“I don’t know why this news is affecting me so deeply. All I want to do is go home, sit down on the couch, and cry. I can barely keep my tears in check!” my 55 year old sister uncharacteristically posted on Facebook from work the day after Prince died. Like people all over the world, she was dealing with the shock of the news—and the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one.
But that was the weird thing. Prince wasn’t someone she considered “a loved one.” You’ve likely wondered over your “Noooo!” when you have learned of the death of a famous musician, sports figure, writer, or such. Why do we react to the deaths of those we have never met in much the same way we react to the death of our next door neighbor or our high school teacher? And why do some of us even react more strongly to the death of, say, Prince, than we would to news of a “real” person from our own lives?
And we’ve endured a year full of such grief. David Bowie passed earlier this year. And his death followed that of Robin Williams, which, a suicide, had left us all feeling raw. Umph. We are hurting for real.
One of the things that makes us human is our imagination. Our brains can conflate fiction and real, like when you are binge-watching your favorite series, and suddenly those characters and their lives and the settings in which they move ARE real. Likewise, we read books, learn ballads, and enjoy sitcoms not because they are “pretend” as much as the fact that they seem so real to us. They, truly, become real to us, as real as anything.
Prince and David Bowie and Robin Williams were all real people, but ones most of us never got to have dinner with or play soccer with. Yet, they were real to us, in that they became part of the fabric of our lives when they were alive. I remember watching the film “Purple Rain” at the theater in Seattle with our good friends when we were in college; we knew this was an amazing film and that Prince was highly talented. I remember the night I heard David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” for the first time on the radio. We had just moved 500 miles from home, and I was feeling scared and alone. And I remember watching television in junior high school, laughing hard at Mork’s bizarre but very gentle humor. I grew up with these people. We all did. Whether you’re 65 or 15, you know their names and they are a part, some part, some real part, of the fabric of your lives. You opened your heart to them.
Our loss of Prince and the like really is a loss of a thread of our own lives. The fabric is still intact, but there is a noticeable gap where they once were. They are gone. That gap will remain. Fortunately their work will live on and on, and future generations will discover it, just as kids today continue to discover The Beatles.
Some of my friends felt that they wanted to create a memorial for Prince. They invited friends over, listened to his music, watched videos and films, and toasted his life and work with glasses of wine. Some folks held vigils, joining together with total strangers to shine their purple flashlights and sing Prince’s songs. They recalled their relationship with him. And so they began to address their very real grief at his loss. As they should.
Princess Diana. Harper Lee. Glenn Frey. We need to mourn all of our losses when they happen, when they leave us feeling at sea and in need of comfort. I hope we allow ourselves to take the time to play their albums, watch their films, remember their lives and accomplishments, or just talk with others who are also missing them. I hope we feel free to express our grief and honor their memories just as if they were close friends of ours. Because they were.