Torn! Coping with the Death of a Narcissist


A narcissist is a lot like a politician. All politicians are beloved in the eyes of their supporters; most narcissists are adored by someone. To those people, they can do no wrong. The same politician may be despised by their opponents; a lot of narcissists are despised too. And then there are others who are torn, seeing both the good and the bad in that politician, for politicians, like narcissists, are neither all good nor all bad.

When President George H. W. Bush passed away last week, it inspired so many different responses, particularly in the no-holds-barred realm of social media. For some, Papa Bush’s death was met with a great outpouring of respect and grief. Football games began with a moment of silence to honor his memory. Thousands lined the train tracks in Texas, waving American flags, to pay their final respects.

For others, it was a chance to freely air suspicions and accusations dating back to the 1960s. For others, a little of both. But for all Americans, Republican or Democrat, it is a time of national mourning for a man reported by all and sundry to be the embodiment of humility, the antithesis of a narcissist indeed. It is a second time in a year when we grieve and shed tears with the huge clan of the Bush family. Whether you voted for him in 1988 or not, he was your president and the first president I remember.

Nineteen-eighty-eight. That year was special to my husband because, just the year before, he had turned seventeen, graduated early, joined the Army and now he had a new Commander-in-Chief. That year was special to me because, finally, I was eight years old and thus old enough to be allowed to stay up late to watch the national conventions! Both conventions! Dukakis vs Bush. It instilled a lifelong love of the glamor of politics. To this day, I watch every moment of every convention for both parties. Conventions are my Superbowl. And it was always fascinating to watch the stage fill with Bushes, and there are a lot of them, on the final night of the convention as the balloons and confetti dropped to the strains of “For I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free, and I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me!” To this day, I can’t hear that song without crying like a baby.

Under President Bush’s watch, the Berlin Wall came down. There was a jagged, ugly shard of it, all concrete and twisted metal, on display in the basement of the Minneapolis Dayton’s store. I remember touching it in awe and wonderment. Under his watch, a friendship was forged with the Russian leader, President Mikhail Gorbachev. I was glued to the the TV on the historic day Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, came to visit my home state of Minnesota! Wow! President Bush made all of that happen. He remained lifelong friends with them, heck, Gorbachev even came to watch Bush parachute out of an airplane, just for the fun of it!

On Monday, December 3rd, President Bush’s body took its second-to-last flight on Airforce One arriving in Washington D.C. to the strains of a different song. A tune he heard so many times. Hail to the Chief rang out as his coffin was solemnly, slowly and sacredly carried from the hearse into the Capitol building to lie in state on the very catafalque of plain pine boards that held President Lincoln’s coffin. As his father’s coffin was carried by him, I wondered what George W. Bush was thinking. “That’ll be me someday.”

In 1992, over 63 million Americans disliked George H. W. Bush enough to vote him out of office. They had their reasons and the piecrust promise “Read my lips: no new taxes” was probably at the head of the list. So how do those same sixty-three million people feel now as the nation is mourning his death. How do they act? How do they cope?

In a way, our national loss is a macrocosm, allowing us to ponder how we will cope with the microcosm of the future death of our narcissists. We may have gone No Contact with them (“voted them out of office”.) We may have dredged up stuff from the past we believe they were responsible for (“conspiracy theories.”) But now they’re dead. Do you grieve them?

Is it hypocritical to grieve them? Or do we harden our hearts and say “good riddance” without shedding a tear? None of our narcissists are getting any younger. Sooner or later, they will die. How will we cope with that?

History, they say, is written by the winners. Which basically means that the history we’ve been taught going back to time immemorial is whitewashed, sanitized and simplified. So it is with politicians; so it is with narcissists. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. The true story may never be completely known. Some secrets are carried to the grave.

What if, just for the sake of argument, that all the “conspiracy theories” are true. What then? What if everything we suspected bout our narcissist is true!? Is it okay to grieve someone we learned to despise? Yes. And this is why: there is a natural order to things. Children want to love their parents, even if the parent is a narcissist or vice versa. Husbands want to love their wives, even if the wife is a narcissist or  vice versa. The nation wants to respect and grieve for their Commander-in-Chief, whether they voted for him or not. We need to grieve for the ideal, for the office, even for the fantasy. We need to grieve with the Bush family who have lived their lives so publicly – the triumphs as well as the sorrows.

My father used to talk about November 22nd, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Dad was a tiny little boy, home sick from school with the sniffles on that day. His parents were not Kennedy supporters, in fact, there was a rather nasty little ditty they used to sing about him when he was running for office. But when the news from Dallas hit the airwaves, it didn’t matter whether you were a Republican or a Democrat. It didn’t matter whether you voted for Kennedy or Nixon. You were an American and someone had shot your President. Democrats and Republicans alike were bursting into tears, men and women sobbing openly and unashamedly on the streets, when they heard the news. Dad colored an American flag on a piece of cereal box cardboard with his crayons and hung it on the front door. It was all he could do; he felt so sad.

So it is when a narcissist dies. They were our {fill-in-the-blank}: father, mother, husband, wife, ex-spouse, child, grandparent. They may have fallen into disfavor with us, but they still held that particular office. “Respect the office” … that’s what they say when a president is duly elected but you don’t like him. “Respect the office.” It is natural for us to want to love and want to respect the person in the office that we should love and respect, in spite of them being a narcissist. It’s okay to cry, weep, sob, grieve for them, even if you found them to be a colossal asshat. Perhaps we’re grieving for what might have been and now, will never be. Grieving doesn’t somehow make us weak or hypocritical; it’s doesn’t negative the reality that narcissistic abuse occurred.

We as a nation are grieving. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Green Party, {insert-name-of-party-here], our hearts are at half-staff as we grieve together and bid farewell to President George H. W. Bush and and eulogize him, not for his sake, but for ours. It’s the natural order of things. For four years, whether you liked him or not, he was your president. A man who once quipped to a conference of insurance agents, “I’m seventy-five and I jump out of planes. Am I a bad insurance risk?” A grandfatherly figure with a spitfire of a unforgettable, classy, white-haired, fake-pearl-clad lady at his side for seventy-three years! A man who, like my grandfather, flew planes, was faithful to one woman and made sure his grandchildren knew they were unconditionally loved and he was damned proud of them. At last he’s with Robin and Barbara again.

It’s like the Byrds sang in Turn! Turn! Turn! although they totally ripped off Ecclesiastes 3:

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die…

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn.

There is a proper time to grieve for narcissists and a season to grieve for presidents. Goodbye, President Bush. Godspeed.



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