Maybe this post isn’t what you were expecting as my first post of the year but here we are, let’s start on the negatives, get them all out there and then move on towards a positive, happy year. This is a long, personal post about grieving for a celebrity. If you are struggling with this you are not alone.
We all remember 2016, the year a lot of our famous favourites passed away. Around the festive period we lost Liz Smith, Rick Parfitt, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds to name just a few. As it was around Christmas and we were all busy, rushing around seeing friends, spending time with family and generally not paying too much attention to the news some of these deaths may have passed us by. In the UK, understandably, the death of George Michael dominated the news and as a result it was hard to avoid processing it, accepting it and moving on. I remember being a bit numb to the news of Carrie’s passing. I was with my family when it happened. I hadn’t known about her medical emergency as I’d been travelling on the day it happened, I think I heard she was in hospital around Christmas Eve/Day and just figured that she’d be ok, and my family seemed to be completely disinterested and dismissive when the news ultimately broke so I put it in its box to come back to later. When I got back to Aberdeen after the Christmas break I mentioned to a friend that I was more upset about Carrie than George Michael but going by their reaction that seemed to be some kind of faux pas so I didn’t really mention it again.
Carrie was a pop culture icon as well as a passionate activist on several issues, most notably feminism, mental health and addiction related, but she wasn’t a celebrity that you saw in the media all the time. (Which was, I imagine, a BIG positive for her as we know what the media vultures are like.) When you thought about actors she probably wouldn’t be the first name to pop in to your head, in all honesty I didn’t even realise half the things she achieved in her life until after she died – I mean, she edited and polished the script for Sister Act – I grew up watching that movie on repeat with my Granny and little brother and had no idea. Despite that she was someone that you just expected to always be there. Every so often you would hear her voice on a new (or old) episode of Family Guy, in recent times she would pop up on talk shows fairly regularly in relation to Star Wars or a certain book, and she was omnipresent on Twitter, letting us in on her and Gary’s adventures spelled out solely in emojis. [Sadly I only learned of the “Carrie Fisher Translator” app after her passing.]
Roll on nine months after her death and the promotion for Star Wars – The Last Jedi was ramping up and suddenly I started to feel the hole that she has left behind. The trailer popped up before just about every film I went to see, General Organa standing at the helm of the Resistance, stabbing me in the heart. The premieres for the film took place in the States and the UK and everything seemed to be going on as normal, people who actually knew her seemed to be moving on with their lives, with some sadness and nostalgia, but moving on all the same and yet there I was for the first time, feeling proper grief for her. To add insult to injury Carrie’s last Family Guy episode aired around Christmas time and her last film will be released early this year. (Wonderwell)
I know I’m not alone in these feelings. I’ve spoken to others who cried every time she was onscreen during the new Star Wars movie and struggle to deal with the fact that she never filmed the 9th, which was meant to be centered on Leia, before her passing. The difficulty now is that it’s no longer acceptable to talk about a celebrity’s death. It’s been over a year, you didn’t know them, get over it, seems to be the general consensus. If only our brains were as logical as that.
Before writing this post, which is mainly a confessional, I did a little bit of reading on the psychology of grieving for celebrities and why, we as humans, feel genuine grief for people that we have never met and wouldn’t have met even if they were still alive and there seems to be a few reasons that can stand alone or interlink to make up the emotions and pain we feel. I won’t list them, you can Google it, but needless to say a huge part of it is that even though we don’t know them, we know them. We connect with them, relate to them and throughout our lives, share in their triumphs and losses. That’s as much a human connection as sitting in the same room as someone and sharing a coffee.
I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s okay to be sad and to wonder what might have been if things had turned out differently and it’s okay to want to talk about how you’re feeling just as you would if you’d lost a relative or friend. It’s okay to want to binge-watch everything they ever starred in or listen to every album they ever produced but it’s also okay if you want to avoid that. I’m glad I went to see Star Wars – The Last Jedi in the cinema. I would have regretted it if I hadn’t but maybe I just wasn’t ready. It’s left me with an emptiness and ache in my chest that I wasn’t expecting. I’d expected to cry a bit, get it out my system and move on with my life. I saw it first with my Dad so had to keep crying to a minimum, then watched it again with Megan, who had been briefed to expect crying, but still the feelings remained. Since then I plucked up the courage and watched Bright Lights starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, the documentary about Carrie and her mom living together on their compound that was released just after their deaths. It’s one of the few films on Rotten Tomatoes to reach a 100% rating and was very compelling. Maybe at some point in 2018 I will even read her most recent book, I’ll laugh with friends at some of her funniest quotes and celebrate what a gift to the world she really was. Until then I guess I will have this ache in my chest, the feelings will overwhelm and engulf me at times, I may even cry, but that’s okay.
Rest In Power Carrie Frances Fisher who drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra on 27th December 2016.