Sunday, July 24, 2011

Grief - Share in it, Understand It but don't Shame it

I was going to save this post for a blog on what Twitter has taught me the last two years. But I guess it's time, considering that people think there's an appropriate way to grieve or that people should grieve for big situations. 

Over the last two years, I've seen people pooh-pooh others when they express their condolences over a deceased celebrity. They question why do we go nuts over a celebrity when there's other problems in the world. The latest case is Amy Winehouse's recent death coming after the senseless tragedy in Norway where 93 were murdered by a sick soul. 

While I do think people's priorities are skewed, I don't think its fair to tell rational folks they shouldn't feel sorry for a celebrity dying. I've railed against the cult of personality before but I don't think [for the most part] death matters in this case. Somebody causing their death is less sympathetic than someone losing it due to someone but sympathetic nonetheless.

I can't imagine the pain that Norway is going through. A country of love and a strong sense of community where homicides are rare is now shaken beyond its core. Deaths of children always hit me hard because children aren't supposed to be victims. It's important to share in their grief because it's not just another tragedy to them. And the stories coming out are just heartbreaking

The LA Times has a Homicide blog on their page. I don't read it often because it is depressing. I live in a city where murder rates from 20-25 years in diff. areas still haunt how people view it. But I don't read about every single death because it numbs you to how sad it is. Let me share a personal experience on this matter.

When my uncle passed away two years ago, I sent a casual tweet sharing the news to my then-small circle of followers. I was crushed and as my family helped each other thrive, I was encouraged by folks who sent their best wishes to me. They barely knew me and I barely knew them. Yet they were courteous enough to send comfort despite never meeting my uncle. 

I don't think it's impossible to feel sad over somebody dying and at the same time feeling sad over larger-scale tragedies. I use that in quotes because suffering saddens me. Death saddens me. I don't feel remorse over proven killers being executed but I am sad their lives were wasted on evil instead of good. Nor do I judge people for feeling more sorry over one than the other because I don't know their reasoning (caveat to come later).

If we sit back and weigh which suffering was worse, we trivialize someone's pain. I've seen this with slavery, the Holocaust and the extermination of indigenous people. All three were terrible and had long-lasting effects on those communities. We should find common bonds in our pain instead of debate who had it worse, which should only be used when we try to dismiss someone's pain.

On the world scale, celebrity deaths aren't as important as the U.S. government discussing the debt ceiling, Japan recovering from the earthquake/nuclear reactors or other national/international issues. But in that sense, neither are private, unknown deaths that affect a few people. By the logic, my uncle's passing (and for that matter, my father's passing) shouldn't be grieved because somewhere somebody else lost their uncle or father or somebody lost their whole family.

When Michael Jackson passed away, the internet shut down. Scores of people turned out in droves to his house, his star in Hollywood and grieved around the world. I grieved for Aaliyah the same way 10 years ago and I felt sad when Guru from Gang Starr or other have passed. For some folks, there's a greater outpouring just because of who they are and it's not spitting on regular folks who passed. 

I had to cover my share of deaths during my newspaper days. I cried watching the reports of Jamiel Shaw (above), meeting his parents and covering several tributes to him. A year later, I attended the funeral of another athlete I had seen play who was gunned down. Even though those weren't the only two athletes gunned down that year, those two touched me deeply. Is it wrong that I cried over those than others? Not at all. 

I know that's extreme but it shows how dangerous that argument is. There is nothing wrong with feeling sorry for multiple events with the same (or different, depending on personal relation) emotion. You can't tell people how or what to grieve for. All you can do is make them aware and if the tragedy doesn't touch them personally, they aren't bad people. 

Grief is a strange monster. We don't know when it strikes and we can't judge those when it does. After the shock of my Dad's passing and the funeral, I didn't cry any more for months and I had a hard time knowing how to tell people what happened. I wasn't mad if people didn't feel my pain. 3 years later, some people walked the graduation stage with joy and glee. I left the stage in tears. Who was more right? Nobody because our thought processes were unique and deservedly so.

On a bigger scale, 9/11 hit us all hard. It hit some people harder because they had a personal connection to it. Some of us in California, however, grieved hard at first but not as much later because we didn't know anybody who died. Yet it's still a terrible tragedy that we feel sorry for. It just hits people differently and that's okay. Who are we to say that's wrong as long as we sympathize. 

Now I'll agree that some people react to famous deaths too seriously. Those folks use hyperbole and worship the cult of personality so much they have a warped view of the outside world. Those aren't the folks I'm defending because they're a whole different type. But most reasonable folks who are well-read, this is who I'm writing about. 

It's okay to feel sad about Amy Winehouse's self-destruction and the loss of her music. It's okay to feel sorry about both her and the Norwegian tragedy, something on epic proportions relatively speaking. Death is the end for somebody. Grieving for one doesn't always mean you aren't grieving for the other. I've done so for the famous as well as the not-so-famous and the sadness was different but still no less tragic.

For those of us who aren't family, it's important not to shame sending of condolences but try to understand it instead of saying what they should be grieving about. Some of us are just sensitive to death and sadness. Musicians, actors and artists make art that touches us so naturally their death will mean something. It doesn't mean we don't care about the Somalian famine or other terrible things right now. 

Be sadder if folks aren't aware and stuff is being unreported but don't be sad if folks are sad about something that they think is worth grief. 


  1. Great post. I think the ideas at the very end of this post are meaty enough for a whole new post, too (re: awareness about events and such).

  2. J Smooth posted s'thing like this after the death of Gil Scott-Heron.

  3. Thank you Jacki. I know this was super long and I'm sure there's plenty to build on. But I'm proud of whatever comes out of this.

  4. We don't feel other peoples losses because it's not "us". We sure as hell felt September 11th on the East coast,people miles away seemed un ruffled. There is unspeakable tragedy world wide at any given second.People rally to Celeb deaths because they feel somehow in touch with that person.Japan, Norway, daily abuses of Men,Women & Children..these are troubled times my friend, we are ALL going to grieve.