by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

 

When someone we have admired from afar dies, it’s normal and natural to experience grief. This article will help you understand your thoughts and feelings over the death of a celebrity and find healing ways to mourn.

 

What is grief?

Let’s start by talking a little about what grief is. Grief is what we think and feel inside after we lose something or someone we’re attached to. Grief is our internal response to an external loss.

We grieve when people we love die, of course, but we also grieve after other forms of loss, such as divorce, job loss, and moving away from a home we have loved. The stronger the connection, the greater our grief when the connection is broken.

 

Connection is key

The more we feel connected to someone famous, the more likely we are to experience grief when they die.

Our feelings of connection to celebrities are not based on personal relationships but instead on our own identities. It’s common for us to admire and grow attached to famous people whose work, personalities, and lifestyles we aspire to ourselves. We like them—or at least their public personas. And often we dream of becoming more like them.

In the case of celebrity artists such as musicians and actors, we typically feel connected to their creative works. Their song lyrics and their characters voice our own inner thoughts and feelings. They not only entertain us, they speak for us. They help us understand and lay claim to our deepest desires.

Did you ever notice that we often develop our strongest feelings of connection to celebrities during times of transition? For example, the teenager who covers his bedroom walls in posters of sports or artistic celebrities does so because he’s trying to figure out who he is. In this manner, our self-identities often become intertwined with the favorite celebrities who helped shape them. When they die, it feels like a part of us has died, too.

 

Celebrities unite us

Another facet of our grief after the death of a beloved celebrity is that celebrities unite us.

When we feel a sense of connection with a celebrity and know that some of our friends and family members do as well, we share an interest that strengthens our personal bonds. We might go to concerts, movies, or sporting events together. We enjoy sharing updates. More broadly, we also know that millions of other people across the globe feel connected to the celebrity too. We feel the warmth of a connection that unites us, and we join together on social media to bask in it.

When the celebrity dies, we realize that we are losing a person that connects us with so many others. The good news is that because there are so many of us, we can share our grief openly and publicly, as a tribe. The bad news is that we understand that our feeling of unity will begin to fade away.

 

Feelings you may experience

As with the grief that follows the death of someone close to us, we often feel shocked and numb at first. With a celebrity death, however, our sense of shock can be even more profound because celebrities seem invincible. They are larger than life. They are super-human. How can they suddenly be gone?

In the days and weeks to come, it’s common to experience a wide range of other thoughts and feelings after a celebrity death. You might find yourself feeling distracted, irritated, anxious, moody, angry, regretful, and sad, by turn. You might be surprised at the depth and frequency of your feelings of grief. Rest assured that your grief is normal.

 

What to do with your grief

Whenever we grieve, the path to healing is through mourning.

Remember, grief is what we think and feel inside about a loss. Mourning, on the other hand, is expressing our grief outside of ourselves. Mourning is talking about the loss. Mourning is crying. Mourning is sharing our thoughts and feelings in whatever ways we choose.

Generally, our culture isn’t very good at mourning. We tend to believe that people should keep their grief to themselves (a harmful and wrongheaded misconception). But after a celebrity dies, we expect and encourage public mourning. This is a good thing. It helps us heal both as a society and as individuals.

If you’re grieving the death of a celebrity, I encourage you to join in the public mourning rituals. Discuss the death with other fans. Share thoughts, feelings, and tributes in social media. If possible, visit the place of death and add your contribution to the memorial display of flowers, notes, photos, and mementos.

Of course, mourning more privately will also help you heal. You might want to write a letter to the celebrity’s family, for example, telling them how much she meant to you. Or perhaps you would like to honor your shared history by creating a keepsake box or shadow box to store your personal mementos related to the person who died.

 

Celebrity mourning as a steppingstone

Openly and actively expressing your thoughts and feelings about a celebrity’s death can help you become a more active and open mourner when someone close to you dies.

All of the mourning activities that people participate in after the death of a celebrity are also normal and even more necessary after the death of a close friend or family member. Talk about the death and whatever you’re thinking and feeling. Cry and display your feelings openly. Create and participate in rituals. Mourning is the only way to healing.

 

About the Author

Dr. Alan Wolfelt is recognized as one of North America’s leading death educators and grief counselors. His books on grief for both caregivers and grieving people have sold more than a million copies worldwide and are translated into many languages. He is founder and director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is a past recipient of the Association of Death Education and Counseling’s Death Educator Award. Contact him at 970-226-6050, drwolfelt@centerforloss.com or centerforloss.com.