Has there ever been a year worse for pop culture than 2016? Not in my lifetime. It feels like in many ways, as geeks and nerds, we are just starting to really hit our stride and come into our own in our communities. We’re not fringe anymore, we’re mainstream. We found each other, we gained our confidence, and we are standing in the light, loving our fandoms proudly… and it’s a good thing, because how would we have survived this year if we didn’t have each other to lean on?
Almost every major franchise or genre of fandom has been hit hard this year, both in the sci-fi/fantasy world and out. Harry Potter, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars (oh, Star Wars…) have all suffered crushing losses, not to mention the worlds of music, sports, literature, film, politics, and even zoo animals (I live in Cincinnati and the pain is still real). Despite Snopes telling us that there aren’t necessarily more celebrity deaths this year than usual, it doesn’t matter.
Because it feels like more.
Because it feels harder.
And it just hurts.
Many eloquent and intelligent people have already discussed why it hurts, and why it’s okay that it hurts, despite the fact that we didn’t “really” know these people. But I think that as 2016 continues to cruelly trample its way across our hearts and souls, it needs to be restated. There are so many people who are suffering, but who are berating themselves for doing so because either they or the people around them believe that our relationships with these celebrities weren’t “real” or because there are bigger problems in the world that we shouldn’t be “wasting” our energy grieving celebrities. It’s frustrating to watch, because emotions don’t care why you feel them.
They just are.
Grief is a difficult and complicated emotion, and one that is intensely personal. No one can know what something meant to us the way that we do. It’s just not possible. So when we discuss the loss of a celebrity, it goes far beyond just the loss of a talented human being… it’s just so much more that’s literally impossible to describe. I can tell you that as I write this, the tears are falling… for Alan Rickman, for Prince, for George Michael, for Carrie Fisher… but to fully tell you why would take more pages than is reasonable, would go through minute details of the near entirety of my life, and would be so intimately personal that it would likely be uncomfortable for all of us. Art and music help us find who we are. They help us define and celebrate ourselves. They help us grow. And while the influence that these artists have on our lives can never leave us, having the artists themselves leave represents a loss that can be breathtakingly painful… especially when there are so many back to back that you can’t even grieve properly for one before the next is lost to us. The pain can become overwhelming, especially when combined with other emotionally challenging issues facing our society and us personally.
It is easy to become hopeless… to be unsure what to do or where to turn.
And that’s where I want to focus.
First, it’s important to understand that your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid. You don’t have to have met someone physically to be affected by their loss. If we can go through the stages of grief over fictional trauma from TV characters, we can certainly do it for the loss of a real, living, breathing human being… especially one that created the soundtrack of our lives or who helped to create a fictional story that gave us meaning and direction in our real, living, breathing world. We can be angry and sad, etc., that we have lost someone who brought joy to our lives. To do so is human. And it’s okay. Give yourself permission to feel, and permission to grieve. Just that alone can make a world of difference.
When processing your emotions surrounding celebrity deaths, it’s also important to understand that many of these celebrities have touched our lives throughout our lives… meaning that their passing and therefore our reminiscing may bring up old, often delicate memories, both good and bad. This again highlights the personal nature of grief, because someone who is upset over the loss of a musician may not be grieving just the artist themselves. They may also be grieving and reexperiencing the memories of their own life that George Michael was a part of or accentuated. The relationships they remember Prince being involved in, either by playing in the background or having lyrics that spoke your heart’s emotions at the time. Art imitates life, life imitates art, but ultimately they’re all wound together in our memories, making the loss of artists that much more painful.
For some, simply feeling isn’t enough, and a more active approach to grieving is necessary. Some may bounce back without it, but others may require action to feel better. Both approaches are fine, as long as they feel healthy. For some, journaling or writing in some way can help with reflection and catharsis. For others, reaching out to others who are hurting for the same reason can be helpful, whether those are friends and family in your inner circle, or people out in Internetland. Social media has allowed this to become easier to do, especially with Twitter hashtags and Facebook groups. Fandom can be a powerful support system, full of memories, laughter, and tears of an entire community. Remembering to be respectful of others and their grief, and to actively surround yourself with people who are truly helping to lift you up can be important to make sure the community is helping each other, and that you are getting what you may need from the interactions.
Other ways of actively grieving could be engaging in some kind of activity that you feel honors the person you’re grieving in some way. Whether that’s getting together with safe people to watch old movies, putting together a playlist, donating or volunteering for a cause that was something important that you shared with that person, or attending some kind of community vigil or event, there are countless things that could be done. Ultimately, try to listen to your emotions and do what truly helps you to feel healthier. Sadness and anger are absolutely parts of the stages of grief, but remember that you’re working towards acceptance. If, despite your best efforts, you feel that your grief is impairing your ability to function, please consider contacting a mental health professional to ask for help. Acknowledging that you may need help and asking for it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Please don’t hesitate to do so. Check out the bottom of this post for resources if you need help finding a place to start.
At the end of the day, when we are trying to survive a holistically challenging year of the likes of 2016, the best thing you can do is to find things that bring you joy and do those things. While escapism is nice, and has its place when used in moderation, if these artists taught us anything, it’s that life is meant to be lived, celebrated, and enjoyed, even when it’s a mess. Each of the people we lost this year was unique, passionate, and full of life. And each of them had flaws, which they didn’t allow to hold them back. After suffering such losses this year, what the world may need more than anything is for us to take the inspiration and epic gifts that these artists gave us, and channel back into the world in our own ways. So while we can accept that grief is a wibbly wobbly emotion that doesn’t work in a straight line and never truly goes away (I’m quite sure I will ugly cry through Love, Actually every Christmas for the rest of my life…), it’s also important that we get back to the business of living.
2017 is going to need us.
Happy New Year, everyone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- Crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
- Online chat: http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx (available 24/7)
The Trevor Project (LGBTQ):
- Crisis hotline: 866-488-7386 (available 24/7)
- Online chat: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now (Available 7 days a week between 3:00pm – 9:00pm ET/12:00pm – 6:00pm PT)
- Text messaging: Text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200. Standard text messaging rates apply. (Available on Thursdays and Fridays between 4:00pm – 8:00pm EST/1:00pm – 5:00pm PT)
Veteran’s Crisis Line:
- Crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 – available 24/7)
- Online chat: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ChatTermsOfService.aspx?account=Veterans%20Chat (available 24/7)
- Text 838255 (available 24/7)
- Even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. Responders will work with you to get through any personal crisis.
- http://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/find-aa-resources (find a meeting)
- http://www.naws.org/meetingsearch/ (find a meeting)
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline:
- 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)
- Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.