Dylan used to tease me that the world could blow up and I would be the last to know. He wasn’t making fun of me for being oblivious to my surroundings, he was telling me in that mischievous way of his how I was always the last to know about what was going on in other people’s lives. He understood how much disdain I have for gossip and how I always try my best to avoid it.
My disdain comes from having grown up in a small town where my family, particularly my father, was often the topic of malicious and hurtful gossip which would eventually make its way back to my mother and me. Rather than try to understand his mental illness challenges, paranoid schizophrenia to be exact, and his battles with alcoholism which so often accompanies mental illness, townsfolk chose to gossip behind his back instead.
I remember distinctly one particular incident when my mother was so angered and incredibly hurt when the remark about how “Jimmy was the best dressed drunk in town” made its way back to her. It’s difficult for someone to ever get over comments like that and it’s even more difficult to trust anyone afterwards, especially since that wasn’t an isolated comment about him or about us either. Our dysfunctional family was perfect fodder for local gossipers whose perfect lives were, by far, more superior to ours. At least, that was what they tried to have us believe.
I have also learned some hard lessons over the years about whom I could and could not trust, particularly after the dissolution of my first marriage. I was ostracized, talked about and received phone calls from people I barely knew who wanted to get the ‘scoop’ about what had happened. The whispers got so bad at one point that I would sneak into town after dark to do my banking in peace at the bank’s ATM. The gossip, rumours and innuendo were awful, demeaning and incredibly hurtful.
These are just some of the reasons why I prefer to keep a low profile as well as only allow a trusted few into my world. Ignoring gossip helps keep my self-esteem intact and it also protects me from being dragged into any malicious gossip going around town.
Or, so I thought.
Imagine, if you will, receiving the worst telephone call of your life on a Sunday evening while you are vacationing at your favourite place on earth, your log cabin, informing you that your son has died. You are not given any details, other than he has died, because there aren’t any at that point. You can’t even see him because he has died three provinces away. All you know is that he is gone and that you will have to wait two agonizing days before the coroner’s and the police investigative reports are released.
Yet, less that eighteen hours later, a visitor arrives at your home offering condolences and implying that your son has died by suicide. Adding to your already shocked state and overwhelming grief is the complete and total disbelief that people think they know the cause of your son’s death before you do.
This is all true, by the way, for as tragic as it was for me and my family to receive such devastating news about Dylan, we had someone sitting at our dining room table the very next day basically telling us that Dylan had died by suicide. And, it didn’t just stop there.
A few comments implying the same thing were made on Facebook. By the time I was made aware of them, the authors had mercifully deleted them. Later, it came to my attention that someone I thought I knew fairly well had begun spreading the rumour the next morning at one of our local post offices with such authority that people believed it had to be true, that Dylan had died by suicide. This, of course, spread like wildfire throughout the area.
And, because Dylan was only twenty-eight years old at the time of his death, the assumptions were quickly and erroneously made that he could only have died by either suicide or drug overdose. That’s right, one of my extended family members was brazenly asked if Dylan was into drugs; surely, that could be the only explanation for his death.
I cannot even begin to describe the intense anger I had for these people talking about my baby like that. I remember rebuking with such anger to one person that I couldn’t believe the voice speaking was actually mine. “Why does it matter what happened?” I shot back. “It’s not going to change anything. It’s never going to bring him back. Leave him rest in peace.” Some people are just not happy unless they can tell the most tragic and dramatic version they can muster about someone else’s tragedy.
There was also another theory making its rounds those first few days after news of his death had broken, that Dylan must have died from complications from his diabetes or ‘the beetus’ as he called it. He had been living with diabetes since he was fifteen years old. He was proactive about his care and followed an incredibly healthy diet and exercise regimen to boot. Surely, he couldn’t he have died from that?
I get it. We are all social beasts by nature and we want, often need, to know what happened to someone so vibrant and meaningful in our lives. The shock over someone dying at a such young age lends itself to theories about what could have happened. I’ve done it myself; we all have. However, my issue is with the people who state with such authority that something is indeed fact, without proof of any kind, that they are willing to tarnish another person’s reputation or even their own before all the facts are known.
