“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking.
The death of a public figure or celebrity can bring up so very much. When it does, you might ask yourself why the loss of someone you never met is impacting you in such a way. And you may even be a little embarrassed about having such a strong reaction. But every single loss in our lives is an individual experience worth examining and honoring. Mourning the loss isn’t uncommon or silly, because it is a loss related to memories and moments, and while we may not be a part of that person's reality, they can be an impactful part of ours. This is why often people can remember exactly where they were when they found out about the passing of certain public figures, including Queen Elizabeth II, Michael Jackson, Robin Williams, and Kobe Bryant.
Public figures and their deaths are deeply connected to significant moments and people in our own lives, and grieving their loss can be complicated. If you've struggled with a bereavement, their death may bring feelings of grief to the surface again. Maybe Queen Elizabeth’s death is affecting you because your grandma who passed away was a huge fan of hers? Did Olivia Newton John’s death impact you because your mother also died of breast cancer? Did Kobe Bryant’s death impact you because you loved watching and playing basketball with a friend you have lost? When the public figure connected to those memories dies, it can hit us hard and make us feel as though we are losing another part of our loved one again.
Public figures 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. Perhaps you feel a connection to that person because of how you feel they helped you through a tough time in your life. We have often seen them grow and change and, in some cases have felt connected to those changes. Death can also be impactful because it connects us to our own mortality.
No matter the reason, if you are feeling impacted your feelings are always valid, and there is no point in shaming yourself or accepting that from anyone else. Instead, think through how you can effectively care for yourself. Perhaps reflecting on previous experiences and leaning into any coping mechanisms you learned or healing activities you turned to can be helpful. Be kind to yourself, and take a mental health day if needed. Embrace creativity, journaling, and other forms of self-care.
Lean on those around you and share your feelings. Talking to people who feel a similar way, who are able to identify with how you feel, and celebrate how they have touched your lives with memories and moments. You just might inspire others to do the same, and at the very least, you’ll help someone else realise they aren’t alone.