Collective Grief: Celebrity Deaths

death Nov 05, 2023
Collective Grief: Celebrity Deaths

When celebrity deaths send shockwaves through our news cycles, many of us find ourselves grappling with emotions we may not have expected about someone we didn’t know, personally. Grief can be sneaky like that.

It’s that heavy, sinking feeling, that unexpected punch in the gut we feel when we lose someone who has been a part of our lives through their work, like our favorite actor or musician.

Why does it hit us so hard?

Maybe you’ve been trying to downplay your grief. Most likely you’ve never been to Hollywood, and you’ve never met the star you find yourself mourning. Yet, they've been part of our lives in their own unique way. It's like losing a friend or a comforting place closing down. The grief we feel after a celebrity death underscores the depth of parasocial relationships that we can form through media.


Understanding why we may feel grief after a loss and naming that as grief, can be helpful to feel a little less weird, and a little less lonely. So, here at Grieve Leave, we want to break down some terms and types of grief that you may be experiencing right now, especially following the recent death of Matthew Perry.

Disenfranchised Grief:  

Sometimes, when you're feeling down about the passing of a celebrity, someone might say, "Why are you so upset? You didn't even know them." That's what we call disenfranchised grief. It's when people brush aside your feelings, making them seem less important. But, trust us: your emotions are absolutely valid, and it's perfectly normal to grieve for the celebrities who have left a mark on your life, however big or small.

Vicarious Grief:

Vicarious grief is when we feel grief for someone or as a result of something seemingly disconnected from us. This grief connects us to the broader human experience. It reminds us that, despite our differences, we all share the ability to feel profound empathy. When we witness the pain of others, even if they are strangers, it stirs our own emotions. In the case of celebrity grief, we feel a sense of loss and empathy for the fans, friends, and family of the departed celebrity. It reinforces the idea that we are all interconnected through our capacity to feel and grieve. 

Collective Grief:

Collective grief is when we, as a community, come together in our shared sadness, finding strength in one another.

When it comes to the collective grief we see after the death of a celebrity, we come together in person and virtually to share photos, stories, and messages about the person who died. 

It's the flood of news stories and personal anecdotes of their most memorable moments that spring up across the internet.

We can also witness collective grief in the physical world, like spontaneous memorials that appear at locations where celebrities made their mark or somewhere that reminds us of them.  We saw this manifestation of collective grief this week when those grieving Matthew Perry’s death left flowers at the iconic apartment building from "Friends.” 

In times like these, it's important to remember that grief, whether for a celebrity or anyone else, is a personal and entirely valid experience. Our experiences of vicarious, disenfranchised, and collective grief remind us of our common humanity.

But sometimes, people just won’t get it. Maybe this celebrity didn’t hold the same place in someone else’s memories., The next time someone questions your grief when a celebrity passes, take a breath and remember that it's perfectly normal to mourn that loss. You’re not weird for feeling it (and that other person isn’t weird for not feeling it – but maybe they should be nicer to you!) After all, in our shared moments of collective grief, we find strength, unity, and the enduring power of human connection. 

Here's how our Grieve Leave community is feeling:

"I think it is beyond just losing someone we feel we know: we grieve that part of our life when were Perry's age in Friends, we join a collective grieving process where we know almost everyone on Earth that had "Friends" on their TV or streaming lost. We grieve people who died that we haven't processed yet through a celebrity death. We all still grieve Kennedy, King, Whitney, Tina, etc..." - N.C

"I’ve cried so much. Since I was 10 years old, I started watching Friends, and since then watched all seasons at least 7 times. 😭😭 my husband doesn’t even give me a weird face about crying. He consoles me because he knows how much I love that show." - N.R

"Feel so sad and stupid at the same time because I don’t know him .. this post helped" - M.P

We invite you to find support in the Grieve Leave community. Head over to our post and join the conversation.

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