January 27, 2020
by Amy Rollo
I’m not a huge basketball fan, but when the alert that Kobe Bryant died suddenly in a helicopter crash came on my screen, I immediately felt shock. I felt this sense of sadness and tried to make sense of how someone so known and famous, could be taken so suddenly. I have felt similar emotions when other famous actors or athletes passed. It is completely normal to feel sadness or grief when someone famous dies. There are several reasons we might feel these intense emotions:
1. They represent a time period in our lives. Celebrities can be similar to a song that comes on the radio and immediately takes you back to a time period. You might smile when the song comes on because you immediately think about a summer vacation. A celebrity can be the same. The feelings you had while watching their movie while on a first date, or watching them win the national title game come flooding back. The celebrity becomes greater than themselves, your brain automatically connects the celebrity with the positive emotions you experienced while watching them.
- You know them. Okay, we don’t really know most celebrities, but you really know so many things about them. You might know their favorite color, food, date of their birthday, and every detail in their life as it is blasted in all the entertainment news. Having so much knowledge about someone makes you feel connected to them. The more positive things we know about someone, the more we generally like them. We begin to experience more empathy for them because of this connection.
- A celebrity’s death can trigger our own experiences of grief. We might unknowingly begin to experience the grief we felt when losing a friend, family member, or loved one.
- Our own death becomes more real. When we see a celebrity die in an accident, cancer, or other way that feels out of our control, we begin to notice our own immortality. Some may feel scared about other loved ones in their life. For instance, hearing about a celebrity losing their child, may make you fearful the same could happen to you.
- When a celebrity dies, our world is filled with news of their life and death. It’s hard to go onto social media without seeing friends posting about it, the news is full of stories, and even the water cooler talk at work is filled with conversations about the celebrity’s life and passing. The negative energy can be hard to shake, and you might start to feel overwhelmed with the news.
- When we lose a celebrity, we also end a chapter of our life. Maybe it’s an actor that was on your favorite childhood sitcom, a sports hero that you had posters of in your bedroom as a child, or a singer from your favorite childhood band. We often feel like we lose part of our childhood when we lose a celebrity from that time period.
While it can be normal to feel sadness and grief when a celebrity dies, it can also be really hard to experience those emotions. There are some tactics you can use to help with these emotions:
- The best thing you can do is accept the grief. Recognize you are experiencing it. Notice the sadness just like you would any other sad event.
- Take some time to unplug. Recognize that you have been inundated with news of the celebrity’s passing. Get off social media and the news. Go get some fresh air, go to coffee with friends, or go on a walk. Taking a break from the coverage can be helpful.
- Take some time to honor their life, just like you would anyone else you cared about. Watch highlights of their television shows, movies, listen to their music, or watch their winning sports moments. They lived big. They made a difference in the world. Take some time to honor that.
- When you are grieving a celebrity’s death, you are sometimes grieving your eventual death or loved one’s death. Take time to care for yourself and loved ones. Practice self-care, honor the life you have created, and spend time with those you love. When someone dies, you begin to recognize that nothing is guaranteed, and it can be a reminder to live with intention.
- Journaling is one of the best ways to express emotions and get to know how you are feeling. If you notice that after a few days, you are still feeling intense sadness, write down your feelings.
- Last, see a therapist if feelings linger more than a couple of weeks, or if it impacts your daily functioning. Being able to talk with someone about your intense feelings can help untangle the thoughts and feelings and really begin to make sense of them.
Many children also struggle when a celebrity dies for many of the same reasons adults do. Suddenly, death seems so much more real, and they can be scared that the same can happen to them or their loved ones. There are many things you can do to help a child process their feelings.
- The best thing you can do is talk to them. Ask them how they are feeling and validate their emotions. Let them know it is normal to be sad and that feeling sadness means they care.
- Keep the television off. We cannot control the information shared on the news. It can be hard for adults to hear the information, so for children it can be overwhelming. Even if they are not actively watching the television, many children are listening and are mindful of what information is shared.
- Let them know they are safe. Yes, we cannot control everything in the world, but as parents we do a lot to ensure the safety of our children. Let your children know that you are protecting them and you are doing everything you can to keep your family safe.
- When a celebrity dies, it is sometimes the first experience a child has with death. This is a good time to teach your child whatever your beliefs are. For some families, they can talk about religious beliefs. This can sometimes be helpful in teaching about death before a family member or loved one dies. You can even research bibliotherapy books that can teach about death and dying at an age appropriate level.
Please know that it is normal for you or your children to experience a wide range of emotions when a celebrity passes. These feelings should pass. It is a good reminder to practice self-care, set your intentions, and practice gratitude.