In these times of terror, violence, and the rebellion of our planet, it is certainly understandable why we, as a society, are taking these tragedies personally. They threaten our feeling of safety and security for ourselves and our loved ones, breeding empathy for the families who have experienced direct loss. Sometimes we're overcome with fear that someone we know may have been harmed. That we are internalizing the mass attacks and destructive acts of God that seem to be happening more and more frequently is a tribute to our connection as human beings.
Visceral reactions to celebrity deaths, on the other hand, don't generally present these same triggers--yet they can throw millions into despair. David Kaplan, Chief Professional Officer at the American Counseling Association, cautions us that grief is a vast and all-encompassing emotion, and one that shouldn't be invalidated, even if you don't see it from the same perspective.
Celebrities can seem ubiquitous and, by extension, immortal. When a celebrity whose art we have grown up with passes away, the realization that we will never see that person create anything new is not only sad, but can also bring up our own feelings of mortality. To learn that no person is larger than life is a humbling thing.
This idea of right and wrong ways to grieve was also addressed in a recent "Dear Sugars" podcast, where the writer took issue with her future mother-in-law's very public grieving of the loss of her 82-year-old father. The writer, who lost her father suddenly and at an early age, felt that her grief perhaps had more validity, and frowned upon the frequent Facebook posts of her MIL-to-be about her suffering.
In my article Social Media and Death: Is Emily Post Turning in Her Grave? I talked about the etiquette of death in social media. And while there can be some distinct downsides, connecting with others and a sense of community are, for most, a very important process in navigating grief.
Bottom line, let's not judge. If you have, at any point, experienced the all-encompassing anguish of grief, then exercise empathy when you recognize it in another, no matter the cause.