When I Die and People Write About Me

Apropos of nothing in particular, I have some thoughts about my (hopefully not imminent) death, and the people who will decide to write things about me immediately thereafter. Consider this piece a bit of advance planning.

1. When I die, some people will be moved to write touching pieces about me, talking about all the kind and fine things that I did for people, and for my community, and for them in particular, and that will be their way of dealing with the fact I’m dead, and that this is how they’ll want to remember me, or will want to be seen remembering me. This is fine by me; I like it when people remember the good things I’ve done, and I like the idea that a moment I’ve shared with someone or a thing I did resonated with them enough that it’s something they’d want to share at my passing. That’s lovely.

2. Other people will feel the urge to try to write a balanced assessment of my life and influence, noting the kind things I did but, to a greater or lesser degree, not skimping on my unkindnesses or my lapses in judgment or empathy. This is also fine by me, because I’m not a perfect person, and while I try on balance to be the sort of person people remember well, I have my bad days (and weeks, and months, and possibly years). In any event it’s impossible to be on the side of angels for every moment in one’s life, or even on the side of every human you meet. If someone decides to try to measure me in full right after I’ve kicked the bucket, well, that’s ambitious, but I’m not going to blame them for trying. They might even succeed!

3. Still other people will decide it is time for an accounting of all my misdeeds, fuck ups and trespasses, perhaps because they are sick of seeing all the treacly remembrances of category one, or the “measured” assessments of category two are a little too artificially measured for their taste, and someone needs to speak truth to power, even if that power is newly dead. Alternately, it’s entirely possible that unintentionally or otherwise, I was a completely awful person to someone (or they believe I was a completely awful person in general), and they feel compelled to share that out loud.

And you know what? This is also fine. I have been an awful person from time to time, and awful to specific people. Sometimes that’s because I’m just me, and I’m occasionally cranky or clueless or stupid, like anyone else. We don’t always know to correct our mistakes, and sometimes we learn it’s too late to do so. But then there are the times when I did go after someone, because they needed a stabbing in the eye and I just happened to have a pointy stick in my hand. I regret that some people who I did not mean to rub the wrong way will think poorly of me when I die. If possible, I would have liked to make amends to them. There are other people, however, that I will be delighted to have antagonized, yea even onto death, because they were terrible people and they got what they deserved from me. I’ll see those motherfuckers in Hell.

4. In any event, I will be dead, so it’s safe to say that I personally won’t care one way or another what people say about me, good, bad or otherwise. I don’t believe in an afterlife, and if there is one despite my expectations, the last goddamn thing I will want to do with it is scroll down social media to see what people are saying about me. People who write about me after my death are doing it for themselves, and that’s fine — it’s one way of processing my death and what I meant to them, positive, negative or some combination thereof, while I was alive. I will not be healed or injured by anything anyone has to say about me when I’m dead, because, again, I’ll be dead. I’ll be beyond worrying about reputation or standing or my influence on current or future generations.

5. That said, from this side of the veil, I can say that I expect the whole range of remembrances when I kick off. Everyone’s interaction with me is different and personal, and to the extent people are moved to speak of me at all, they should speak their truth about me, even if that particular truth is not flattering to me, or not what some people would consider appropriate during a period where people who knew and cared for me are in mourning. I feel fairly confident that the people who will mourn me will be able to handle the occasional less than perfectly kind social media declaration about me, or my life and its work.

6. While I am not currently the boss of you and will be even less so after I am dead, nevertheless here is a small request: If, right after I am gone, you see someone post a remembrance of me that you disagree with, for whatever reason, just… let it go. Don’t respond in the comments, don’t write an outraged rebuttal, and certainly don’t decide to gather up all your excitable little friends to gang up on whoever is saying mean things about me because my honor must be defended (or my honor must be torn down, or whatever). One, why? Let me repeat: I will be dead. I literally won’t care. Two, being shitty to other people in the service of my memory just means you’re being shitty and using me as an excuse, and, yeah, just don’t. Be shitty on your own time.

