As we get older, we are more likely to witness the deaths of our favourite musicians, cinematic legends, and authors. Their deaths may impact us, leaving us feeling sad and nostalgic.
With social media, news of the deaths of our cherished celebrities and public figures are brought to the forefront. We are inundated with minute-by-minute updates about causes of death. We are sometimes made aware of never-before-heard-of illnesses. We read about other people’s grief and longing. We read their heartfelt tributes.
We have never met these people. Why are we so affected by their death?
Through our lifetime, we form attachments to the work and lives of artists, celebrities and public figures. Some are role models. Their work and contributions remind us of childhood memories. A musician’s song may bring us back to a wedding or a movie star’s most remembered film can remind us of a first date. A renowned scientist may have committed their life to something you are passionate about. All in all, the work of these artists, and the contributions of these public figures are often a reflection of how we have processed our own little world. Their servitude, their performances, and their struggles resonate with us.
We can often relate to these public figures or their characters because sometimes they provide us with ways to express feelings we wanted to share. Maybe they inspired us to move, to change, to fight or to be kind. Sadly, there are worse things happening in the world than the loss of an grandiose musician or an eccentric writer. But how would those other things compare to how a song or their writing made you feel? Would anything else match the joy you felt when thinking about re-enacting that one scene from a movie over and over again with your lifelong friend? These celebrity deaths can all of a sudden feel very personal for just those reasons. It leaves us yearning for ‘old times’.
There are no rules on grief and bereavement. Just because it can’t be explained doesn’t mean it can’t be valid. There is a vast amount of literature and resources to help us deal with the loss of a parent, a spouse, a pet, or worse – a child. The feelings experienced when we hear of the loss of a public figure does not even compare with the profound grief felt when we lose someone close to us. However, the nostalgia felt with these losses can create strong grief-like symptoms.
How are we coping?
The collective mourning that takes place with the loss of a public figure connects us to a universal community. We come together with friends or gather on social media to share in our grief. We reminisce together about how that person made us feel. We want our feelings acknowledged. We don’t want to feel alone. We want to come together and share, much like our ancestors did centuries ago to celebrate the gifts of those that made a difference in our lives.
Thanks to our varied ancestry, many cultures observe death in different, yet inspiring ways. Read more here: Festivals of Death
These publicized deaths heighten our feelings of empathy. They provide us with the catalyst we often need to sit back and assess our own lives and perspectives. We turn towards ourselves and examine our own values. It’s perfectly normal to feel sad about the deaths of these public figures because perhaps it is as simple as feeling that when our time comes, we want our lives to matter too.