He Kicked the Paint Bucket

By Rachel Birdsell |

I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m exploring various quotes and proverbs that many of us live by. I’ve always balked at some of them, but I’ve only recently stopped and began to examine them to see them for what they are. What I’ve discovered is that many of them that leave our lips on a daily basis are just complete and utter twaddle. We say them without thinking. They suddenly slip over our lips and before we know it, thinking we’ve spoken something that may be held as a universal truth, but in reality is a bit of drivel that we should have sucked back up at the moment it tried to escape. I think these so-called maxims not only need to be challenged but also banished from our language. I’m going to thrash out some of them here at Curious Crow from time to time whenever my fancy is tickled. Maybe one of them will resound with you and you’ll want to challenge it, as well. Hold my hand, friend, and together we can rid the world of word twaddle.

I was reminded of one of these asinine quotes recently while reading accounts of Thomas Kinkade leaving us for that softly-lit cottage in the sky, and that is “you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.” Who made up this stupid rule? Who decided that once someone croaked we shouldn’t speak badly of them? We’re not supposed to even if the person was a rotten toad while they were alive. Why should I speak kindly of Thomas Kinkade when he’s dead if I didn’t do so when he was alive? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Kinkade expelling his last breath didn’t suddenly turn his work into something I want hanging on my wall. Pre-death, his work was saccharine-dripping dreck. Post-death, it’s still dreck. In life he was a shady con man, and having his lights unplugged didn’t change that. Why should I say nice things about him or not voice my opinion about him just because he died? While I may feel badly for his family’s loss, his death doesn’t make me like him or his work. It certainly doesn’t make me respect him.

I think our willingness to instantly respect and almost canonize the dead is a reflection of an unhealthy and even dangerous view of death. Death scares us, so we have to make it sacred. Silly. We know we’re doing to die, so we should just accept it and embrace it.  As surely as we were born, we will verily kick the bucket, push up daisies, turn toes up, pull a Kinkade. It’s dangerous for us to think that once we’re dead who we were isn’t going to matter because we have the “speak no ill” safety shroud draped over our shoulders. If we’re going to be dirty bastards in life, we should have to live with the reminder of that at our funeral. Instead of someone struggling to come up with something nice to say, there will be people lined up to talk about what an arse we were. Maybe then we’ll equate the permanence of death with the permanence of how we’ll be remembered, which in turn might urge us to start being less jerk-like while we’re alive. Think about it. Do you really want a eulogy that starts with, “Thom was a real hoser of an art hack who scammed a lot of nice people out of a big chunk of their money”?


Rachel Birdsell is a freelance writer and artist. You can leave her a note at



Amanda April 20, 2012 at 5:18 am

I think being reluctant to speak ill of the dead comes from a deep knowledge that each of us living is playing out their own life in the only way possible. It’s very easy to say “be nice” or “do your best” etc, but it’s not necessarily possible for people to change their responses to life so easily. This leaves us with the uncomfortable truth that we are judging eachother. Some of us may naturally be aimiable and “nice”; others of us are less scared or less able to hide our dark side. For it is certainly true that humans have both light and dark sides to our natures. It is the observer who chooses which part of the person to look at, exaggerate and therefore create for themselves a caricature of the person for themselves, in their own perception. We stand in judgement of eachother all the time, but from the larger perspective things shake down in more of a grey way than a black and white one. Having said all that, I greatly enjoyed your article, as yes, death shouldn’t be sacred just because we’re scared of it. It will come to us all, and of course we should expect our lives here on earth to leave an impression on the minds of others. However, as they say, “death is the great leveler” and while we might appreciate the truth being told, however “unpleasant”, there is no reason why others might not enjoy their perception of that same truth. Thomas Kinkade was what he was, in the eyes of anybody who even takes the minutest interest in the subject.

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Anna April 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

As an artist you know that a piece of art is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Apparently there were a lot of people willing to pay for Kincade’s art. Whether the art was good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. I can’t believe that any “starving artist” would shun a chance to be commercially successful if the opportunity arose. Who wouldn’t seize the chance to make a living doing something they love.
I’m sure there are those who believe that to be a TRUE artist you have to be struggling, suffering, pathetic, depressed and that if, heaven forbid, you actually make big money on your art while still living you are a sell out, a fraud, a con man. Whatever…

I agree that it would be hypocritical of a person to heap praise on someone after their demise when they were freely critical of the deceased in life, but I also think that it is unfair if not downright right mean to make derogatory comments about those who are not around to defend themselves.
Here is another old quote… “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

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Wido August 17, 2012 at 1:30 am

Sorry, I cannot disagree more. I believe the proverb refers to talking about the dead during a funeral – that is, in an eulogy. The best text I found on the internet is this one: “One may not speak ill of the dead not because the lifeless person was perfect when alive (no one on all the earth is without sin), but because he or she cannot respond. The lifeless person cannot take criticism and learn from it, cannot respond and explain his or her behavior or present heretofore unknown facts that might refute the criticism or place it in a different perspective. Living humans have the obligation to stand for the honor and dignity of the lifeless one who is now mute.
It is not the purpose of a eulogy to provide an evaluation of someone’s life as if it were an exit interview in the workplace or a support-group activity. It is not the purpose of a eulogy for human beings, who are themselves imperfect, to stand before others in the presence of the silent, defenseless, lifeless person and talk negatively about or render judgment upon that person. That is the task of God. The funeral service as a public, religious event is intended to pay honor and dignity due to all persons created in the image of God. Its purpose is to draw a positive lesson or two from the deceased’s life that others can use and to express and deepen our sense of the sanctity of life itself. To do anything else is presumptuous.”

I’m an atheist, but to me this seems utterly true and I can even understand the use of the word “God” in these lines. There is one other argument: if you speak ill during the funeral in the presence of those who loved the deceased, you will make them grieve for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, I can tell.

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