In the past couple years we have lost some great celebrity icons. From classic figures such as Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Robin Williams, and the latest Burt Reynolds and Aretha Franklin to younger teen icons like Mac Miller or Avicii, we as a community seem to be very upset when we hear about their passing. But why is that? Why is it that we are so engaged in celebrities that we are as upset when they die as when we lose a loved one or friend?
In today’s culture of being connected to everyone at a touch of a button, it could be easy for us to feel close to these people that we closely follow on social media. We follow them on Instagram and see their picture perfect posts. We see them on their snap chat stories as we see our own friends that we see on a daily basis and get a glimpse into their day to day lives. We see articles and other posts up on Facebook for us to use 6 different emotions to react. You know, it could be very easy for us to get involved in the lives of people that we have never had a conversation with. We feel invested in their lives since we see them as much as we see our friends on these platforms. But even with all this connection, how is it that we can sit and bawl over a celebrity death while we’re typing our tribute post on social media? This seems to be a topic that people have been talking about as social media has become more and more involved in our daily lives over the past decade.
One reason could be that we feel genuinely sorry that they are gone and feel for the family. Some of us are in our feels more than others, and this is how we express our feelings of empathy for the loss of life and to the family. Another reason could be that this particular creative made a large impact on our life. Carrie as Princess Leia was one of the first women who showed us that women could be self sufficient during a time where most women were pretty limited to being nurses, secretaries, teachers, or stay at home moms. Selena and Aretha Franklin transformed our souls with their voices. These people that we never meet do seem to teach us, help us, and show us insights into perspectives of life that we may not have seen otherwise.
I think one of the biggest reasons that we can have grand reactions to celebrity deaths is because their loss stirs something in us. They trigger our own grief feelings that may have been dormant for awhile or something that we had never processed. When Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds died, I know that I personally reacted more than I normally do to celebrity deaths. Part of this was that Carrie died the day before my Mom’s birthday and Debbie died on my Mom’s birthday and both of these women had played some of my mom’s most favorite characters. The original Star Wars trilogy VHS set sat on our fireplace hearth not too far from the TV so we could watch them on demand. There would be many occasions in which we would just start singing “Singing in the Rain” while cleaning or just being silly. I felt for Billie who had lost so much of her world in two days, because I could empathize with how she felt.
Sometimes I like that deaths of people who are well known and respected are publicized as much as they are, because for a brief moment, we are talking about death in public. When tragic deaths such as Kate Spade’s or Anthony Bourdain’s happen, we get to have a brief moment to talk about mental health and how much it is shoved under the rug in our society. We have made grief and mental health almost shameful to talk about, so we don’t have these important conversations that need to happen in order to make the greater good more informed and even better. If children, teens, and even adults were allowed to discuss how they feel about their death of their loved one longer than just until the funeral happens we could be doing a lot more good. People expect us to be done grieving a couple weeks after the death, but we’re not. Most people are still numb even and they’re not sure what they are feeling, if they are feeling at all. I know that the death of my dad that was 18 years ago, and the loss of my mom which was almost 8 years ago will stick with me for the rest of my life. I know that there will be days that my grief monster will be so big, I won’t be able to function for a day or two. I know this because I am educated in grief and how it works and I allow myself to talk about it not only on this forum but with my friends and people I know will listen. Grief does not end, that’s why this blog is called “The Walk with Grief”. Grief is a journey that we will all be on at some point in our lives. So yes, sometimes we react to celebrity deaths because it brings up “stuff” in our lives. I will always empathize with the families of those who we look up to in our world, mourn the loss of their life, and be ready to talk to those who have had secondary grief feelings because of the loss.