Dylan did not die by suicide. He did not die from a drug overdose. He did not die from complications associated with his juvenile diabetes. As was ruled by the coroner and the police investigators, he died from an intracerebral hemorrhage, a brain bleed, sustained after falling down a flight of stairs and fracturing his skull. It kills me to be so blunt about what happened but this is one momma bear who is damn well going to state the facts about what truly happened rather than have her son’s legacy tarnished by gossip and unsubstantiated facts.
I also hope, by being so blatantly honest about my experience, that it will give some people pause before gossiping and spreading non-truths about another human being’s tragedy, misfortune, or situation. Trust me, the consequences of that gossip extends far deeper than the gossiper(s) could ever imagine.
This is what grief looks like:
It is raw. It is ugly. It is anguished. It is never ending. You cannot breathe. You are sick to your stomach. It feels as though your very heart has been ripped out of your chest and was shredded on the way out. And, then, someone pours salt into your gaping, open, torturous wound by spreading horrible rumours about your deceased son.
This is what gossip does. This is not something you want to be a part of. This is not something you should ever add to because gossiping in its very form is destructive, unjust, life-altering, and devastatingly hurtful. It also further perpetuates the culture of gossip by saying it’s okay to spread false truths. It damages not only the reputation of the person being talked about but it damages the reputation of the gossiper him/herself. It ends up saying more, in the long run, about the gossipers because they are basically telling others that they will accept anything that is told to them at face value, that they are not only untrustworthy but also destructive human beings, and that they have little or no regard for the truth. Gossipers need to ask themselves before spreading rumours, “How would I feel if this was happening to me?”
They also need to ask themselves what purpose their spreading untruthful stories about others in their community serves. Does it make them feel better about themselves for appearing to be the first to know something even if it’s not true? Does it make them feel authoritative? Do they think they are untouchable, invincible because we all know karma (what goes around, comes around) can be a real ‘b’ with an itch when it comes back on us? Is the risk really worth it?
Whether we like it or not, the reality is that people gossip. The flip side of this is that we also have the choice of whether or not we participate in it. Many of us are born in communities that gossip and are blissfully unaware of the consequences of gossiping but that doesn’t mean we can’t break the cycle. We each have within us the choice of saying ‘no’ to gossip and then walking away from it. We need to start listening more to our inner voices about what is right and what is wrong. Heck, how about truly living our lives according to the golden rule, do unto others ….
Rather than gossiping, why not take that time and use it to help others in need or who are experiencing tragedy by offering comfort, volunteering time, helping with meal preparation or housework, run interference for a family overwhelmed by tragedy, sending a card, an email, a message on Facebook, anything that will have a positive impact on someone going through one of the worst experiences of their lives. Try educating yourself about various issues affecting your community, your own family, your life, and the world. Learn about mental illness, suicide prevention, drug and alcohol addiction, various chronic health conditions, poverty, animal abuse, the possibilities are endless really, and then use that information to affect positive change in your community. Make sure your legacy is one of good rather than opposite.
Perhaps we can all take a lesson from Dylan’s playbook. He lived his life simply, unencumbered by material things, was quick to lend a helping hand without ever expecting a thing in return, never took advantage of any situation or person down on his/her luck, and the only news he shared was good news such as who was getting married, going to have a baby, got a job promotion etc. He was able to step back and look at things from another person’s perspective. He understood that life isn’t always fair but that it didn’t give him the right to trash somebody who was going through a hard time. Instead, he used his kind and huge heart to empathize with others. He made sure no one was ever overlooked or left out of any function. He was generous to a fault.
I like to think that the apple didn’t fall from the family tree and that Dylan didn’t engage in gossip because we chose to break the cycle along the way. His brothers, Ryan and Liam, are the exact same way. They can’t be bothered with gossip either. I am incredibly proud of each of them for standing up for what they believe in and walking away from something that they don’t. Experiencing it first hand taught us many valuable lessons about how devastating its consequences can be. If Dylan isn’t the epitome of what leaving a good legacy is like, then I don’t know what is.
What I do know is how heartbreaking loss is and how much more devastating it is when gossip rears its ugly head in its aftermath. If baring my soul helps just one mother from experincing this anguish only because it made another person think before he/she spoke an untruth, then it will have been worth taking one for the team.
Help me spread the word.