Grief for a Celebrity is Still Grief

I had been working since 5 AM, so the plush chair in front of the large flat-screen television at DePaul Universities Recreation Center was a welcome sight. I was really looking forward to getting off my feet! I’d spent the last 5 hours training and was hoping to get a little lunch in me to power through the rest of the afternoon. The Center was busy with students eating, socializing, and working-out between classes.

I bit into my crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich and glanced down to fish a plum out of my backpack. There was a gasp, and looking up to my right, I noticed one of the students who regularly attends my Spin Bike classes staring wide-eyed at the TV.

I looked over at the breaking news banner scrolling across the bottom of the screen. An image of Prince in concert was pictured above the caption, “Singer dead at age 57.”

It felt like my stomach had dropped out of my body. My head went into a medley songs and personal memories I associated with them. Suddenly I felt as if I was back in high school, driving home from my girlfriend’s house while “Little Red Corvette” blasted from the speakers of my Acura Legend. The lyrics to Purple Rain danced on the periphery of my mind as I rewound clips from the movie. I had watched it in secret, when I was far too young to indulge in rated R videos!

I suddenly realized just how significant a role Prince, a person I had never met, played in my life. It was a shocking revelation, mourning the loss of a person who had only existed through video images and the speakers of my stereo.

In the days following Ruth Ginsberg’s death, social media was buzzing with inspiring stories of the significant role she played in people’s lives. This morning I wake up to the news that Sean Connery has also passed. The collective heartbreak I hear from people is genuine in a year where we have already experienced considerable tragedy and loss.

As a blanket of sadness swept over much of our nation, there was an underlying question that seemed to bubble up around these mournful posts, “is it OK to grieve for a celebrity?”

As complex emotional beings, we develop feelings and attachments to things every day. We assign a place in our lives for the objects of appreciation. These objects become anchored by activities and behaviors that we associate with them.

When you remember someone like RBG, what thoughts or feelings do you associate with her? Can you think of someone you care about being inspired to do or be more because of her? Do you remember a story you heard about her that stirred something significant in you? Do you believe her contributions to the world have directly impacted you or your loved ones?

The answers to these questions contribute to the emotional and psychological connectedness we can develop for a person, even if we have never known them personally. As such, not only is it acceptable to grieve for people like this in our lives, but it is important to process what they have meant to us and reflect upon the ways in which they’ve inspired us.

Working through grief is a unique process for everyone. You may have heard of the five-stages of grief and people do tend to follow this grieving process for the most part. However, there is nothing that says you will go through each of these phases as a rule toward resolving your grief.

The stages are:

Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”

Anger: “How is this possibly happening and who’s fault is it?”

Bargaining: “Please don’t let this happen and if it stops I will….”

Depression: “There is nothing else to do here other than drown in my sadness.”

Acceptance: “I have found peace with what has happened.”

It’s important to understand that no one will be able to understand exactly how you are feeling or what you are dealing with. While it may not seem like it, you do have options to get support and everyone that is grieving should reach out. This might mean talking to friends or getting support from family members. You could lean on your faith or draw on the support of your community. Of course, talking to a therapist is highly recommended.

We would like to hear from you, and provide a space to commemorate the passing of someone who you feel positively impacted your world. Feel free to add it to the comment thread below.

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Matt Lawson, MA, NCC, LPC

Hi, I'm Matt, and I'm a counselor who helps people achieve optimal health. I currently offer counseling services here at Chicago Compass Counseling and specialize in eSports and video game addiction. If you're interested, you can read more about me on my about page.