Well so far 2016 has been very eventful grief wise both in terms of celebrities, this week alone we’ve lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Celine Dion’s husband but also those…what do you call them…..normal people.
A few people I know have lost close friends and family in the past few days and I’ve just been taking a minute to imagine how all of this Bowie/Rickman outpouring might be affecting them. It's complex.
Despite my well documented scepticism about the whole Princess Diana thing, the one image that really stuck with my 14 year old self was the photographs of the young princes at their mothers funeral. Having millions of pairs of eyes watching and scrutinising their grief. I didn’t know that in a couple of years time I would get out of a car at my mothers funeral to be met with the gaze of probably about 80 people and it would feel totally overwhelming.
I imagine what it would have been like to be William and Harry. To have the telephoto lenses of the press, many of whom had been instrumental in my mothers demise, zoomed in to catch my every tear if I was unable to keep them in. And part of me wanted to yell on their behalf:
‘Fuck off! Get your hands and eyes off my fucking grief! She’s my mother, not your people’s princess!’.
And so of course this week my first thoughts are for Bowie’s family. I haven’t ventured in to the territory of celebrity big brother and the way they are capitalising on his death. I don’t know anything about it and for my own sanity, I don’t particularly want to…I’m quite angry enough already thank you.
The outpouring of fans is genuine though. His music changed and inspired people. Both Bowie and Rickman were working class heroes in a world where the death of social mobility feels like it might be imminent. It makes sense that people are mourning, not just these individuals but what they stood for. Many of the fans tears are very real and shed behind closed doors. Some are shared on social media. Fans have created tributes. Journalists have written articles. But where is the line? When does it tip over from…
I love DAVID BOWIE!...
…to I love David Bowie…ME….I DO….LOOK AT ME LOVING THE HECK OUT OF DAVID BOWIE…AND DON’T I LOOK HOT DOING IT?!
I imagine that if I was one of the thousands of normal people who had lost my partner, parents, child, sibling this week I would be livid. I would be feeling that here you are crying about a man you’ve never met while I have been watching a person I’ve shared my life with slip away. While you’ve been updating Instagram with mournful selfies, I’ve been walking round with a stoic smile plastered to my exhausted face answering the obligatory ‘How are you’ with the obligatory ‘I’m fine’ despite the fact it’s probably the biggest lie I’ve ever told and we both know it. I imagine I would, and to be honest I have, been subtly creating a hierarchy of grief in the back of my mind with my grief firmly at the top. Grief is exhausting and our society’s struggles to talk about it make things worse.
Someone else’s grief over someone we’ve never met (someone’s parent, or partner etc.) is scary in an everyday context. I know because no matter how many people I’ve lost or how many bereaved people I’ve spoken to, it’s still scary. For someone who’s been described as an experiential expert in grief, I have to say it doesn’t get run of the mill and I haven’t got better at it. It’s scary because a) it’s real and b) it matters. And so it’s easier when you’re grieving to save everyone the fear/awkwardness and put on a brave face. But where does the grief go then? It doesn’t disappear, that’s for sure. Maybe you can save it up for when someone famous dies. Like David Bowie or Alan Rickman or princess Diana. And then you can finally let it all out. You can all grieve together. In bars in Brixton, outside historic sites, all over every inch of the internet. You might get interviewed about your grief by a reporter along with others.
And you won’t be alone. You won’t be sitting at home too much of a mess to pick up the phone to ask for help. Too tired of the awkwardness to share the agony. And you’ll be mourning Bowie but you’ll secretly be mourning your mum, or your brother or wife.
All of this prompts me to ask, who does your death belong to? Your friends? Family? Co-workers? Acquaintances? Fans? News outlets? Consumers?
I think maybe it belongs to everyone that feels it, as long as it’s genuine and doesn’t make you any money….apart from inheriting money from your loved ones (which I’ve done), that’s okay….but that’s not making money….but what if you make art about grief and then sometimes get paid for it (which I’ve done)….oh shit. I’ve dug myself a hole there.
The link between money and death is a really tricky thing and as old as…..at least as old as Keith Richards looks.
Perhaps it’s about intention. If you’re feelings are real, if your intentions are more about sharing what it is to be human than cheaply rubbing it in others faces, then maybe it’s your grief to do with as you like. We can generally smell a person’s intentions a mile off. And with the scent of bullshit pervading the air, sincerity is a rare and beautiful thing.
I think perhaps it’s complex.