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Do Celebrity Tragedies Affect You?

Do you pay attention to the celebrity headlines that often fill TV, magazines and the web?  Do you ever hear of something that causes you to feel such dismay or sorrow that it is as if you were hearing about your own family member?  Is it human nature to feel this way – or has the media taken on an overactive role in putting these people in front of us and manipulating our emotions?  How do you feel?

It filled me with great sadness this morning when I saw the headline: Body in SUV Believed to be Hudson’s Nephew.  By the time you read this, it will undoubtedly be known if in fact the boy found is Jennifer Hudson’s nephew – but right now, things are not looking good.  Here is a young woman (age 27) who because of her mother’s urging went on American Idol and got discovered.  She went on to star in the 2007 hit movie Dream Girls, winning an Academy Award and Golden Globe for her performance.  She had a supporting role in the popular Sex & the City movie, and currently had been doing press for the movie The Secret Life of Bees – where she is part of an all-star cast.  To many, this young lady had hit the jackpot – fame, money, career recognition and success, and recently engaged to boot – it would seem like a dream come true. 

Then only a few days ago, tragic headlines told another story.  Her 57-year old mother and brother (with whom she reportedly was very close) were shot and killed in their family home, and her sister’s 7-year old little boy was missing.  I can’t imagine what Jennifer Hudson is going through right now or the incredible grief she and her sister must be feeling.  It is almost incomprehensible, and seems like a cruel twist of fate for a young lady so on top of her game.  Once again we are reminded that fame and success do not insulate you from life’s most horrible events. 

Sometimes though I wonder if it is right for us (the public) to care so much.  Should I be so shaken up about this?  Should I even be paying attention?  I have bills to pay, grocery shopping and laundry to do, playdates to coordinate, doctor appointment to arrange…it doesn’t affect my world – or does it?

Bad things happen all around us – why should I feel so much for this young actress and not the average Jane right around the corner whose car was struck by a drunk driver, instantly killing her, critically injuring her husband, and changing the lives of her two little children in the back seat forever? 

But the thing is, I DO feel for the average Jane – I read her story in our local newspaper over the weekend and had to stop and catch my breath.  I felt incredible sadness for that family and their story has stayed in my heart.  The mother was the same age as me, with two young children just like me.  It could have been me in that car, on that road. These stories are once again reminders that life is so precious, so fragile.

Whether it is Dana Reeve or your Aunt Sue dying from lung cancer, it doesn’t make a family’s loss easier to bear.  Sure, so much attention was given to Dana Reeve – yes, because she was famous – and also because no one could believe the cruel irony (first Christopher Reeve dying after convincing us all he would walk again, then Dana Reeve being diagnosed and succumbing to lung cancer, leaving a family hit hard with a double blow – and their 13 year old son having to deal with the loss of both parents in such a short time).  

Celebrity stories affect us because we have become familiar with that person.  They become like a mom we see around school, a classmate we knew from high school, or a family we occasionally notice at church.   In fact, due to the media today, we often know the celebrity better than many of our own real life acquaintances. We form opinions about them (think of your reaction to Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears, Madonna) which seems crazy when you think about it – but then I guess we do that with the mom we see from afar (“Oh, she is the one that signs up to bring brownies to the bake sale,” one mom scornfully tells another, “Then goes out and buys store bought, sprinkles them with powdered sugar and puts them on a different dish – I mean really, AS IF she is fooling anyone!!"). 

Experts say celebrities’ deaths evoke many emotional reactions for us because it involves a sense of loss.  That loss can feel as profound as that of a friend because we often have identified with them (heck, we’re even on a first name basis with them).  Princess Diana’s funeral was broadcasted in 180 countries and attracted the largest television audience in history!  I guess I am not alone when I say these losses have an affect on us. 

I confess there are some stories that just grab me and I find myself paying more attention to the person in death than I ever did while they were alive.  Sometimes it is an event that is just hard to get your head around (like Dana Reeve’s passing) or the accidental mix-up of medicines like Heath Ledger (leaving behind his beautiful little girl whom he adored so much) or the tragic plane crash of John Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.  For whatever reasons, those deaths touched me so that you would have thought I had suffered the loss myself.  We expected these people to be around for years, to grow old before our eyes.  They made a contribution to the world, and yet it felt like there was even more they would have achieved if their time had not been cut short.

“…he had every gift but length of years.” Senator Kennedy said in his eloquent eulogy for his nephew. 

Perhaps that is what bothers us the most….a life seemingly cut short just feels like it goes against human nature.  The fame a person has only brings it out to our attention, but celebrity or not, the sadness or grief we feel upon hearing the news is still real.  

And so, in-between loads of laundry and multiple errands today, this Zen Mama Wannabe’s heart breaks for Jennifer Hudson and her family.  I send them my thoughts and prayers – as do I to the remaining members of the local family who lost their wife and mother due to the drunk driver.  I will hug my kids a little more tightly than usual today and be more aware of the many blessings we have.  Doesn't it make you want to do the same?

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3 Responses to “Do Celebrity Tragedies Affect You?”

  1. LarkLady Says:
    October 27th, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    I don’t know that the celebrity status of the person involved makes me feel any more keenly the pain/sorrow/other emotion than if it’s anyone else, unless it’s someone I know personally. I didn’t have a clue who Jennifer Hudson was until I read your blog today, but I hurt when I heard the story on the news… and I don’t know that I hurt any more or any less than if it had been Jane Doe. It’s a tragic situation, whoever is involved.

    Life is fleeting, and sometimes life is cut off far too early. That hurts, whether it’s someone we’re close to or someone we relate to because we’ve seen them on TV or someone we’ve never heard heard of but whose story we get caught up in when we learn of it. Hurting on behalf of someone else is one of the prices we pay for being involved with humanity, and I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  2. callieandbatido Says:
    October 28th, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I agree with LarkLady that we hurt no matter who the person or family is. Empathy is a powerful emotion and I think we all can’t help but think “it could have been me.” It is tragic when we hear about someone’s life being cut short, anger turning into tragedy, a wrong choice leading to a tragic outcome. Hurting on behalf of someone else is part of being human and as Larklady so perfectly put it, “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

  3. Lavinia Says:
    April 27th, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    That’s way more clever than I was exptiecng. Thanks!

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