Posts Tagged ‘grief’

“We want you back”

It’s only now, 3 days later, than I can begin to cry over the death of Michael Jackson. I experience grief for him the way I’ve grieved for people I know personally; shock, disbelief, sadness; the feeling that the person you’ve lost is everywhere and nowhere at once. Compounding things is the tragedy his life became; the complexity of his legacy; the somber lessons about fame, work, and music that we are to learn from his life & death.

I’ve written before about the need for celebrity grief. Grieving people in the public eye, or with whom we grew up, is necessary and a rite of passage. Our culture is shaped by people who live their lives publicly, and when those lives end we are required to look at them honestly, grieve respectfully, and see them for the complicated, human people they were. Those who want to place Michael (or anyone who has died, for that matter) in an “either/or” box are missing this crucial point: it’s entirely possible that someone can be complicated, deeply flawed even, and yet contribute something of value to the world.

I took special notice of Lisa Marie Presley’s statement, released on her MySpace page. It’s particularly heartbreaking, because Lisa speaks candidly of wanting to “save” someone she loved from his own self-destructive impulses, and of course, being unable to do so. Lisa says,

I became very ill and emotionally/spiritually exhausted in my quest to save him from certain self-destructive behavior and from the awful vampires and leeches he would always manage to magnetize around him.

I was in over my head while trying.

I had my children to care for, I had to make a decision.

The hardest decision I have ever had to make, which was to walk away and let his fate have him, even though I desperately loved him and tried to stop or reverse it somehow.

How many people die every day that could have been “saved?” What is our responsibility to someone who doesn’t want our help? Relatives & loved ones of drug addicts, alcoholics and other risk-takers experience this all the time. How much of ourselves are we supposed to sacrifice? When do we make the decision to stop saving someone else and save ourselves? Which is more important?

Later in her statement, Lisa says she hopes everyone who worried over Michael can be “set free.” I hope she includes herself. And in her case, God bless her, she’s witnessed the same type of death twice, which is two too many for any one lifetime. It doesn’t seem there’s anything anyone could have done.

Perhaps most upsetting is how young Michael seemed; how terribly na├»ve; how full of energy he appeared to be. Watching him dance and jump and move and laugh is heartbreaking, knowing, simply, that he was so alive and now he isn’t. It’s always a little easier knowing someone died after they were “ready”; when they had made preparations and accepted that their time was over. I don’t think Michael ever could have been in this category as he seemed way too committed to his Peter Pan existence.

And here he is, literally singing to his inner child:


Too Much Grief, Then Too Little

Jack Schafer’s post in today’s Slate Magazine bemoans the coverage of Tim Russert’s recent and sudden death, complaining of the “televised wake” that has pre-empted news coverage on all the major networks for the past several days.

After listing the litany of tributes and whining about all the attention paid to the late Mr. Russert, Mr. Schafer brags about having reluctantly written an article for a friend of his who is now dearly departed. “And the piece,” he sneers, “was only 1200 words.”

Of course, I’m no journalist, but I’m a viewer, and the tributes on television are helpful to me, surely much more heartfelt and honest journalism than the crap news reporting we are usually subject to.

Obviously, some of the excess is due to the shock of Mr. Russert’s death. It’s well known among grief specialists that sudden deaths are more immediately traumatic than deaths following long illnesses. Even the funerals are different; a very long illness might cause one’s friends to slowly fall away; less people may be present at the funeral of someone who “finally died.” But sudden deaths provoke an outpouring of shock and grief. We idealize the lost person, and we are openly (and some say, more justifiably) devastated.

In America, we don’t have a culture of grief. We don’t wear black dresses or armbands here. Wailing and weeping is not encouraged, as it is in other places. People suppress their feelings and are then described as “so strong” and commended on how “well” they are dealing with the loss. I have been reminded of this repeatedly, as I have lost several friends & relatives.

It seems to me that this coverage is therapeutic–not just to those who knew Mr. Russert, but for all of us. Maybe celebrity deaths, and the accompanying journalistic coverage, is the American way of dealing with loss. It’s not an armband, but it certainly helps to contrast with all that Law & Order, Grand Theft Auto style pretend-death we are surrounded with.

Even if we didn’t know Mr. Russert or even watch his shows, the suddenness of his death brings mortality home for all of us. Following the coverage gives us a chance to honor this, to take comfort in the family we have right now and appreciate the fragility of life.

Unfortunately Mr. Schafer’s article reveals more about himself than about the “overdone grief.” He and other journalists who complain are missing the point, wondering what all the fuss is for when Tim Russert is already gone.

But funerals, as even Mr. Schafer must surely realize, are for the living.