We all understand that losing someone close to you can be completely devastating, but if you find yourself feeling utterly bereft at the death of someone you’ve never even met – such as a famous person – it can be hard to know what to do with those feelings.
While it can seem strange to mourn at the death of someone you didn’t know in person, this sense of grief is actually a very common phenomenon according to Dr Nilu Ahmed, a psychologist at the University of Bristol.
‘Even though we didn’t know them personally, they may still have been part of our life, and their death stirs up memories’ says Dr Ahmed. It could be an actor or singer whose work we link to a key time in our life, for example. ‘We are taken back and mourn for the time we will never get back again’ she explains.
It can feel particularly unsettling if the person who dies is a similar age to us, or is a figure who has loomed large in our lives for as long as we can remember. ‘It’s a reminder of our own mortality’ says Dr Ahmed. ‘As people who were part of our time begin to die, it is a reminder that we will also not be here forever and that can lead to mourning, especially if we are feeling unfulfilled in our life.’
So, is there anything you can do to help deal with this type of grief? As well as giving yourself permission to be sad and emotional, it can be also good to share your feelings. Calling a good friend or arranging to see your family is a good step – you may well find others share your sadness too.
‘It might also be worth exploring whether the feelings are about anything more’ suggests Dr Ahmed. ‘For example, are you actually grieving the death of a loved one, is it those feelings that have been stirred up? Or is it masking other emotions that may be too difficult to express, such as feeling stressed at work and unable to share this with anyone? Occasionally our emotions can get displaced on to something else.’
The main thing to remember is that your feelings are completely normal – you don’t need to feel silly or embarrassed for getting upset about the death of someone you didn’t know personally. ‘All emotions are valid’ affirms Dr Ahmed.