OK to grieve celebrities

The death of Kobe Bryant raises questions about why we grieve people we don’t know

The death of Los Angeles Lakers basketball superstar Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash Jan. 26 was by no means a local story and yet, in a way, it was.

It was certainly a hot topic of conversation around the Town of Smithers, and everywhere, with multitudinous expressions of public grief.

There was also the inevitable criticism, possibly mixed with guilt, that Bryant garnered all the attention while eight other people also perished in that crash.

Eight other people equally deserving of mourning.

It is a curiosity that we mourn celebrities as if we knew them.

There is, no doubt, an element of simple respect for their prowess in their chosen field. Their greatness represents the aspirational goal of humanity, their loss, a loss to humanity.

But it is more than that, too. Whether we knew them personally or not, they become part of our lives. We feel connected to them through our own cherished memories, whether it was an 81-point performance on the hardwood, a beloved movie we shared over and over with our children or the first song we danced to at our wedding.

We feel their absence in our lives when they are gone.

There may also be something deeper at work in our psyches.

Many psychologists believe there is utility in collective mourning. It helps us connect with others in meaningful ways, enhances our capacity for empathy and creates a comforting sense of community.

The celebrity death may be a proxy for our grief from a specific personal loss or for a more generalized sense of loss. It is a reminder—especially when it is a sudden and tragic death of someone taken much too soon—of the fragility of life and our own mortality.

By extension we mourn all of our fellow humans, roughly 150,000 per day worldwide, who we didn’t know who have recently passed on.

Local people such as Bernice Dorothy Aspeslet, Ronald Stanley Krylywyj and Evelyn Daintre Riffel, all of whom are remembered in today’s obituaries on Page A18.

In mourning, both those we knew and those we didn’t, we may find a greater appreciation for the brief gift that is life itself.

RIP Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan and condolences to all those affected by their deaths.

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