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how do i mourn a villain?
processing the passing of a polarizing relative
by alex b (@Lexistential)

At this moment, I'm horrified. This past evening, my father told me that my aunt— my mother's sister— is dead. She didn't die of natural causes or any accidental circumstance, but chose to kill herself by jumping off her balcony from the 17th floor of her posh Manila condo.

I am speechless.

As I try to come to grips with the news of my aunt's suicide, I am stunted. In life, my aunt was a polarizing figure. Over the years, she successively acquired a slew of negative identities: the wife who cheated on her late husband (my godfather, and a beloved uncle to my brothers, sister, and cousins), the mother who emotionally impaired all three of her daughters, the sister who preyed on the weakness of her sibling's character, the aunt who even employed nephews and nieces for her own ends. In recent time, my collective family and I have shunned her due to most interactions culminating in screaming arguments, and accepted that exiling her from our lives was an appropriate status quo.

Thus, I don't know how to start mourning the person whose legacy within my life and family is catastrophic, and now is even more so. And, I can't help noticing that this death just feels so much more difficult to process compared to my godfather's. When I mourned him in 1995, I had lost my second father to complications from a series of heart attacks; though his death wasn't welcome, the process of grieving felt as it should. Then, at the age of nineteen, I cried over a man who stood on a pedestal, someone whose death I sensed coming, somebody I wished had remained alive- if only just to torture my dad in golf and weight loss a little bit longer.

Now, in my mid-thirties, I catch myself sobbing for someone who barely deserves my tears. The difference between mourning a beloved figure and a despised one is epic; this latter process fails to make much sense. Just how do I mourn a villain? How do I grieve for someone I decided not to speak to for the rest of my life?

I have no idea how to answer this; at the moment, I can't, because I keep getting sidetracked by my aunt's suicide. Her chosen means of dying feels raw, angry, desperate, harsh, and impulsive, and when I recall the arguments that occurred between us, it even feels barbed and vindictive. I'm certain she was in a manic, hysterical state of mind due to being estranged from most of the members of my family for most of this past decade. But, though I can make educated guesses at her emotional makeup, no answer surfaces for why she chose to depart life with violence. Some people go for a handful of pills; my aunt opted to plunge seventeen stories to a sidewalk.

The more I try to come to terms with her death, the more it occurs to me that this just doesn't feel the least bit right or fair. Her suicide doesn't feel like an acceptable ending to any story- especially her own. If anything, it feels like a penultimate gesture of go fuck yourself to all the people who ever grew to distrust her- her children, former sisters-in-law, my father, my brothers, sister, me, and the rest of our extended family.

I may not seem nice for continuing to suspect the motives of my aunt. Perhaps it isn't good form to speak of the dead badly now that they're gone. But, as I try to find something remotely redemptive of her character to share, I find none. My aunt was damaging throughout her life, and sets off the same seismic effect in her death.

But, thankfully, I have a small supply of childhood and early teenage memories, recollections where my aunt is lighthearted and good in small moments. Before disaster and abuse came to pass, she was the wife loyal to her husband, the mother who let her three daughters behave like tomboys to their hearts' content, the sister who eagerly helped her sibling form a new life in California, and the aunt who let her sister's daughters play with her fur coats and pretend they were on "Dynasty." On one summer afternoon, during a vacation in Beverly Hills, she even gave me an opportunity to see George Hamilton's property during an open house, and let me play around in the tan man's carpeted gym with floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

Though I grew to despise her, I haven't forgotten that fun, bright day. And, even as she's responsible for so many misgivings in my young adult life, I'd rather not obliterate the few good ways I remember her.

As I write this, the rest of the story surrounding my aunt's suicide is playing out. My mother has claimed my aunt's body, and is planning a funeral service with my father. My cousins scramble for last-minute plane tickets to Manila. I take comfort in knowing that my parents will competently handle the funeral and wake arrangements, especially my mother. I'm likewise glad that my cousins will be able to rely on my dad in the coming days.

In the meantime, mourning still feels conflicting to me. I still don't know how to grieve over somebody whose legacy in my life (and so many others) is so overwhelmingly negative and upsetting. Luckily, I know that mourning isn't an instance where I'm required to have correct answers, or to know the appropriate moral for this convoluted story. There are many loose ends in my aunt's life, and I'm not sure any of us will ever gain any complete sense of closure from her suicide.

But, for now, I don't need any. I'd just like to make it through the next few days.


An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.

more about alex b


words for the neighborhood assailant
a response to rape in my local zone
by alex b
topic: writing
published: 8.20.07

memoirs of an anti-geisha
remembering the start of dungeon nights
by alex b
topic: writing
published: 11.14.07


reem al-omari
3.17.11 @ 12:59p

Oh, Lex, I'm so sorry. My condolences to you and your family. This piece is lovely.

alex b
3.17.11 @ 2:52p

Thanks Reem. It's been a strange couple of days. Nowhere near over feeling shocked and disturbed, and we're still all really astonished.

tracey kelley
3.17.11 @ 5:28p

Awwww, sweetie, I'm so very sorry for this shock to your system and to your family.

alex b
3.17.11 @ 6:04p

Thanks bunches, Tracey. I'm still not used to computing she's dead.

sandra thompson
3.17.11 @ 7:42p

There is no sin in ambivalence. I had an aunt who was very much like yours, and when she died of a heart attack I was alternatingly happy and sad. I had some good memories of her and some very mean and hateful memories of her. Our whole family just decided to call her crazy and do the best we could with her vicious negativity about almost everything. I think that probably every family has someone like our aunts, and if you can't figure out who it is, it may be you. (With credit to Christopher Titus' "There's one of these families in every neighborhood, and if you don't know which house holds them it may be your house.")

alex b
3.17.11 @ 8:49p

Hi Sandra, thanks for saying so. Most of my memories of my aunt are turbulent, and I'm sure that (as you say) there really is one of her in every family.

Dealing with her death feels so strange. I keep thinking that she isn't angry, bitter, or lonely anymore. My cousins and family are definitely going to have less argument-ridden lives without her around, but I wish that didn't come about from this. Not this way.

reem al-omari
3.17.11 @ 10:11p

I think at the end of the day, no matter how much of a villain a family member is in the way they live their lives and treat us along the way, they're still family. With an exception here and there, family to me translates into "Unless you're a pedophile, rapist, serial killer who enjoys torturing animals, I will be sad, at least for a few minutes, when you're gone."

Your piece echoes that, Lex. I think you're mourning the right way, in my humble, inexpert opinion.

alex b
3.18.11 @ 3:43a

Thanks Reem. You're spot-on. Even if one of my family members became one of those horrible things- pedophile, rapist, killer- and landed on Death Row, I'd still feel really sad and angry- first at what they became, and then at their death. I suppose that no matter what, family is family, in spite of distance. I can't change that they affect me, life or death.

robert melos
3.18.11 @ 4:16p

I'm so sorry for your loss. When it comes down to it, at some point in the future, I'm sure you will be able to put her death into perspective and forgive her because there's no use in being irked by the dead. Hold the good memories, acknowledge the bad things that were done as wrong, and let her go to move on to a better place where her soul can possibly learn from her mistakes.

alex b
3.18.11 @ 7:00p

Useful wisdom Robert, thank you for saying so. I'll probably reach the gracious, settled POV you describe... in time. What feels hardest to understand is why she opted to kill herself as she did. (Still horrified.)

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