The tragic murder of the two police officers in New York City last week gave rise to many speeches and laments.
I just wish we could voice those laments better than we do, and maybe we can begin by pulling back a bit on the expression “he (or they) will be missed.”
It’s not that the words aren’t true, it’s just that putting it in those terms distances us from the tragedy.
Yes, there are unknown quantities of people who will miss them: their families, their friends, their colleagues, the people whom in their careers they had protected or were yet to protect. Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu will be missed by hundreds, maybe thousands of people, but I still prefer to hear a person say I’ll miss them. I like the first-person.
I know the following is not a good analogy, but I’ll make it anyway: When Robin Williams died a few months back, I said I would miss his comedy—that knack he had for seeming out of control when in fact he was far from it. I didn’t say his comedy would be missed, not because it wasn’t true, but because that removes me from the equation entirely. There’s no first-person pronoun there—no I, no me. There’s no emotion. No ownership. It’s equivalent to some slapdash Facebook “like.” Very often it means nothing.
When someone dies, we miss him or her. We can assume that others will also, but that’s not important. Forty years ago I lost an uncle. Eleven years ago my best friend. My parents are gone and so are several colleagues and friends. I miss them all, and even though I don’t miss them all in the same way, I’d rather sound too personal than say they are missed.
And when I die, please don’t say “he’ll be missed” unless you’re ready to come up with a complete list of who (if anyone) will be doing the missing. I don’t think I’ll be listening, but just in case—I wouldn’t want to miss out.