There was this phrase that was popular when I was in high school among some of my alternative, “misfit” peers. I have no clue if it originated with my generation; my guess is that someone much older than us coined it. It went something like, “Die young, stay pretty.” It never really resonated with me, though the idea of staying pretty forever seemed cool as a 16 year old.
As I’ve gotten older, and learned a little more about longevity, the gravity of life, the importance of taking care of self, and gotten a grasp on just what it means to age (in other words, age 40 isn’t ancient to me like it was when I was 15) I’ve come to recoil from that statement.
Life is so precious to me now.
Maybe it’s because I’ve witnessed so much loss. Maybe it’s because I’m just more adult now. Maybe the experience of bringing forth life has given it new meaning to me.
Anyway, all of this meandering is my shaky attempt at reflecting on the glory and devastation we all inevitably experience in some way when well-known people pass away seemingly before their time. None of us have the authority to say who should live forever, who should be spared, and who “deserves” to die. Even in my own emotional haste, I’ve made statements that someone like George Zimmerman deserves to die. I don’t entirely take back that statement, as I don’t believe that man should be walking around free, bragging about shooting and killing an unarmed teen and beating up women, but ultimately, that isn’t up to me. Similarly, neither I nor anyone else gets to say, “Hey, God, you made a mistake by taking Michael Jackson so soon. Give him back,” or “Wait, let’s let Philando Castile live so he can tell his side,” or “Eh, maybe we shouldn’t end Princess Diana’s life yet.”
All we are really allowed to do is cope.
And I know it’s popular to claim that regular folks like me and others shouldn’t get so upset when celebrities we don’t even know pass away, but I think that’s a dumb statement as well. Was my day-to-day truly impacted when Whitney died? Eh, no. Hearing her songs play made me a little more emotional, but overall, it didn’t affect my job, my home, or my marriage. But did I have a right to grieve? Yeah…I did. So many of us did. Many women my age grew up listening to her music, so the prospect of not having that presence around anymore is a change. Seeing Steve Jobs lose his battle with cancer made mortality appear all too real for us onlookers; even a man with massive wealth and abundant innovation was not immune to that disease. Likewise, when we lose others, based on their impact on our upbringing, our worldly view, and the memories we identify with their presence, it affects us, even if they were just somebody famous far away from us.
So with that being said, I really hope that those we’ve all lost in 2016 are resting well, at peace, and those left behind to mourn them – particularly those closest to them – are able to move forward peacefully as well.
Losing my grandmother has taught me that we never really get over people. We just move through the experience of losing them however we can.