Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘celebrity suicides

Why Do We Feel So Bad When a Celebrity Suicides?

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Over the past week, two celebrities — handbag designer Kate Spade, and chef Anthony Bourdain — died in apparent suicides. And the grief when someone in the public eye kills himself (or herself) can be overwhelming. Whether that person is an actor, a sports star, a chef, a politician, or anything else that somehow brought that person to the heights of fame, the fact that person has a fan following before passing away so suddenly and abruptly by his/her own hand seems to magnify the outpouring of grief.

Or, at least, it seems to magnify how much that grief is being felt, because now the grief that people feel over the celebrity’s passing is also being covered in the news. And has become news in its own right.

Is this wrong?

Possibly, but not covering the grief people feel when someone they saw on television or the internet passes in such a sorrowful way also would be wrong.

See, these folks — who don’t know most of us from Adam or Eve — become like our friends. We get to know them. We care about them. We enjoy seeing them. And we want to believe, somehow, that their moment on the public stage will last forever…even though we know that’s impossible.

Lest you think I don’t understand why people feel terrible when people they knew (or at least knew of) ended their lives, I need to give you some background.

A very good friend of mine died by his own hand when I was in my early twenties. He was a smart man, a kind man, a caring man. He played organ in the church. He owned a home, which he’d inherited from his mother. He was a huge football fan. And he was a particularly gifted bowler, to the point he could’ve — and quite possibly would’ve, had he lived — made the Professional Bowler’s Tour.

(Yes, there is such a thing. Though there is a regional circuit to handle, first. And that takes a while to navigate. But I digress.)

My friend was only thirty-eight. And he felt he had nothing to live for, because he didn’t have a romantic relationship; he didn’t seem close to his family; he didn’t believe he should impose upon his friends.

So, one day, he told me and my then-husband one story about where he was going. And he told another good friend a different story. By the time we sorted out the stories, my friend had been dead for a few days.

He died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

He’d battled severe depression for quite some time. And he was in immense, enormous pain. His emotional state had gotten to be so dreadful, he couldn’t reach out anymore. And he didn’t want his friends to worry; he didn’t think we should worry.

That’s why he did what he did.

And to this day, I can’t think about my friend, and wonder about why he wouldn’t reach out to me. But I also know that he just wasn’t capable of doing it at the time; he was too upset, too hurt, too confused, maybe too angry with himself…just not in the right frame of mind, and couldn’t understand that he truly did matter.

I think, honestly, he didn’t believe anyone would remember him past the hour of his death. But he was wrong.

Getting back to the two celebrities who just passed away — I didn’t know Kate Spade personally, though I knew of her designs. (Very clever handbags, and quite attractive ones.) I didn’t know Anthony Bourdain either, though I read some of his writing (good stuff, with a visceral, meaty undertone; perfect for the chef he was), and saw at least parts of a few of his shows. I know they were creative people, and they did the best they could in their lives to maximize their creativity in a positive way.

And their deaths leave a big hole in the world, because they were known to have done this.

Of course their friends, their loved ones, their work mates, and everyone who held them in high esteem are devastated. How could they not be?

So, in a way, I can answer the question I posed above, regarding why we seem to feel a celebrity’s suicide so much stronger than a “run-of-the-mill person.” (Not that there is any such animal, but again, I digress.)

I think we do this because of our common humanity. And because many of us do know at least one person who has died, suddenly, because the pain got to be too much for him or her…and all we can do when we see that someone else has died in that same, sudden way is to extend our hands in sympathy.

We do this because we’re human. And it’s the best part of who we are, that leads us to mourn, even for those we didn’t know.

———-

P.S. No matter what you think when you’re at your worst, about your own personal shortcomings, or about the things you haven’t managed to do yet, or the people you feel you’ve failed — you matter, gentle reader.

Yes. You do.

And if you feel like you don’t, please get yourself to a counselor, a physician, a psychiatrist, a priest…whoever you can reach that has at least a little training in how to deal with someone in a major life-crisis (depression certainly is that, though most don’t seem to believe so). (Please?)

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