I’m fascinated by the public reaction to celebrity deaths. While some people might not care, reasoning that these people did not touch their own lives in a meaningful way, many of us mourn the loss of a public figure – whether a performer like Aretha Franklin, or a politician like John McCain.
Why do we care?
First, I think it’s because “no man is an island.” We live in community with others, and we consider these people a part of our human community. We sense that our community has been diminished by the loss of their participation in it.
Secondly, I think we care because of what these people mean to us on a personal level.
I never met Annette Funicello, but she was a part of my life from the day I was born. I was named after her. When I was growing up, she was a wholesome role model for teen girls (and the object of many boys’ crushes). I was saddened when I learned she had developed multiple sclerosis, and I’ll never forget the day I learned that she died.
I was at work. And I sat at my desk and cried, because I felt a personal loss.
My grief wasn’t really for a stranger, but rather, for the part of myself that I seemed to be losing. I felt like I lost a connection to my childhood that day, an association that kept me innocent. I wasn’t grieving for her, so much as for what she had meant to me.
Surely it’s the same for many of us. When we feel bereft at the loss of a public figure, then ask ourselves why, perhaps this is the answer – it’s everyone’s loss, and we mourn what they meant to us.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s another way of acknowledging the connections between and among us.