“Celebrity” may not be the right word for them. Through their mediums, they are our idols and our inspirations. They are untouchable for their talent and their genius. And simultaneously, they are our friends, neighbors, and sometimes, enemies. When we are children, they are our favorite play dates or the monsters under the bed. As we grow, they are our mirrors and confidants as we battle adolescence. As adults, we understand the difference between them and their fiction; they are illusions and realities. They are larger-than-life and yet somehow they are just like us. At the end of the day, we feel as though they are our family.
In America today, celebrity life (gossip) has become the forum to discuss everything. This forum is a way to escape everything unpleasant, anything beyond our control, and especially beyond our comprehension. After all, often it is easier for us to understand and relate to “who wore it best,” than to fathom what’s happening in Gaza, what Ebola is doing to countries in Africa, or what’s even happening in our own backyard in places like Ferguson. I mean, we all have bodies and most of us struggle with body image issues at some point so why not alleviate some of our own insecurities by discussing the bikini bods of those people we don’t actually know: our friends – the celebrities.
And that, I think, is what makes celebrity death so hard. In one sense, their deaths are abstractions to us. They are not actually members of our families or close friends. We feel sorrow for the loss to the greater community and for their own families but can’t say that we really knew them at all. Their deaths are just another brick in the wall between our difficulty understanding death and how we handle grief and loss.
Yet, on the other hand, we feel as though their deaths are as real as anyone else’s. And they are. They become all death personified in a big way. Maybe, the way we found out about a celebrity death is actually akin to the phone-call we received from our mother telling us about the car accident that tragically killed our cousin. The first people we relayed the news to are actually our co-workers or friends who watched us receive that call. And next year, when it all comes around again, there will be two anniversaries: the one of our cousin that we mostly navigate alone and, the one of our celebrity friend whose life we will honor and celebrate all together.
A shocking loss, like the death of Robin Williams for instance, does create, for a brief shining moment, a real community. It opens to gates to grief. It allows us to take stock of the people around us, inspiring us to ask tough questions of each other and really, really check-in. It gives us a chance to look inward and figure out who helped us become who we are today. It reminds us of happy, recurrent memories that started with laughter in our childhood. It creates space for us to mourn for every character that actor ever portrayed, for every song that musician wrote, for every photograph that artist snapped, and the ones they will be unable to complete. It tells us it’s okay to still be sad for the loss of dads to an incurable disease, our friends to suicide, our grandmothers heart disease, our co-workers to car accidents, our cousins to drug addiction and so on.
So maybe that’s the beauty of it all, of our public forum inspired by celebrity life and gossip: the chance to be together. I’m not saying fascination (and often obsession) with celebrity lifestyle is good all the time. I’m not saying we should ignore other parts of the world in favor of it. There are so many big issues that still need to be tackled. We should always remember that. And because of that, we should also always remember that it is within our power to be a real global community, to have space for every other living person in our hearts.
A celebrity is a person. A real living, breathing human being. To discount their deaths based on anything is unfair. We mourn them as a person. Someone lost a parent today. Someone lost a spouse. Someone lost their sibling. Someone lost their best friend. A little piece of all of our hearts is gone.
So let’s use this moment to really check-in, okay?
And please know, grief is okay. We’re all in this together.