Over the past few weeks, several notable individuals within the music, film, and television industries have died. Like many people, I am struck by sadness and bewilderment over such a strong emotional reaction to individuals that I did not personally know. Public figures/celebrities have the platform to make an extensive impact on people. More than that, they produce significant contributions to the images, styles, soundscapes, and lexicon that help to shape our lives. They and their works can also help us to feel less alone when we are isolated within our families, peer groups, communities, and even society as a whole. Perhaps that is why the loss of these people is so affecting.
Anytime that a person dies, celebrity or not, it reminds me of the finite nature of incarnate life. As a spiritual practitioner, there can be an expectation to not be sad about a person’s death. This is attributed to the belief that “death is an illusion” and that ultimately “people live on in spirit.” While I do believe in an afterlife and that one’s soul survives physical death, that does not bar me from feeling downhearted when someone dies. Nothing can entirely match being able to have a palpable connection to another human being. Also, there can be a sense of wonder about how their lives could have advanced, had they lived longer.
The subject of mortality can become complicated with celebrities, because they are subject to a sort of pop culture deification. So much so that when news of their passing occurs some people find it hard to believe that they could have died as the result of illness, negligence, suicide, addiction, fatal accidents, or self-destruction. And yet these things are factual occurrences that led to the painful and at times preventable deaths of well-known individuals. No cruel or nefarious misfortune is necessary to bring someone to the grave, because money and fame do not spare a person from suffering or dying. We must not forget that celebrities are human beings, with their own lives, loved ones, pathologies, and experiences. Regardless of the reverence that we hold for them or how much of their work we consumed, we are not the authorities on their private lives.
As these outpourings of mourning for deceased public figures continue to flow, I hope that those of us who are not within the intimate circle of surviving loved ones, respect their bereavement process. Specifically, I hope that we allow them the time and space to reckon with the fact that their relative, friend, partner, and/or colleague is now far removed from their lives and palpable existence. May we be courteous and objective enough not to pose our ideologies, religious/spiritual practices, morbid curiosity, gossip, or opinions on them in their time of deep and visceral sorrow.