Celebrity Deaths Remind Us of Our Mortality

By Richard Beck —

When Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died, many people, myself included, were deeply saddened.

How do we begin to make sense of grieving the deaths of celebrities, many of whom we have never met in our lifetimes in person? There are many layers to the experience of such loss and grieving.

First, in my mind, is that these are people whose lives don’t follow the normal physical of us “mortals.”  Then again, they are mortal, perhaps even more vulnerable than folks not in the public eye because of the scrutiny that their lives undergo.

I remember when President Kennedy was assassinated and my father told me that “after Kennedy was killed and the country went on, that the world goes on without anyone.”

We look up to and idealize our celebrities, or perhaps a better word might be heroes, whether they are in the field of music, acting, sports, academia, law, medicine and hold them in extraordinary high esteem.

They embody qualities that we “regular people” aspire to and admire.

When these heroes, these celebrities, die, their death takes a toll on all of us, in that we loss a piece of ourselves that we so admired in the dead hero or celebrity.? We also admire their uniqueness such that one might say, there might never be another ***** (you can fill in the person).

Celebrities and heroes often touch us in ways that we wish we were touched (metaphorically) by our parents.  If only we admired our mothers and fathers so intensely, would we have the need to seek out others for whom to give our idealization in return for their skill?

As the poet John Dunne eloquently wrote in one of his poems, ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls… it tolls for thee’.  Not if, but when our celebrities die — Farrah after a prolonged battle with colon cancer, and Michael, suddenly from cardiac arrest — do their deaths not highlight and underscore our own mortality?

Hopefully, we will remember them in our hearts for their careers and that actions that make them so special to us. May Farah and Michael rest in peace.  May we all live in and rest in peace as well.

Richard Beck

Richard Beck

Richard Beck

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RICHARD BECK, LCSW, BCD, CGP, FAGPA is an Adjunct Lecturer at Columbia University School of Social Work;  a Psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, with expertise in treating trauma and working with individuals, couples and groups; was recently elected President of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Process; is a Lecturer in Social Work in Psychiatry (Voluntary) at Weil Cornell Medical Colleague and a Professional Associate (Psychiatry) - Social Work- New York Presbyterian Hospital. The son of two Holocaust Survivors, Richard began his grief/trauma training very early in life. Richard Beck was recently awarded the Social Responsibility Award by the Group Foundation for the Advancement of Mental Health.  It is awarded to AGPA members who have "Provided "Exceptional Acts of Service that have Benefited the Community at Large." Recent presentations have been in Belfast, Ireland, Pretoria, South Africa, Cairo, Egypt; Istanbul, Turkey, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, Malmo, Sweden, Berlin, Germany and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and has upcoming Keynote Presentations in Greece, and upcoming Keynote Lectures in Greece, Italy, and Egypt. Richard has conducted well over 1000 hours of trauma groups with survivors, their families, witnesses and rescue workers after the terror attack on September 11th, 2001. Richard went to Baton Rouge to conduct groups for therapists after Hurricane Katrina. Richard co-authored an award-winning article about the experience of a therapist traumatized by the same event as the people he was treating in groups.   Recently, Richard coordinated the grief response after a crane accident in New York City and also participated in the American Group Psychotherapy Association response to a film company after an FDNY firefighter died during the filming of a movie. Recent publications and presentation have a focus on Loneliness and the Desire to Connect; “Unique Benefit of Group following Traumatic Events";  “Lesson’s Learned in Working with Witnesses, Survivors and Family Members after Traumatic Events”.   Cooking, gardening, and fishing all over the world continue to be of Richard’s passions.  Richard was a guest expert on the radio show Healing the Grieving Heart, discussing Recovering From a Traumatic Event. To hear his interview with Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley. click on the following link: https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/33572/recovering-from-a-traumatic-event

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