Speaking Up About Grief, Vol. 7

Books, Movies, and Music / Books, Movies, and Music : Litsa Williams

When you are in the grocery line and you see those magazines with a cover story featuring celebrities without their make-up on, do you ever think to yourself, what in the world makes this front-page worthy?? I mean, come on, if I wanted to see someone without make-up on I could look in the mirror. That doesn’t seem newsworthy!

I have been giving these stories some serious thought (for two or three minutes a week, while standing in the grocery line) and I guess on a basic level these stories and photos are appealing because they remind us that celebrities aren’t all that different than us — they don’t always look perfect, they aren’t airbrushed in real life, they sometimes have bags under their eyes, look worn down, wear sweats, and don’t brush their hair. I know you guys might find this hard to believe, but often times when I am in the grocery store line I also have bags under my eyes, look worn down, am wearing sweats, and haven’t brushed my hair.

In our Speaking Up About Grief series we often emphasize how much we appreciate celebs for using their voices and their limelight to talk about grief because it raises awareness and changes culture and stigma. But I was thinking the other day, while looking like crap in the grocery line, that perhaps the other reason we are interested in celebrity grief is similar to the reason we like seeing celebs without make-up. It reminds us that below the facades, whatever they may be, we are all touched by grief. We have or will all experience the excruciating pain of losing someone we love, and that it is unbearable. Just as they make us feel better about looking like crap when they take off their make-up mask, they make us feel better about our own grief by talking about their grief. They remind us that we are not alone and that grief tears us all down sometimes. So maybe I shouldn’t judge. Perhaps this “Speaking Up” series is the grief-blog version of celebs without their make-up on.

sarah silverman dog fbSarah Silverman

A couple of weeks ago Sarah Silverman wrote an ‘obituary type thing’ for her 19-year-old dog, Duck. She gives voice to how much a friend and part of our families a pet can become. For anyone who has lost a pet (or anyone who hasn’t) it is heartbreaking. Pet loss and the grief that comes with it is so often underestimated, so 5 gold stars to Sarah for sharing her pain with the interwebs, letting people see just how painful pet loss can be. Check it out.

Cissy Houston

If there is one person we can count on to open people up to talking about grief it’s Oprah. She didn’t fail us earlier this year by bringing Cissy Houston onto her show to talk about the devastating loss of her daughter, Whitney Houston. Cissy has also written a book about her daughter, Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped. Below is a clip from the episode, but you can check out the whole thing on Oprah’s website.

We have shared this before, but since we are talking about Cissy Houston, we can’t not share it again. Check out her incredible tribute to Whitney at the BET awards.

Joyce Carol Oates

Writer Joyce Carol Oates lost her husband in 2008. Like any good writer, she put her pain and loss to words in her book, A Widow’s Story: A Memoir. I have read many criticisms of the book, many pointing to things about Oates’s character and how she handled her grief. And yet I would argue that the value of grief memoirs is that they give an honest account of different people and their grief – the good and the bad, the pretty and the painful. Whether or not you relate to Oates and her grief, she puts herself out there — she wipes off her make-up — take it or leave it. Below is an interview about her loss and her journals that developed into her book.

One of the things that Joyce Carol Oates took a lot of criticism for was her relationship and subsequent remarriage. You just can’t win as a widow — you’ve got people rushing you to get out and start dating again, or you’ve got people criticizing you for getting out and dating again! You can see some highlights of criticism here and read Oates defending herself here. This criticism and need for a formal defense in the New York Review of Books is a painful reminder that when celebrities are open with their grief they open themselves up to the world for public criticism in a way the rest of us are lucky to avoid. Whatever your thoughts on Joyce Carol Oates, her grief, her remarriage, and its omission from her book, props to her for putting herself out there and defending her own choices.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden gave a powerful and honest speech about death and grief and a TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) National Military Survivor Seminar on Memorial Day last year. Talking about the death of his wife and daughter, his guilt when his son returned safely from military service, the insight grief gave him into people who consider suicide, his deep anger, and how frustrating it was to hear people say things like, “I know how you feel”. It was a speech given with a sincerity that could only come from one griever to another. So thanks to Joe Biden for showing up without “make-up” to talk about the depths of his grief. Don’t miss this one.

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