I was going to write about how vacation week is a magical week where all I do is eat cheese, drink wine and go to the movies, but then I got irritated. So here we are.
Every year when the “Who Did Planet Earth Lose this Year” lists come out, someone on facebook posts that annoying - “We Are Obsessed with Dead Celebrities, but What About the Soldiers/ Fetusus/ Freedom Fighters/ Animals-Who-Had-Makeup-Tested-On-Them? Why Doesn't Anyone but Me Care About Them??” diatribe.
Well, I am here to answer your thorny questions, opinionated denizens of the internet! Using the magic of PHILOSOPHY!! I believe that my three credits of senior year philosophy (Aesthetics! I have some!) in college qualify me to write about this at length. It is the only A I got in college outside of the education program, which means, well, it means a whole lot of things that I am not going to get into in this blog post, but perhaps someday...
Do you want to know why we care about celebrities dying? It isn't because we know them, it is because of what they represent to us about ourselves.
Prince, Bowie, George Michael, Carrie Fisher – all of these gifted people created memorable songs, characters and writing that will live beyond them. It is a nice gift to give the world and I appreciate them all as artists and humans. But I don't know them. They didn't impact me. So I feel bad for their loved ones, and I do agree that 2016 was pretty greedy with the culling, but I am not posting testimonials about them. (Well, unless you count this one, I suppose...) But for a slight kid, and an artsy kid, or a gay kid or a girl who wanted to be her own powerful princess – these were icons and their loss packs a punch.
The celebrity death that knocked me for a loop was in August of 1995. Picture, if you will, a 30 year old woman of great potential and sturdy girth who has the questionably fulfilling job of raising some toddlers. I was the mother of a two year old and I was nannying a three year old and an infant. I feel like if you were to watch a movie montage of my life for the next ten year it would have consisted of me taking trays of chicken fingers out of the oven and peeling and slicing apples for children's consumption over and over and over.
God bless Steve. He and his dog Blue gave me 25-30 minutes of uninterrupted clue-finding, Boston Globe reading time every morning. I am pretty sure I saw in the paper that Jerry Garcia had died. Maybe my sister called me and that is how I found out. The internet was still pretty nascent in my life and I didn't check it during the day. We were still dial-up and it was an evening event for me to look on the World Wide Web.
So I heard about Jerry. And I cried as I read the paper. And I cried as I talked to my sister. And I cried as I pulled the luncheon chicken fingers out of the oven.
I didn't cry because I loved Jerry so much. Although we did share a moment once - a splendid story that I foist on every kid who has a dancing bear sticker on their laptop in the library, but I shan't share here.
I cried because his death corresponded with what I perceived to be the death of my youth. Frankly, from this side of fifty, thirty seems pretty darned youthful. But at the time, I was coming to terms with being a wife and a mother and a functioning member of the grown-up world. (Yes, I did have a very extended adolescence, thanks for asking...) Jerry was the end of an era for me. I had just seen my last Grateful Dead show at Shoreline Amphitheater that June and spent much of the evening worrying about leaving my toddler with a babysitter who wasn't a blood relative for the first time. My days of dancing without care in a flowy India print skirt while Jerry played Sugar Magnolia live were definitively over.
So long story short – there is no shame in mourning a celebrity death. Famous people are just people, but they also represent things to others. And artists are the ones we tend to hang our psyches on. When they are taken “too soon” they are taken away from us. We don't mourn what they might have done in the future, we mourn their gone-ness.
All of the things in the facebook posts – the soldiers, etc... - people also mourn what they represent, but they are a consistent loss. There will always be losses like these, mourned by the individuals who were protected by them or involved in the movements to protect them. But they are two different types of loss.
And they are both worthy of being mourned.
This meditation on death and loss was brought to you by college philosophy, the World Wide Web, wine and cheese.