Happy New Year! May 2017 be kinder to us all than 2016 was. My goodness. How many people passed away in 2016?
David Bowie started it I think, but he was followed very closely by one of my favorite actors of all time: Alan Rickman. And the year only devolved from there. Prince in April. Muhammad Ali and Anton Yelchin (only like 27 years old) in June. Followed by Kenny Baker, best known as the lovable droid R2-D2 in Star Wars, and Gene Wilder in August. In November we lost Florence Henderson of the Brady Bunch and also Ron Glass, who I fell in love with in Joss Whedon’s Firefly. But everyone really seemed to lose hope in December when the world lost Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself.
Not going to lie. When my dad hollered down the stairs that Carrie Fisher had passed away, I shouted back, “No!!” Twitter had just reported her stable, and I’d joined the rest of the world in hoping she would recover from the massive heart attack she’d suffered.
We were wrong.
But in the midst of being sad for all the celebrities and artists who passed away in 2016, I just had to marvel. Because while it is sad to lose such talented people, it’s much sadder to lose people who actually made a difference in my life.
See, the same day Carrie Fisher died, a close friend of mine also passed away. And she didn’t get social media accolades. She didn’t get an outpouring of love from strangers. She didn’t get any media attention at all. And, honestly, this woman had a far greater impact on my life than Carrie Fisher did.
Carrie Fisher might have played Princess Leia in possibly the greatest science fiction trilogy of all time. But my friend Roberta fought three rounds of cancer while raising a teenage son alone and working a more-than-full-time job in marketing. I saw her almost every weekday for five years, and not one of those days did she take it easy. She was a fighter, and she fought to the very end of her life.
And I guess it just shook me to see the tidal wave of praise and glory and grief that washed across the nation at the death of a woman none of us really knew personally, while the death of a woman who truly was a hero went mostly unnoticed.
Yes, that’s fame. Maybe that’s part of the allure of being famous—that the world will mourn your passing. And maybe it doesn’t mean as much to have complete strangers crying at your funeral. But it makes me sad that someone who I never touched, never hugged, never had a conversation with can make national headlines when a woman who inspired me to be better only gets a few social media posts from her closest coworkers.
We all die (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Everyone. Nobody escapes it. And while the passing of so many celebrities was very sad, do we really think people live forever? Did we really think the “important” people from film and screen would endure longer than average? (James 4:14)
Don’t get me wrong. I am sad for Carrie Fisher. I’m sad for her family and her friends and her loved ones. I’m sad that we won’t get to see Princess Leia in the flesh on the big screen again.
But we shouldn’t get so caught up in the sensationalized grief of the passing of titans and forget to mourn and celebrate our own loved ones as well, regardless of how “unfamous” they may be. Every soul is equal (Deuteronomy 10:17). Every individual matters. And I guess I just want the world to know that it wasn’t just famous people who left us last year.
My friend Roberta died December 27. My Great Uncle Bud, a veteran of World War II who served as a mechanic on flame-throwing tanks on Okinawa, passed away on December 18. My sister-in-law’s grandmother, Mrs. Jenkins, passed away earlier last year. None of them were famous. None of them made the news. But they left a gaping hole in all our lives, and our worlds won’t be the same without them. And that’s not an exaggeration.
Those of you who mourn Carrie Fisher and Ron Glass and Alan Rickman (and I’m with you, believe me), your everyday life isn’t going to change because they’re no longer with us. Unless your everyday life was somehow connected to them personally, and then that’s a different matter.
The celebrity who died in a hospital shouldn’t matter more than the grandmother who died at home in her bed.
According to the media, they do. And if we watch social media feeds, celebrities get the headlines. And that’s not going to change. And that’s actually okay.
I just want to remind us all that there are famous people, and then there are people who matter (Matthew 19:30). They are rarely the same. Mourn. Grieve. Recognize and acknowledge the hurt of the families who lost one of their own. But don’t mistake fame for morality. Don’t mistake celebrity for wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:24).
Better yet, learn to recognize the gift of the relationships in your life right now before the time comes when they are gone. And that way, when those people leave your life, you can remember them with no regrets. And you can share their stories with the world honestly, as someone who lived life alongside them, rather than vicariously through them on the big screen.