RIP (Rest in Peace) is one of the oldest wishes. I offer services with this wish at heart. RIP may be one of the English language’s most widely understood acronyms. But is it, like every other acronym, not understood at all? What might Rest in Peace mean with a bit of room to explore?
On the street
I pass RIPs on my journeys round Melbourne in street art. Traumatic death is unbearable. Traumatic death calls for a larger memorial, a tribute and it should say RIP. These are my thoughts based on street art I’m familiar with. In Northcote the death of 15-year old Tyler Cassidy shot by the police, is memorialised in a number of laneways. One of the Fitzroy portraits of skater Lewis Marnell, who died suddenly and shockingly from a diabetic hypoglycaemic attack says RIP. Each of these murals connects us to the person who died.
I met a young artist who did a substantial mural to commemorate her friend Aurelia, years after her suicide. Aurelia was only young when she died. She’d been a close friend since primary school. In the mural it’s out there – the huge loss, intense feeling and appreciation.
Ideal or euphemism?
RIP has come down the ages in cemeteries and graveyards. On the one hand Rest in Peace is a kind of ‘best wishes at the end of life and forever’. On the other it implies belief in everlasting life. It may have been a rough ride here on earth. In the Christian faith, a priest as intercessor between ordinary mortals and God, can invoke the ideal of resting in peace.
A contributor to an internet forum shoots holes in the ideal: ‘Rest in Peace is based on a euphemistic conception of death as a state of eternal sleep, which is of course the reason why the interior of coffins look like comfy beds. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some people include a night light. I guess it makes the reality of death more bearable.’
‘RIP becomes something of a scourge on Facebook as celebrities, public figures and film and TV stars age and begin to pass away.’ This is Julie Gray on Huff Post begging people to stop using RIP. She sees it as lazy and unimaginative and not what we want to say. On the internet forum on RIP, one fellow spoke of it as ‘a good intention without doing much’. He’d sent a mental Rest in Peace to Robin Williams when he died and would do that when anyone he admired died.
Some commentators find the Facebook outpourings touching. Doreen Felix, a New York writer says: ‘Fans imagined connections with their idols represent one of the few instances, to me, in which the internet has a capacity for sweetness.’ She’s more accepting of how hard it is to find words, and appreciates that the impulse to respond is there.
We want peace at death
We might think of Rest in Peace as a kind of best wishes at the end of life. RIP is part of our vocabulary for thinking and talking about death or loss. Set phrases like this help when words are hard to find. The wish that a person rest in peace can be mentally spoken by a fan, as much as it might be spoken aloud by the intimate carer of someone who has died.
Probably without a second thought, most people’s best wishes for anyone who has died and their family are peace. We don’t share firm beliefs much any more. But in a world full of restlessness and beset by challenges and uncertainties, we long for peace.
That there should be a vibrant shared peace at the time of death is a great wish. Rest in Peace is worth exploring. Who is it for? How may it best be achieved? If you’re interested in exploring these questions with a third person feel free to make an appointment for a consultation.