Raise your hand if David Bowie’s death hit you harder than you expected. Okay, I can’t see you; you can’t see me, but I assure you, my hand is raised. I had a plan for today’s post, but I can seem to focus to write it because I have been thinking obsessively about celebrity deaths and the grief that accompanies them. Let’s be honest, even if David Bowie’s death hasn’t impacted you, you can probably think of another celebrity death that hit you harder than you imagined.
I can remember exactly where my middle school-self was when I found out Kurt Cobain died. I had a moment of collective grief at Target when someone in the checkout line shared the announcement that Philip Seymour Hoffman died. But I know as well as the next person that it is easy to feel a little self-conscious when you find yourself experiencing grief feelings around the death of a stranger. The feelings creep up on you and you are saying to yourself, why am I so upset about this, I didn’t even know this person?!? The sadness doesn’t just feel abstract, it can feel personal. And that feels, well, kinda weird.
As usual, we are here to answer that nagging question that comes up all too often: am I crazy? Nope, not even a little bit. Feeling intense emotions around celebrity deaths is a common experience and, when we are already grieving, it can be even more deeply intensified. What’s this celebrity grief all about and why does it happen? Like so many things in grief, there are lots of reasons and no clear rules. Some people feel intense emotions around a celebrity death, others feel nothing. Though the reasons for those emotions may vary dramatically, here are just a few things to keep in mind:
- We don’t know celebrities, but we know celebrities. They have often been a regular part of our lives, in the shows and movies we love, creating the music that defines moments in our lives, creating art and writing we love. We have often seen them grow and change and, in some cases have felt connected to those changes.
- We feel connected to our favorite celebs. These connections are not just about how much we love, appreciate and respect these people, but sometimes because they remind us of, well, us. This can be as specific as their connection to a moment in our past, or as general as the fact that they are about our age or have something else in common to us.
- They are connected to friends or family who have died. This is a big one. We heard from so many people yesterday who shared that, though they personally had not been David Bowie fans, their mother, father, spouse, child or other family member who died was a fan. Each time we lose something else connected to our loved one we can experience the sensation that we are even further from our loved one.
- We connect with the way the celeb died. Whether it is cancer, suicide, overdose, accident or any other type of death, this can hit a nerve. It may be because we have struggled with the same thing, or it may be because we lost someone in the same way.
- That celeb was always there to comfort us. Maybe it was binge watching The Sopranos to get you through the early days of your own grief. Or perhaps it was listening to the Velvet Underground that got you through a particularly painful time. Whatever it was, when a celebrity dies who brought us comfort in our difficult times, it can be especially painful and bring up past losses.
- We see it everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. You turn on the TV, listen to the radio, log on to social media, look at google news and you just can’t avoid it. This constant exposure can be overwhelming and it can make it hard to get a break from the tough emotions.
- It represents losing our past or our youth. This is an interesting one, that I hadn’t given a lot of thought (maybe because I am still young enough that I am not experiencing the death of many celebs of my generation). But someone posted on our facebook page yesterday, “I guess celebrity deaths make me feel like almost nothing is left from my childhood/youth…”. This is a very real impact of celebrity deaths and, I suspect, probably becomes more and more intensified as more and more celebs of a generation die.
- Other people make us feel bad. When people don’t validate our feelings it just leaves us feeling worse, like we can’t be honest and we don’t have support. If someone has every made you feel like your grief around a celebrity’s death was irrational or crazy, you may have found yourself hesitating to talk about it with others in the future.
- They will never do or create anything new. One minimizing thing people say when an artist, actor, or musician dies is “at least the world still has all their work”. Though this is true, and these works of art, music, or political action are often what has touched us about celebs, having their existing works doesn’t mean there isn’t a deep sense of loss that they will never create anything new. We will hear a new song, read a new book or poem, see a new film, or go to another live performance. We can simultaneously feel grateful for the works that exist while grieving the loss of their potential future works.
To wrap up, I can help but share something I saw on twitter around Bowie’s death, interestingly tweeted by a fan before his death:
If you’re ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.
— Dean Podestá (@JeSuisDean) January 10, 2016
What has your experience been grieving a celebrity death? Leave a comment to let us know!