(This blog was originally posted on January 14, 2016)
When someone dies, it is hard to say goodbye to a person we loved and a relationship we enjoyed. But, how to explain the intense and complicated feelings of loss and sadness when we never personally knew the person who has passed away and the relationship was (and could only ever be) one-sided?
It isn’t just that we continue to feel strong emotions about or bonds to the other person that makes this separation so difficult. Rather, per Hypnosis Motivation Institute founder John Kappas, Ph.D.’s Theory of Mind, it is difficult to “leave” or let go of a relationship we have outgrown or has ended because we must give up a powerful known in our subconscious mind. Even when this relationship is one-sided, the attachment to the other person can still be very strong because the person represents a powerful part of that subconscious life script. We still invest a lot of emotion, fantasy/hope and expectations in it. Whether the relationship consists of binge-watching a favorite performer’s movies, following the star on a concert tour and trying to meet the individual “in-person”, the emotional attachment is very real. The emotional “high” we experience during those moments of real or virtual contact are also very powerful. Consequently, the longer we have followed this subconscious mental script, the more difficult it is to stop and let go even when the object of our affection or interest has passed away.
For years, people have flooded to Graceland to tour and take pictures of the estate that Elvis Presley, aka the King of Rock and Roll, once called home. There is usually at least one vigil there for him on his birthday, and the Elvis Presley-themed wedding is a popular attraction in Las Vegas. Some of my good friends remember how their mother pulled off the road to cry on the shoulder when Presley’s death was reported on the radio. To this day, they are all devoted fans of his music. I knew someone else who sobbed for three days when John Lennon was murdered in New York City and continued to feel sad about his loss twenty-plus years later.
After Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997—20 years ago, today—it seemed like the entire world stopped to catch its breath. Suddenly the woman who had touched so many hearts and imaginations with her seemingly fairy-tale life was just gone, and her admirers felt the loss keenly. I remember standing in Hyde Park and watching the gun carriage bearing her coffin pass, with the sound of weeping all around. I saw at least mounted police officer wiped tears from her eyes, and a couple of people nearby called her name, half-sobbing, half-screaming in their grief. I doubt that many, if any, of the people standing with me to watch the funeral on the Jumbo-Tron screens set up in the park. That didn’t matter. They were mourning her as they might a dear friend. When I stopped by the gates of Kensington Park the following week to drop off a bouquet in the Princess’s memory, the floral arrangements and tributes extended almost to the curb and the overwhelming smell of fresh flowers and rotting foliage filled the air. Radio and television tributes to her seemed to air for weeks, and Elton John’s revised version of Candle in the Wind played on popular-music radio stations at least once an hour for about as long.
In January 2016, Rock ’n Roll icon, David Bowie passed away after a battle with cancer. Ironically, just a day or two before he dued I suddenly and inexplicably thought of his starring turn in the 1983 vampire film, The Hunger. Other than his song, Space Oddity, which is one of the most haunting, creepy and even saddest songs I have ever heard, I didn’t know much about him. As social-media outlets were flooded with tributes to the star, I had a chance to check out more of his music. Someone on Facebook shared a video of Bowie performing “Let’s Dance” with Tina Turner, and I wished fervently for a moment that I could have seen this performance in person. That man had a voice (and some impressive dance moves!). I regret sad that I didn’t appreciate his talent more during his lifetime.
Similar to the fans who are missing and mourning Bowie, I imagine my sadness learning about Alan Rickman’s death had more to do with what the actor—especially his roles—symbolized for me during various times during my life. I actually walked right past him in London many years ago. It was Christmastime, and Rickman was carrying several large bags in each hand. I remember he was very tall; by the time I registered who he was, the actor had walked past, his back already to me. I might not even have seen him at all if the friend I was with at the time hadn’t elbowed me in the ribs and whispered, “There’s your man.” Looking back on that almost-close-encounter today, gives me goose-bumps. It was thrilling to know I had walked past one of my favorite actors.
Of all the characters Rickman had portrayed during his career, the role of “Jamie” in Truly, Madly, Deeply, affected me the most. It is still one of the only films that can still make me cry even after countless viewings. Watching Rickman teach on-screen love Juliet Stevenson to let go and say goodbye to him (his ghost) was and continues to be a symbolic lesson for me about coping with various kinds of grief and adapting to change. His films will live on, but the idea that the man in front of (and occasionally behind) the camera is no longer around makes me feel strangely adrift. It wasn’t like I personally knew him. I never crushed on him, although I know I am among Rickman’s many fans that could listen to his signature baritone voice with those precise inflections for hours.
It is not unusual to feel sadness and even experience grief following the death of someone who has played a significant role or influenced your life. It is not “wrong” to experience these emotions even if you have had minimal or no direct contact with this individual. Every time you danced to, sung along with or cried over one of Bowie’s songs, the emotional response that triggered this behavior was based on how his music resonated with your subconscious life script. Your memories of those moments are now like snapshots or movies about what was going on in your life at that moment in time. Similarly, every time I laughed, cried or cringed watching one of Rickman’s movies, I responded according to how the scene represented something familiar (known) in my subconscious life script. I will never be able to watch his films again without feeling the bittersweet emotions attached to my memories about what I was doing, where I was and whom I was with, the first time I saw the movie.
For more information about the stages of grief and processing a significant emotional loss, I invite you to read my blogs titled Moving On, Part 1 and Moving On, Part 2.
Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified clinical hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit http://www.calminsensehypnotherapy.com/.