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A few weeks ago, I woke up to the deaths of two people who were dear to my heart. In the span of four days, actor Alan Rickman and rock icon David Bowie both passed away from their battles with cancer.
I was inexplicably upset. For several days, I found myself unable to shake off this feeling of unease. I watched any video that showed up on my newsfeed involving Professor Snape, the beloved and painfully misunderstood character played by Alan Rickman in the Harry Potter series. I put on all of the David Bowie records I had in my library on repeat, remembering the times my father and I would spend afternoons listening together on my bedroom floor. Grieving for these icons was a harrowing ordeal. At the same time, my distress was very confusing to me; why was I grieving for people I’d never even met?
In my father’s youth, his favourite artist was David Bowie. Considered one of the most influential musicians of our time, Bowie produced hits and entertained fans for over six decades. He transcended what it meant to be a star; not only did he influence music, but his gender-bending alter-egos also impacted art, fashion and the global LGBTQ+ community. When my father immigrated to Canada in his teens, he barely knew any English. Yet, it did not take him long to fall for Bowie’s infectious and innovative tunes. In fact, he told me he initially learned much of his English through singing along to many of Bowie’s songs. Through his years as a fan, he accumulated dozens of vinyl records that I now have the pleasure of inheriting. I remember few weekends in my childhood where we wouldn’t spend an hour or two listening to David Bowie, in silence and in each other’s company.
When I became a little older, some of the first novels I read were from the Harry Potter series. Like millions around the world, I became captivated. I was entranced by the complexity of the plot and the depth of all the characters. Although I dressed up as Hermoine for many Halloweens, my favourite character had always been Professor Snape. Unlike other “bad guys” I was accustomed to at the time, Snape taught me that things in life are never as black and white as they may seem. There is a vast grey area where tortured souls and tough decisions reside, a place where the line between villain and hero is hazy and unclear. Oftentimes, we fall so in love with characters in novels that the actor who portrays them in film inevitably falls short. Alan Rickman was an exception. He embodied everything that Snape was and, through his unassailable talent, made the character his own.
With the death of a popular public figure, such as the deaths of Alan Rickman and David Bowie, comes a strange and perplexing sense of grief. It’s an unusual feeling that accompanies the news that someone you sort of knew yet never really met is gone. It may seem petty to grieve the death of a celebrity. With everything else going on in your life and in the world around you, it seems unreasonable for such an inconsequential event to trigger even an ounce of feeling. But, whether it is a celebrity or the barista who served you at Starbucks every morning, there is no accurate way to react to death, especially the death of someone you never really knew. It will be confusing and elusive, but that does not make your sadness any less valid.