Three, and again: Everyone will have had a different experience of me, and their experience of me will also be informed by who they were when they met me. As long as they are speaking the truth of their experience of me, I’m fine with it. As far as I’m concerned, they should be able to have their say, without taking a ration of crap for it from anyone else.

When all the remembrances of every one who feels compelled to write about me directly after my death are added up, the composite of me it represents will still be incomplete — but I suspect it will be an interesting one to read. And while I’ll be dead then and won’t care, right now I can say I’ll be sad to miss it. All of it.

41 Comments on “When I Die and People Write About Me”

  1. As a small addendum, when I die, aside from the people who tell their truth about me, there are likely to be people who will spread terrible lies about me. For those people, to the extent you bother with them at all (and you shouldn’t, lies have a pretty quick half-life when left alone), I would remind you that in life I would grade my hate mail for effort and creativity, and would encourage you to do the same.

    Also, I read this piece to Krissy, and she confirms that after I kick off, she will be spending exactly no time whatsoever giving a shit what anyone writes about me online or elsewhere, so, you know. Go nuts, kids.

  2. I will remember you as entertaining, witty and thoughtful. I have been lucky/distant enough to miss any negatives .

  3. Up a little early are we?……That must have been some dream….

    Good primer for any/everyone.
    I especially liked point #6.

  4. It seems like what you’re saying is that you won’t be enjoying your accolades after you’re dead, so, here: You’ve mostly been reasonably accoladable to me.
    Though, to be quite honest, I would miss your writing a good deal more than your actual personness which I have never encountered. But I would be so sorry for our hopefully far in the future loss of you. Statistically speaking, I’m unlikely to be around for that sorrow, but hey, I’ll make the effort, just for you.

  5. “if there is one despite my expectations, the last goddamn thing I will want to do with it is scroll down social media to see what people are saying about me. ”
    I think we’ve figured out what Mr. Scalzi’s personal hell is.

  6. Your work on the drums has meant so much to me. Your ability to rock out while still maintaining a groove, and the way you turned a Morse Code snippet into a rhythm on YYZ, and wh

    Wait, am I in the right room?

  7. I don’t believe in an afterlife, and if there is one despite my expectations, the last goddamn thing I will want to do with it is scroll down social media to see what people are saying about me

    [Scalzi wakes up and looks around. A grinning being with red skin, horns and a tail hands him an iPad. It adheres to his hands, and he can not look away from the scrolling feed of tweeted obituaries.]

    Devil: Welcome to Hell, Mr. Scalzi. Enjoy scrolling down social media to see what people are saying about you…FOREVER!

    Scalzi: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO….

    [Scene]

  8. There are a lot of things you do well, but I think I’ll miss the Ohio sunsets you grace us with. Whether we know it or not, we really need those at times

  9. Thanks for the Krissy addendum; that’s exactly what I was thinking about.

    As, at least for me, the ask I’d have when I die is: Be as shitty to each other as you want, but don’t be shitty to my wife.

    I’m not sure she’d feel the same way — she enjoys a good internet flame war — but, in my mind treating the bereaved shittily is worse than treating the same person shitty if they were not bereaved.

    Meaning it is not only personally worse (I like my wife), it is also categorically worse to be shitty to the bereaved.

  10. William Nichols:

    Honestly, in the particular case of Krissy, I don’t think people truly grasp the depth of her not giving a shit what anyone else thinks about anything. It’s pretty admirable.

  11. Still, words can have an impact. I suspect that Krissy would offer the same advice to Athena, who likely will understand that people saying bad things about her dad is a norm, that there are always people who will speak ill of the dead … as there are people who will praise a person. Still, no need exists to read the bad things that some people will say.

  12. This does remind me of Lin-Manuel Miranda observation in the closing song of Hamilton “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known / When I was young and dreamed of glory / You have no control who lives, who dies / who tells your story”

    This notion has been reverberating around in my thoughts of late, and I’m glad to read your thoughts on the topic. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. (But, yeah, try not to die anytime too too soon, please…)

  13. I’m reminded of what Garrison Keillor said: “They such nice things about you at your funeral that it seems a pity that I’ll miss mine by only a few days.”

