The recent tragic deaths of basketball star Kobe Bryant, his young daughter and seven others on board a helicopter that crashed has sent the world reeling. As funeral plans are being put into place for all those who died, today we're going to talk about celebrity deaths and how they affect us, even though we may never have met the person.
THE SHOCK FACTOR
Kobe Bryant, his young daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed when the helicopter they were riding in crashed into the side of a hill in Calabasas, California on January 26th. This news, when first reported, shocked old and young the whole world over. When I first heard about the crash, my first thought was actually "Fake news!" In retrospect, there was a bit of denial going on there, because I'd actually read the headline on a reputable news site.
Did you have a similar response when you learned the news? Whenever you receive unbelievable news like this, you may feel what seems like a "shock" go through your body. I know I do whenever I get news of a celebrity death, or anyone's death for that matter. The hair on the back of your neck may stand up, and if it's someone famous who's died, you will probably reach for your phone or the remote to get the very latest information. You'll want to share what you've just found out with others, so you'll probably call or text your family and friends to break the news. This way, in a sense, you'll be able to grieve together.
Case in point with Kobe Bryant's death. People my age grew up watching Kobe, seeing and hearing about his amazing feats on the basketball court. He's right up there in legendary status with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Shaquille O'Neal. People older than me who enjoy watching basketball most certainly recognized his talents on the court right away, and enjoyed watching him help take the Lakers to several NBA championships throughout his 20-year career with them. So naturally we're all feeling a sense of loss now that he's gone. To make our grief-work that much more intense, besides knowing how he died, we've got to process the fact that his child perished with him, and that he leaves behind a grieving widow and three other kids.
Kobe Bryant, 1978-2020
The same kind of shock was felt in 1977 when Elvis Presley died...fans were crying in the streets. And in 1997 when Princess Diana died. And in 2009 when Michael Jackson died. And in 2014 when Robin Williams died. The list goes on.
At first, you may feel silly for being sad over the death of someone you didn't even know. But really, it's more like they didn't know you. You knew them very well, even if just from film, pictures, or music. (There's definitely psychology behind this phenomenon, and you can read about it here.)
For instance, maybe this particular celebrity was your role model, and it was on your bucket list to get to meet them in person one day. That dream has now been taken away. Or maybe you did get to meet them once, and you’ve always felt that the two of you somehow clicked. Even if you’ve never met this person, you’ve claimed them as your favorite…you’ve watched them on TV or in movies, sang along with them to your favorite songs, and celebrated with them when they got married or welcomed new life into the world.
Or maybe you had a loved one who passed away a while ago, and it was they who were this celebrity's biggest fan. So now you're feeling remorse for them, since they can't themselves. Or maybe this particular famous person provided you with a sense of comfort when you were going through something difficult; maybe a certain interview they gave encouraged you in some way, or a certain song they sang made you feel like everything was going to be alright.
And besides personal emotions like these, there's the objective side of it all, too. Next to perhaps any charitable works they had going on, this person who's died is never going to do anything new again. Sure, we'll have videos and interviews and books and the like to remember them by. The world will have their legacy. But there will never be another novice, creative anything initiated by them, ever again. That kind of loss is a loss to humanity, and it's completely normal to be sad about it.
When someone you personally knew and loved passes away, you may find closure by attending the funeral and saying your goodbyes. Likewise, if a celebrity death is affecting you more than you thought it would, honoring them in a similar way could help you process this new reality. For example, if there's going to be a public memorial service for this person, consider attending it if you can, or even watching it on TV from the comfort of your own home. (For the record, there will be a public memorial for Kobe Bryant and the eight others who died with him at Staples Center, Los Angeles on Monday, February 24th.)
Studies have shown that attending a funeral or memorial service, or even just watching it online or on TV, does actually bring us a sense of closure about what has just happened, especially if the death or deaths were traumatic. It also helps to kick-start the grieving process, which has a time table all its own and varies from person to person.
So if you've been grieving over the loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and everyone else who was lost on board that helicopter, don't feel like you shouldn't...I'm sad about it, too. Instead, do yourself a favor and tune into the memorial. Or sign an online memorial book for him like this one. Go outside with some friends and play a game of bball in his memory. Any one of these rituals will help you say goodbye and move on with your life.
Grief felt over the death of a celebrity can be complex, and really goes deeper than I could ever talk about in a blog post. So here are a few articles that do a little more than just skim the surface:
Important note: Whenever a celebrity or anyone else you loved dies, it's important to stay mindful about how the situation is affecting you. If you find yourself thinking a little too much about the person, researching their life or death a little too much, or becoming a little bit obsessed over them (to the point that it's interrupting your day-to-day life), it may be time to reach out for some professional help in dealing with these feelings. There is absolutely no shame in doing so. If you don't want to go anywhere, or simply don't want anyone else to know that you're seeking this help, an online counseling service like TalkSpace may be of interest to you.
In closing, we'd like to know: What celebrity death has shocked you the most? How did you deal with the loss you felt as a result of it? Share your response in a comment below.