Monday, 11 January 2016

And the stars look very different today | the comfort of a grief shared






When Freddie Mercury died, I listened to Queen on my Walkman under my duvet and I cried. He was the first death I'd ever cried for. 

He was the first person who was there one day being alive and the next he just... wasn't. 

My 13 year old brain struggled to process it. 

Creeping death was skirting around my consciousness because of my dad's illness. Mortality had been thrust upon me at the tender age of nine and I grew up under the spectre of a very real chance my dad could die at any time. I knew this. Doctors and parents had told me. I still didn't actually believe it. 

Under this cloud, Freddie actually dying made it seem like I had to start to believe it. 

It does happen to people you like, people you love and people you admire. It's not just nameless, faceless children in Africa or someone or other's mum at school. 

Early teenage mind blown apart. 

When Douglas Adams died in 2001, social media wasn't a thing. He was the next famous person who actually hurt me by daring to die. 

The difference was that in between Mercury and Adams, my dad had also died.  

Everything hurt. And when my favourite writer died just six months after my dad it hurt more. 

I would have liked to share that online. I think it would have helped. 

I did look online, I remember. But there were only slightly odd forums and chat rooms and whatever else was around in 2001. It was before Friends Reunited sparked the idea of actually talking to people and collecting like minded folk to whine to online. But even from those few forums I found a bit of solace. An infinitesimal amount of solace. That here were other people who were also sad. Sharing grief can knock off - however briefly - the edges of abject horror and the utter aloneness of it. 

I had my grief for my dad. It was raw then and it is here now. The pain doesn't leave, it isn't silenced and it will never go away completely. 

Loving someone means suffering when they die. I see no way around this. 

And of course famous people who I've never met don't compare to my dad and the howling pain his loss caused me, but when people provide either a soundtrack or a literary light in your life it feels like shades of grief when they die. 

I know that I didn't know Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Rik Mayall and David Bowie but I did know what they as writers and artists chose to convey to me. And that is a direct communication. So I wanted to say something this morning when I read about Bowie at 7am it hurt. It has hurt all day, in varying degrees. And I have cried actual tears for a man I never met. 

I find comfort in social media and joining the wave of grief marked for a life that mattered to millions. 

So fuck the Spectator and the snipey piece they ran today about how Bowie's fans are pathetic for crying on social media. And the people who don't care about Bowie in particular, I get it. I do. I didn't give a shit when Princess Di carked it. I was only marginally sad about Lemmy just the other day. That's the thing about grief and death and love and sadness. It's all very, very subjective. 

But I don't think it cheapens grief to talk about it, share pictures, memes and songs. I think it helps us all on our quest to get through our own lives knowing that death of all we love is inevitable and that all things pass - good and bad. 

I think it's OK to say if you feel sad when someone removed from you but who impacted on your life has died. It's a sad thing. Of course it is. But it's also a reminder. Death is the great leveller. Even the rich, famous, glamorous and spectacularly awesome die. Money can't save you, fame can't save you, talent can't save you and being loved can't save you. 

And it is, at least partly, that that generates such outpourings of emotion when famous people die. It's a reminder always. With Bowie and my generation, it's a reminder that those of our parents' generation are dying now. It's their time. As it will be ours in less than half the time we'd like. 

I still feel the stickiness of public gushings of grief. It bewilders me when it's someone I don't care about or I don't consider important. I was stunned at the reaction to Princess Diana. Weirded out. Confused. But it had made sense to me to cry for Freddie Mercury just six years earlier. 

The public bandwagon that was inevitable today is one I join willingly but hesitantly. I find it comforting but also somehow voyeuristic and, weirdly, narcissistic. But that also pretty much sums up social media as a whole for me. Am I jumping on the back of someone else's sadness? Someone else's grief?
Am I indulging my sadness for my dad by talking about David Bowie? I can't say I'll miss him. I didn't know him. All I know is that him dying makes me sad. I want everything to remain the same and I want to know that death is controllable and manageable. 

Every reminder that it is the opposite makes me scared and sad. 

Either way, social media outpourings are gone quickly enough. We indelibly mark our opinion - it's always there somewhere. But tomorrow the news will be something else. Someone else maybe. And, in not much time at all, my sadness will fade. It won't sting and hurt and make me want to cry if I hear a Bowie song.  

And, of course, my feelings of grief for Bowie and Mercury and Adams and Mayall and Pratchett are more about other things. My dad. My loss. My youth. My life. 

In my chest I have a stone lodged right under my heart. I can feel it all the time and when a grief hits me for someone it grinds against my insides and I feel the rush of tears behind my eyes. This is a pretty common occurrence since 2001. I generally don't shed them because, honestly, if a grieving person cried every time they wanted to, they'd never get anything done. 

Today I can't separate the death of Bowie and my dad in the part of my brain where I keep my feelings. Not my logic obviously. I'm not mental. But it's the illogical nature of being human and missing someone so much for 15 long years. Sadness becomes bound up in him. To me, thinking of my dad means pain and a deep, deep sadness and it's always there underneath the surface. Take a Bowie or a Mayall and prick the surface and the dam of hurt bursts. Only for a day or so. Only for a while. 

So Bowie. I wasn’t your biggest fan. I know that. I don’t know that much about you outside of the songs I love. But you were a soundtrack to my life, along with Freddie and Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and myriad others. And maybe some of our sadness is just about the passing of time and the inevitability that our heroes are mortal too.

I would have had immense comfort from people all over the world expressing their sadness at my dad's death. 

Because all of us have our heroes and not all our heroes are famous. 

1 comment:

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