I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and bereavement recently. This is primarily because January was a month in which a lot of prominent people passed away. David Bowie, Lemmy, Alan Rickman, and Terry Wogan all lost battles with cancer, and all garnered many headlines.
Much has been written about mourning the loss of celebrities in the wake of these deaths. Do we have a right to grieve for people we haven’t met?
Grief is a complex emotion, and for all the talk of ‘Seven Stages of Grieving’, not one that I think has any hard and fast rules. When my mum died, rather than focusing on my own loss, I was repeatedly devastated by the idea that she wasn’t ready to go. She didn’t want to die at 63, and that sense of a life unfinished was (and often still is) totally overwhelming.
What nobody told me, before I had been irrevocably changed by the death of a parent, is that I would be irrevocably changed by the death of a parent. My mum herself tried to tell me many times, when she spoke of the loss of her own dad when she was 42. I knew that she missed him every day, but I had no idea that it felt like this, because I don’t think you can know until it’s happening to you.
When famous figures die, it can feel a little ridiculous to feel a sense of loss. Their passing will have no major impact on your day-to-day life; past the few days of intense media attention, for most people it will pass into a general sadness that they are no longer around to produce new work. No more music from Bowie, no more chances to see a powerhouse performance from Rickman, and no more laughing at Terry Wogan on Radio 2.
But for everyone that complains that grieving for a celebrity is ridiculous, I will just say this. I can only imagine the comfort that these people’s families will derive, eventually, from seeing such an outpouring of love. When people feel such a deep sense of loss at the passing of Alan Rickman, because he touched so many generations with outstanding performances. When people talk of feeling Terry Wogan was a friend, because they were so used to hearing his voice in their kitchen in the mornings. When people say that David Bowie’s music, attitude and influence allowed them to realise that being different was OK.
My mum’s funeral was the second-worst day of my life. I was almost hysterical with grief. But when I look back on it, I remember the amount of people who turned up, and I am amazed and grateful that people chose to show me and my family their love by doing so. It still brings me the most amazing amount of comfort, and I hope that all the tweets and Facebook posts and hashtags and Instagram posts do that for the families of well-known people that we’ve lost.