When the nation mourned the passing of former President George H. W. Bush recently, the media covered every detail. We relived important moments in the President’s life via televised tributes. Images of Sully, the President’s faithful service dog, coursed across our screens as he lay at the base of the casket. Mr. Bush’s funeral was streamed live in its entirety, making us all feel as if we were grieving together at the service as the world bid farewell. Even though you likely never met Mr. Bush, you probably feel as if you knew him. The lives of celebrities and important figures are covered so extensively by today’s media that we often feel a kinship with these people. Because of this, sometimes it can feel intensely personal when they pass away, triggering our own grief or bringing up latent emotions surrounding the deaths of our own loved ones.
Why Do We Mourn Celebrity Deaths?It’s normal to feel emotional after the death of someone famous. Even if you don’t know them, you might go through a period of sadness and grief, or feel shock or anger at their loss. Parasocial interaction is a term psychologists use to describe the one-sided feeling that comes from becoming emotionally attached to celebrities. Patrick Wanis, a human behavior and relationship expert and therapist describes parasocial interaction by stating, “Another way to look at it, is to say, the fan in his/her own mind projects and shares feelings, thoughts and fantasies with the celebrity, but the celebrity never reciprocates.” Because of today’s prevalent social media platforms, we know the most intimate details of the person’s life. We can view pictures of them whenever we want to and can read their own thoughts in their online posts. This 24/7 accessibility makes us feel like we have a personal relationship with them. In other words, we identify with them, so we feel a bond and we grieve when they pass away.
Symptoms of GrievingThe loss of a celebrity and the ensuing grief of their admirers is both natural and common. The depth of the sadness and loss a fan feels is influenced by the closeness of their perceived connection to the celebrity. In a sense, a fan might almost feel like they’ve lost a family member. The resulting deluge of social media tributes to the person only deepens their sense of loss. As with mourning people close to us, some common symptoms of grieving a celebrity can include:
- Shock or feeling numb, having difficulty believing the person has passed away.
- Fatigue or trouble sleeping.
- Difficulty eating or appetite changes that result in losing or gaining weight.
- Anger or resentment.
- Feeling sad, lonely, empty, or despair over their loss.
- Physical symptoms such as stomach upset, irritability, headaches or migraines.
How To Stop Grieving Over A Celebrity DeathIt is natural to feel sad or even angry as you process the passing of a famous person with whom you felt a connection. Following these guidelines can help you stop grieving over a celebrity death:
- Stop watching news coverage of the person’s passing. Celebrities are larger than life, so they seem invincible. Watching endless recaps of their life on the news or reading about it on the internet can increase your distress. Instead, try to focus on something positive, which raises your optimism and makes you feel less discouraged.
- Remember that the person’s impact on your life is still with you even if they are gone. You can revisit those good memories by reading their books, listening to their music, or watching a show the celebrity was in. Collect and hold on to a few items of memorabilia that represent your connection to them, so that their impact on your life will remain.
- Devote some time to mourn. Everyone processes grief in different ways. Give yourself time (and permission) to mourn the person. Connect with other fans of the celebrity, so you can share your feelings and feel supported.
- Be aware that sometimes your reaction to a celebrity death may tie into your mourning for someone close to you. It isn’t uncommon for a celebrity death to trigger emotions relating to the passing of someone we knew and loved. Society tends to frown on emotional displays, so you may not have been able to let go and publicly grieve for your loved one. The mourning of a celebrity is expected, however, which can free you to grieve the person you actually lost.
- Maintain your regular routine. Patterns provide a sense of security and comfort when you are upset and grieving.
- Seek help if it becomes too much. While it is natural to feel emotional about the loss of a celebrity, be aware of how long you take to move past your grief. If you are struggling, you may benefit from talking with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in grief counseling. It is especially important to do this if you find that you can’t carry out the daily tasks of living, such as sleeping, eating, and other functions.