their true colors after vow time, by becoming skinflints, drunks, entitled morons and philanderers. Imagine my surprise — not — when after these gents met their ends, these widows began singing their praises, causing hours of eye-rolls when they weren’t looking, as they played mahjong or poker with their kind, patient and understanding contemporaries.

But in the long run or even in the short, it really did not matter much; the widows of those scurrilous men were happy they could live out their final years not remembering the truth, but instead rollicking in the wishful fantasy of It Never Happened.

Well, there’s no harm in any of this, is there? I mean, who among us hasn’t colored the truth a little in our lifetimes when it’s given us peace and happiness? But I have a plan and here it is; when it’s time for me to do the Shuffling Off dance and our kids elevate me to sainthood, which I obviously so richly deserve, then I’ll hope they won’t, in a moment of weakness, tell the listening world how I really was in life. No. I’ll advise them now, while I still can, that if asked for the real truth about how dreadful I was when alive, all they have to answer is “I’d rather not say”  or “LC who?”

LC Van Savage can be reached at [email protected] Her newest book “Queenie” is at local bookstores and on Amazon.