Saturday, 31 December 2016

Celebrity, sorrow and 2016

I don't really think much of the culture of celebrity that has grown over the last few decades and don't pay a lot of attention to it. It has been suggested that our obsession with celebrity is a kind of substitute for religion, allowing us to pay homage to our quasi-divinities, worship their fame and achievements and model ourselves on them. I don't know how much that is true, but certainly the reaction to the death of someone famous is interesting, the shrines and tributes which are set up, the media encouragement to join in the general adulation.
It isn't really surprising that over the last few weeks whenever the radio has chirped at me, "which death in 2016 broke your heart?" I've swiftly turned the thing off, however I have to say that the news of Debbie Reynolds' sudden death following the news of her daughter Carrie Fisher's death gave me a real  pang of sadness. This reaction was not because I was a particular fan of either actress but just because the story spoke to me about the way in which this world can be so cruel, irrespective of rank, age, wealth or status. The death of a child, at any age is a particularly cruel blow.
 My late mother in law lost both her husband and daughter. Her husband died of a heart attack at only 41 and her daughter, despite excellent general health, died on Boxing Day over twenty years later aged 35 after catching flu. Marion found the death of her husband devastating and for a time went to pieces. It was a particularly difficult time for Kev, who at sixteen had some of the responsibility to care for his younger brother and sister fall on his shoulders and  left school to help support the family. Yet Marion always said that, although she finally came to accept the death of a husband at such a young age, nothing could bring her to fully accept the loss of  her daughter because you do not expect to lose a child, it is not in the natural order of things. It made it more difficult that her daughter had been about to get married the following year, or perhaps it didn't, I'm not sure anything makes such a loss more difficult, it just exposes a fresh facet over which to grieve.
Anyhow, I sincerely hope that 2016 does not bring a final celebrity death, not least for the selfish reason that I don't want to hear about it. But we should reflect that for every celebrity heart break story,  many more similar, unheard stories are playing out across the country and world.  And maybe it is this that lies at the heart of our shock at celebrity death, the incredulity that it could happen to them, that they are not immortal or invulnerable despite the fact they possess this alchemy of fame. At the end of the day, in the face of death and pain none of us is invulnerable and all of us are equal.

To end this New Year's Eve reflection, I give you Margaret Atwood's The Sad Child which I think explores our modern day cult of self ,our petulant outrage when life give us things we do not welcome and the thought provoking conclusion of the poem that in the face of death or tragedy none of us is the favourite child- or else we all are.

The Sad Child

You're sad because you're sad.
It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
Or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.

All children are sad 
but some get over it.
Count your blessings.

Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.

Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child.

My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we  all are.


  1. I have thought of you during the holidays, Sue. May you continue to find your way, even with grief as your companion and/but also those you love.

  2. It is strange that once we have accepted (at some level) the loss of someone close, we find a kind of hardness developing in us.
    This is not really what it seems, but is actually the forming of a shell which allows us to function reasonably normally despite inner turmoil.
    Celebrity deaths are no more nor any less important than any other death and without the media hype would go almost unnoticed.
    If the deceased is someone we admired we may say "what a pity, I liked her/him", but the pang passes quite quickly for most of us.
    Someone somewhere wrote "every man's death diminishes me". and somewhere else (the bible?) says that the death of every sparrow is noticed.
    Grief concentrates the mind and forces us to get things into perspective, but it takes time to accept that.
    Not facts, just my opinions for what they're worth.
    My prayers for you and your boys continue,
    A blessed and peaceful 2017 to you.

  3. Thanks Penelope and Ray. All the best for 2017 to you too.

  4. Ray is correct about the biblequote, It's Luke 12. Suem, this was a very thoughtful and wise post, just as your comment on mine, I'm grateful to you!!
    In my ministry I often get those pangs of pain when people are burdened with more grief than seems possible. I for one feel very small in the meeting, but confident in Him who gives comfort. Grief is essential to us, without it we are less human, just as compassion, mercy and love. But we seem to create distances, we live our emotions in front of screens. When it strikes in the middle of our lives however, it gets too painful. We fight it, deny it and want it over and done with, a.s.a.p. I think our love for celebrity and the extreme focus of recent years, also reveals our need of a distance. Ray speaks of a shell, perhaps some people create those even before any painful experience, just in case? But it won't hold. If grief gives us focus, I hope you will be able to focus on life possible now and hope for good days ahead, not known now, but within reach. I'm glad you find good, faithful friends around you as well.
    God bless you!

  5. Yes, I knew the bible quote, and the bit Ray quoted about "every man's death diminishes me" is from John Donne, we had that reading at Kev's funeral. I am not sure grief has given me focus other than on coping/surviving/ getting out of bed/ functioning day to day. If that is focus, then I have it:)
    Blessings to you too.

  6. Yes, I think that may be the focus you need mostly right now! Don't know John Donne, I will have a look!!