This past week has seen the passing of two cultural icons: David Bowie and Alan Rickman. People reacted with shock, sadness, and an outpouring of love and grief for them, their families, and their work.
I confess that I didn’t feel their deaths as personally and powerfully as millions of others did. I was surprised and saddened and felt disbelief that two such culturally significant people could have so abruptly died. Like many people, I just assumed we had much more time with them. They were, after all, only 69 years old and kept their illnesses from the general public. They have also been very productive in the years and months preceding their deaths. Bowie had released a new album only a week before his death, and Rickman had completed at least one movie a year almost uninterrupted for just under 40 years.
Bowie especially seemed immortal, and I have heard numerous people state that they literally couldn’t have conceived that he would one day die. His work was so integral to their understanding of themselves, their sexualities, and the world around them that he seemed timeless. His death was a real blow to them, undermining their core sense of self.
Rickman was more accessible but no less beloved. As soon as the news broken, millions of people began sharing their favorite characters, and guests at Harry Potter World raised their wands in memory of him. People reminisced about how completely he encapsulated his characters and how magical watching his work was. Actress Emma Thompson summed his character up eloquently when she said, “He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.”
Of course, neither man was perfect. Bowie especially had a dark past, weathering at least three accusations of sexual misconduct over the years, and though I will never condone that and will never forget it, I will allow my friends and loved ones to mourn uninterrupted.
The act of mourning a public figure is not the same as mourning a personal acquaintance because losing someone we know personally means understanding that they will not be in our lives anymore and that we cannot share ourselves with them. We feel the loss almost viscerally, and we start whenever we remember they are no longer with us. The loss of a celebrity, however, is not a loss of someone we can share with but a loss of a mirror. We can no longer use their work to reflect back truths, to plumb the depths of our personalities, or to have our eyes opened to the world. Yes, we can enjoy their work again and again, but we can’t experience their newness anymore, can’t wonder how they would have guided us as we mutually and parallelly aged. It is an ache that will not soon go away.
So while I do not necessarily mourn for these two men, I do mourn for those that mourn for them. I mourn for the coworkers crying at their desks. I mourn for the friends too depressed to leave their beds. I mourn for the family who speak shocked and wide-eyed of them. I hope you can find some solace, and know that I am here for you.
* Photo of Alan Rickman and David Bowie taken from http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-david-bowie-alan-rickman-similarity-20160115-story.html (EPA/Getty)