Grieving the Demise of a Celebrity: Why It Is Absolutely Alright To Do So

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”
– Adult Pi Patel portrayed by Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi)

Today, the film industry lost acclaimed actor Irrfan Khan. As soon as I read this on my timeline, my first response was, indeed, denial (described as the first stage of the grief-cycle in the Kubler-Ross Model). I was in shock, disbelief, praying that this was a piece of hoax news, and I found myself asking the question, “Why is this affecting me so much?”

I took a trip down memory lane and I remember being heartbroken when the world lost precious gems like Robin Williams (Oh Captain! My Captain!), Carrie Fisher (my darling Princess Leia), Alan Rickman (the misunderstood hero, Professor Snape) and the legend, Chester Bennington. Celebrity deaths happen often, many a time quite unexpectedly, and leave fans – people who did not know the deceased personally – in a confused cloud of grief. I remember friends of mine not familiar with the Star Wars or the Harry Potter Universe not being able to comprehend why deaths of Carrie Fisher and Alan Rickman, for instance, bothered me so much because, logically, yes, it does not make a whole lot of sense to feel sad about losing someone one did not actually know. However, it is important to note that mourning the passing over of a celebrity makes sense especially when the deceased was a person we admired or played a character we immensely liked; because celebrities often are inextricably linked to certain memories or certain moments in time that hold personal significance. For instance, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington seemed to provide the soundtrack of my teenage days, with the words and the music being my source of comfort as I coped with challenges that I now know are fairly common in adolescence. His death, I remember, affected a lot of my clients too, and I remember organizing a tribute in his honour, and that was one evening when my counselling centre was crowded like never ever! Musicians who soundtracked our important milestones, sportspeople we grew up watching, television heartthrobs we pined over – our relationship with celebrities do not always follow the typically understood measures of time and space, at a subconscious level, making them almost immortal to us. In our heads, they are never supposed to age, never supposed to die, and when they do pass over, it feels like a tiny part of us died too – our innocence seems to die with them.

Feeling intense emotions around the death of a celebrity is a common experience because even though it feels like we don’t know celebrities, we actually do know them in our own way. Many of them were a regular part of our lives through the movies or shows they did, the books they wrote, the art and music they created, and through the millions of ways they inspired us through their personal stories or by playing the parts of characters that changed our lives.

So, if you are feeling sad about a loss, it is a signal that it had some meaning to you. Feelings are always valid and should never be ignored. Social media does not really allow us to sufficiently discuss our feelings, and sorrow has many forms, a lot of which is difficult to put into words, let alone 280 characters, so, as I am in solidarity with all those mourning the loss of Irrfan Khan, the invitation is to not bottle down emotions by posting standard phrases like “rest in peace”, but to dig deeper and dive within, and to explore more along the lines of what that person meant to you – in what ways have they enriched your life, your world. How did life change for your – albeit in a small manner – after seeing their work? Let those feelings pour onto a page, and let those tears fall if need be. You are allowed to grieve. You are allowed to shed a tear. Your grief is valid. You are loved.

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