With the death of Maya Angelou this week, millions of her advocates and fans will be mourning the loss of an exceptional woman. This grief may, to some, seem misplaced. Because, when any public figure passes a wave of “grief judgment” often follows, from family members, the media, even friends. People question the validity of our grief: How can you grieve so heavily for someone whom you’ve never met?
The relationship we have with our idols can be a complex one. Wrapped up in our adoration of the work they were able to accomplish we often find our own unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Meanwhile, the soothing balm to the mundanity of our own, seemingly less significant lives, can be found in our love of the courage and depth at which they lived.
But is this the reason we really grieve, or is something else at play?
Many of us have unresolved grief. Unexpressed pain, emotion and trauma from prior losses; whether those be the end of a relationship, the departure of someone from our lives or the death of a loved one. Often we were unable to fully grieve when these events occur. The emotions may have been too raw, we may have been buried by the subsequent practicalities or just simply not ready to “go there.”
Yet, when one of our hero’s dies, we are sometimes then capable of allowing ourselves the space, the emotional freedom and the permission to let-go. To others it may seem disproportionate, irrational or over-the-top. Only you will quietly know if Maya Angelou’s passing was the gentle nudge you needed to move into a place of healing. If so, that’s a good thing. That’s exactly the kind of legacy she’d have wanted to leave behind. Don’t listen to anyone else. Grief is an inside job. It’s between you and your soul.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou