TBT: There's No Accounting for Grief

The world is in mourning, for those we have lost and those we might lose. Anticipatory grief has already seeped under the skin of many who have not yet lost a dear one to this pandemic. Because we  will. We all will. We are losing our grandparents, our parents, our lovers, our friends. We are losing our leaders, our inspirations, our muses. We are losing our heroes and our shining lights.

And to add shame to trauma, we are not spared from grieving for the least among us, those who never deserved our love in the first place.

There is no accounting for grief.

Grief is not a choice, moral or otherwise. It is a specter that comes for you, sticky as a shadow, and stays as long as it will. It is not fair or rational or sensible. It cannot be made to follow orderly stages. It is a wild thing, terrible and beautiful.

We grieve for those we have no right to mourn, for those we've never even met, for bad men and disappointing women, for stage personas, for fictional characters. We grieve for those who could have been better, we believed.

We grieve for our hopes for healing, closure, justice. We grieve for fantasies.

We grieve for numbers as uncountable as grains of sand on empty beaches. We grieve for stupid celebrities who wouldn't stop partying and whose voices and faces have become as familiar to us as those of our childhood friends.

There is no accounting for grief.

After we have turned all our attention toward a loss we should mourn, another sneaks up behind us, one that isn't even our responsibility--or shouldn't be.

Do you remember, in the Before Times, when sad-sack Scott Weiland finally kicked the bucket alone in a parking lot, and his wife wrote that gut-wrenching letter about the loss of their children's hope?

Did you forget all about it in the torrent of death that ripped through 2016, starting with David Bowie, and blacked out so many beloved stars we didn't know which way was up?

Do you remember how, just when we thought the blaze of rockstar suicides sparked by Chris Cornell's despair had ended, Dolores O'Riordan left us in 2018, reopening the scar on our hearts left by Whitney Houston?

Because of this throwback post and only because of it, I remember the first time grief surprised me by calling upon me to mourn for someone I never realized I cared about in the least. It's a frustrating thing. It's like a jury duty summons from the crypt. But you can't get out of it, only through it. If there's any more useless emotion than grieving for someone you neither knew nor liked, it is feeling ashamed of experiencing an emotion you can't control.

So just ride it out. Cry. Light candles. Sing through your tears. Know that it's as weird, inexplicable, embarrassing, human, and universal as having a bizarre dream. And that as suddenly and unpredictably as it comes, it also goes.

At least, that's how it went for me in 2009, when Michael Jackson died. Below is what I wrote at that time.

Memories of Michael Jackson

Fame is such a strange thing. It has the power to raise a person out of poverty forever, and it also has the power to destroy that person's life.


Famous people connect all of us, rich and poor, because we feel that in a sense we all "know" those celebrities who are in our homes all the time, on our TV screens and radios, on the covers of our magazines and on our computers. They're like the black sheep of our global family. We take them for granted, gossip about them, snoop into their personal business, act like we have a right to know the intimate details of their lives, and then we are all jarred and saddened when they die. We realize then how much they influenced us and how much--even if we think it's stupid to care about celebrities--they meant to us.

I've laughed at Michael Jackson's crazy train so many times. He looks like an alien, he's a creep, etc., etc. Before, when I heard the name "Michael Jackson," I thought of the loopy dude with the caved-in nose who poses a vague but disturbing threat to children. But when I heard that he had died of heart failure at age 50, the picture that came into my mind was of the first tabloid photo I ever saw of Michael Jackson, when I was around kindergarten age.

My family didn't listen to pop music, but a little girl in my neighborhood was a big fan of Michael Jackson. She showed me a magazine photo of Michael with his face bandaged up after one of his many plastic surgeries. She thought he had gotten hurt. (And in a sense, she didn't know how very right she was about that.) She said, "Poor Michael Jackson," and stroked the picture with her chubby little hand.

That's what flashed into my mind when I heard about his death. And the memory combined with everything I "knew" about his life--his monstrously abusive childhood and surreal, constantly harassed, and mentally ill adulthood.

And through all of that insanity, which none of us can completely understand and which, I'm sure, he didn't either, he managed to make enormous contributions to music and pop culture that have touched all of our lives.

My friend Esperanza wrote about her childhood memories of Michael Jackson on her blog, Face it without blinking. Yes, Michael Jackson was crazy. No, you didn't know him personally. But it's OK to grieve. In fact, it's natural. Because ironically, we all knew him even though he didn't know us.

Comments

  1. Ahhhh Michael, we thought he was but a punchline in the latest joke. But ultimately he got the last laugh, the worlds collective heart is genuinely sore at the news of his passing. We really did adore him (even in his worst moments) after all.

    The most bittersweet point of this all (because the circus has truly hardly begun) is that he's never going to have to live that chaos, that life under a microscope again.

    May he finally rest in peace, while the rest of us gorge ourselves on every morbid detail.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I remember begging my parents to take me to my aunt's house the night Thriller debuted. She had cable. My parents still don't. I was never a huge MJ fan, but it was such a world event and I wanted to be part of it.

    I've always thought MJ had a sad life. Money can't buy happiness and that poor man was hounded no matter what he did. Like Esperanzita said, may he rest in peace.

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