  14. My mother always said she didn’t want there to be an afterlife because sitting on a cloud worrying about my brother and me after death would be terrible. To me, the afterlife is what people remember of you, good, bad, or indifferent. I welcome the remembering. We seem to be in agreement…

  15. Well, this is a bit somber and reflective for a Tuesday morning – which is fine, and I am glad the fact that you are pondering your demise (or post-demise) is in fact apropos of nothing. May you have many, many more years of churning out quality entertaining fiction for us :-).

  16. Ego-searching from beyond the grave!? That’s a new one on me!
    In any case, if you expire after falling down the stairs, I take it we can still follow your previous instructions and blame the cats…

  17. I really like this advice. I have a vague hope that people will remember me well when I am dead, but beyond my personal circle it doesn’t really matter what people thought of me.

  18. I’m going to remember you as a crazy cat daddy. For all your bluster about issues, etc., one look from a scamperbeast and you’re pudding.

    At my memorial service, I’m going to have a pyre. Not for my body to be burned but for people to write whatever it is they want it to say to me – good, bad, or ugly – and then put it in the fire and be done with it. Then they can all roast marshmallows and have s’mores.

  19. Wise words. I would say though,on behalf of deceased you,that,should i still be around when you are no longer, I will be pissed at the liars. But then they piss me off even now…

  20. Hilaire Belloc: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said: “His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”

  21. I’m certainly dubious about any afterlife, but I would be all over social media checking it out. Not proud, but trying to be honest.

  22. I’ll make you a deal. I won’t write anything about you when you die or, probably, anything after this. I haven’t written anything about you before, aside from suggesting novels to friends. In exchange, I’ll write now about the time you rubbed me the wrong way.

    This is nicely written and nicely thought. It wound up in my feed via a Gibson quote-tweet. I was an avid reader and fan until I saw the defense of the congratulations regarding the ill-conceived prestige hire of Quinn Norton. You discussed your surprise at the homophobic content while admitting you had long been aware of her association with Nazis.

    For many years I had assumed you would have my back when the boxcars start rolling. I haven’t assumed as much since. However, when they come for the wealthy straight white gentile males, I’ll still have yours despite disengaging those several years ago.

    I do wish you all the best and retain fond memories of the books I did read. Perhaps I’ll go back to some series in due time…

  23. Everyone knows that the cats are the ones whose opinions matter anyhow, Keep on the good side of cats and it’s all good.

  24. Reactions to my death will be one or both of the following: “She was still alive?” and “Did her cats eat her remains before she was found?”

    If you go before I do, I will miss your blog and Twitter account.

  25. “John Scalzi was many things: husband, father, writer. He was a valued friend to many and a valued enemy to a few not worth mentioning here. However, in this our time of grief, I must say that despite lofty goals, Scalzi failed in his greatest ambition, one he shielded behind jokes and self-deprecating denial until the day he died.

    “John Scalzi was not a burrito.”

  26. I see a reference to Bertrand Russell, the man who was smart like a science fiction fan. His self-help book is still in print, but not under self-help, over in philosophy, entitled The Conquest of Happiness. Fine book. From it I gather that smart people may meditate on death at an early age, and feel blue. I give myself the honorific “nerd” although I’m not that smart.

    Somehow I don’t see our host as being blue, even if he has turned 50 and started waking up earlier.

    Other fellow nerds may resort to the philosophy of a character in a later Heinlein book who said (I forget) something like, “We all live in the right now, so we all live forever. My own crutch has been to say, “Everybody dies, yup, we are all temporarily alive and breathing—TABs.” Which may sound silly to you, but works for me: Hey, I passed by middle age without any midlife crises.

  27. I don’t know how the future will view you. But I will say that a friend who worked at Ronald Reagan’s library once said: he seemed like nice man. And she was far more left of center than me. So hope for the best, prepare for the worst Scalzi.

  28. You might get lucky and get to read your obituaries. Dave Swarbrick got to read his (they were quite complimentary, as I recall). You then get to have your Mark Twain moment.

  29. feelings too
    Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
    As have no slight or trivial influence
    On that best portion of a good man’s life,
    His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
    Of kindness and of love.

    William Wordsworth – Tintern Abbey