No need to sanctify someone after their death

When a tragic death occurs, tributes get reproduced verbatim as ‘news stories’. But these are personal sentiments which should not make the leap into the news

Icon, king, beloved patron, visionary, genius: people were stumbling over themselves in their rush to describe Hugo Chetcuti
Icon, king, beloved patron, visionary, genius: people were stumbling over themselves in their rush to describe Hugo Chetcuti

The announcement that someone has died always elicits a reaction. Granted, the circumstances of the death have a lot to do with it.

Those who have lived a very long life and die of natural causes stir up emotional memories and nostalgia, but their passing is part of the circle of life, so while they are mourned, it is to be expected.

Those who are stricken by a terminal illness (no matter at what age, but especially the young), can make it harder for us to understand God’s mysterious ways (if one is a believer) and this has been the cause of many turning away from their faith. Alternatively, others say that it is their faith which helps them through the darkness. Understandably, some can become very bitter over why their loved one has been taken away so cruelly, after so much suffering. Why us, why my family? The death of young children and babies is probably the most difficult to come to terms with - and some never do.

Deaths by accidents, particularly those caused by someone else, can throw family and friends into unspeakable anguish and numerous ‘what ifs’? “What if he didn’t get into that car”?, “What if I hadn’t taken my eyes off my child?”, “What if she hadn’t crossed the road from the wrong place?”

MORE Hugo Chetcuti: The legacy and the entertainment empire he leaves behind and [WATCH] Hugo Chetcuti told his brother: 'I am in a lot of pain and feel like I'm dying

Then there are murders. Again, they give rise to a lot of “what ifs”, but because of the deliberate nature of the act, they bring their own torment as family and friends grapple with the knowledge that someone woke up one day and cold-bloodedly set out to kill their loved one. A spine-chilling thought which doesn’t bear thinking about. And crimes of passion committed in the heat of the moment, bring their own particular heartache.

The one thing they all have in common is that news of a death compels most of us to say something, anything, to express our commiseration. The stock phrases can sound hollow and meaningless, “RIP, I’m sorry for your loss, my sincere condolences”. And yet, what else do we have in our repertoire which we can draw upon at this moment of grief and sorrow? Facebook especially seems to oblige us to type a comment, because we see everyone else doing it: it’s the psychological pull of crowd behaviour. There is nothing inherently wrong or right about this, because to each his own, and respect for the dead, even if it is simply a dignified silence, is to be commended. But there are aspects of public remarks about death which can spiral into something else.

One thing which I do not agree with is when a tragic death occurs, and family or friends write moving tributes on Facebook, only for these tributes to be reproduced verbatim as ‘news stories’. Isn’t it obvious that a family member is going to mourn their loved one, saying that they will never forget them, while attributing only the very best qualities to the deceased? These are personal, very intimate sentiments which should not make the leap into the news. There is nothing newsworthy about these tributes, because lavishing praise on someone whom we have lost is to be expected in much the same way as a eulogy at a funeral or an obituary in the paper generally only focus on the person’s positive qualities. On the contrary, what would certainly make the news is if a loved one suddenly flies off the handle and starts slagging off the deceased, exposing all their faults and the flaws, which rarely happens. 

On the whole, death makes us circumspect and sombre, forcing us to face our own mortality and sometimes even throwing us into an existential crisis of ‘what does it all mean’? But what it should not do is create a whirlwind of OTT tributes and eulogies which start verging on the absurd.

This is what happened recently once people learned that well-known Paceville entrepreneur Hugo Chetcuti had succumbed to his injuries which he sustained after being repeatedly stabbed in the stomach by Bojan Cmelik, a former employee. As the news spread, the condolences turned into a sort of competition of who could come up with the most inflated, complimentary adjectives about the murdered man. And it was not just FB users who were vying with one another to come first in the hyperbole stakes, but newsrooms as well. 

Icon, king, beloved patron, visionary, genius: people were stumbling over themselves in their rush to describe him. It is perhaps an indication of today’s priorities that his vast wealth and lavish lifestyle made such an impression on some people. As brutal as the murder was, this kind of idolatry became a bit much for many to handle, and that is why the other side of the story started surfacing. There have long been rumours about how and why his empire exploded over the last ten years, and how he amassed such a fortune.

The very fact that he operated so-called Gentleman’s Clubs is enough to make people raise cynical eyebrows when reading comments extolling his endless virtues. Yes, he gave a lot to charity but others do so as well, without a camera crew in tow. After the way some sections of the media practically prostrated themselves in exaltation you can hardly blame Joe Public for saying, “oh, come on!”.

Death is a time for reflection and grieving, but it does not mean we need to sanctify anyone or sanitize who they were - nor am I advocating demonizing anyone either. And no, this is not because those who have criticized the excessive flattery were “jealous” of Hugo’s success; it’s just about being real. 

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