Facing Our Mortality

Everyone is talking about the number of celebrities who have died in 2016, with today and tomorrow still left to go.  On social media, in papers around the world, we can see people weeping about the passing of their favorite singer, musician, sports figure, actor, news personality, author.  It does seem to me that the number of deaths is especially high.

But not necessarily so, according to my not-in-depth Google search.  According to snopes.com, in a comparison of several legitimate news organizations and some online sites that I’m not familiar with, the 2016 total to date isn’t that unusual.  Caveat – snopes.com is not my go-to site for news.

Why do we feel bombarded with this information?  In my parents’ generation, the passing of political figures and a few movie stars were a big deal.  They were not subject to an onslaught of the deaths of people whom they would not know.  Most people my age or older remember where they were when Kennedy was shot and when Pope John Paul II was shot.  But I don’t know where I was when this year’s celebrities’ deaths were reported.

Now people remember where they were on 9/11.

With social media and 24 hour cable news channels, each death, whether of minor stars or major celebrities, gets full coverage.  Lives are covered from birth to death.  For days.

And, of course, the fact that Debbie Reynolds died the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, was shocking.

At the risk of sounding very selfish, while the passing of musicians and other famous people saddens me, the deaths that have devastated me the most are the deaths of authors.

I still have barely forgiven Agatha Christie for passing away.  And that was in January 1976.  Her books have brought me hours and hours of pleasure.  I eagerly anticipated her next novel.  I believe that Curtain, her last Poirot novel, was published in 1975.  And I wanted more.  I wish she could have lived and written forever.

Robert B. Parker, who died in 2010, was another prolific writer.  I adore his books.  I don’t know if he left a bunch of unfinished manuscripts lying around, but he continues to publish books written by other authors, under his name (which I assume means with the blessing of his estate).  They are wonderful and very true to his style.

Robert Ludlum, of Bourne fame, died in 2001.  I’m a huge fan of the books he wrote before he died.  I swear he has published more posthumously than he did before he died.  And I have enjoyed zero of those books.

Why do we grieve for these celebrities who have touched our lives without our knowing them personally?

We see sudden death in our face.  We see long, painful illness in our face.

We are forced to face our own mortality.


About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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28 Responses to Facing Our Mortality

  1. Val says:

    It’s probably to do with what we were into in our younger years, Barb. The death of a ‘celebrity’ like a singer or musician, touches us because we’ve always seen those people as young or youthful – certainly younger than they were at the time of their deaths – and they connected us to our own youth, so their deaths bring our own real age and inevitable ending closer. I feel it a bit for the music-world and acting world people who’ve died recently, but the two for whom I felt it most strongly were Robin Williams and Oliver Sacks, the latter of whom was not an actor or singer but a writer and neurologist whose work, research, thinking and open-mindedness filled in many gaps for me and really kept me going. (I’ve lost a lot of my vocabulary and ability to think clearly and logically since reactions to two prescription drugs many years ago, so I carefully choose what to read).
    And poor Robin Williams who took his life in the throes of an illness that distorted his perceptions. (Not ‘depression’ as most people think, but part of a specific illness).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      You make good points. I, too, thought Robin Williams took his life due to depression. I have bipolar disorder and feel deeply for those who have committed suicide. For musicians, whether old or young, I will always have their music in my head. But I want stories to go on and on. When I finish a good book (fiction), I feel like at least one character is a friend who is leaving. I guess I feel a more personal connection.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. lorriedeck says:

    I often listen to NPR on the way to work. Today I listened to ESPN. I don’t want to hear any more stories about all the people who died this year. Its too depressing. I’m not watching much t.v. either. That’s my plan to get to the New Year with my sanity. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      It’s our addiction to these stories that I find disturbing. I cry for my family members that have passed. Not for people on the news. And not the least because we see their public lives and not their real lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nícia says:

    i also suffer more with the death of authors than of any other stars. because, i can see a bit of myself, or sometimes a lot of myself, in their words. anaïs nin seems like another version of me, vergílio ferreira too. saramago sadden me a lot. and so many others. we see such beautiful worlds disappear, and we them, part of us gets lost as well. but, at least, we can re-read their books. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that’s probably part of it, and the fact that with the more noted individuals and their passing, we’re forced to confront the idea that no one is immune to death.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. First of all, I think you are right. It reminds me of the poem “Spring and Fall”, by Gerard Manley Hopkins–“It is the blight man was born for”.

    It is strange, when I first saw Star Wars as a kid, Carrie Fisher and the rest of the cast seemed “old” to me, in the way that when you are a kid, all adults are “old”. But now I realize she is the same age as my Dad, who doesn’t seem that old. Perception of age (and time) totally changes as you get older, and you become more aware of mortality.

    Another example: for a lot of my friends, Prince’s death hit them especially hard because they grew up listening to his music, and for them, it really was like a piece of their youth died. I enjoyed his songs, and was sad to hear he passed away, but I was a different generation, so it wasn’t the same for me. But everyone has their favorite celebrities/athletes/musicians/idols/heroes, and I’m sure it always feels like you are losing a part of yourself when they pass on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I think a lot of people look at it that way. I just can’t get past the realization that we are mourning public personae. We don’t know those private individuals. That is why I think it has to do more with facing our own mortality. Especially shocking for a young adult when a young adult celebrity dies.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Having experienced the 71st anniversary of my birth recently, I face my mortality with a keener sense of my ultimate departure every day. Yeah, I know, people go into the next life at all ages, but because my hourglass is running out I can’t even afford term life insurance anymore, it’s so expensive. The actuarial charts say they’ll not make money off of my premiums. So they want to gouge me all the way to my impending grave.
    I don’t mind the awareness though. Ecclesiastes 7:4 says “A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.” A lot of my poetry concerns the subject. Some may say it’s morbid (from the Latin mors, for death), I say it’s part of life, ironically. Man. Woman. Birth. Death. Infinity. (Ben Casey, 1960s tv medical drama, staring Vince Edwards in the title role.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I haven’t thought about Ben Casey in years. I definitely think about my mortality in a way that I didn’t even 10 years ago. Then I play the mind-game that I will probably live to my mid-80’s which is 20 years or so. My youngest is turning 30. When he was 10 seems like a looooong time ago. So I use that and project it to the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. millerralice says:

    Great post. I’ve been reading what the BBC has to say on “pre-written obituaries”and wondering what qualifies someone for a PWO – are you a certain level of famous in your field, is age a pre-qualifying factor etc?

    But I also think the shock factor comes down to us being in the celebrity age – as you say, where lives are covered daily. The saddest of the year for me was Alan Rickman – such a wonderful gentleman, and a huge part of my much-loved Harry Potter franchise filled childhood (and adulthood).

    As an aside – I’ve set myself a goal of a lot of books for the year, and one of them has to be by Agatha Christie (I was thinking And Then There Were None, as I loved the adaptation) – but do you have any particular recommendations for a first-time reader? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I haven’t given a thought to the PWO. But I guess any of us could write one. I’m a big Harry Potter fan, plus have seen Alan Rickman in a bunch of other things well. As to Agatha Christie…..oh man. So many to choose from. And Then There Were None is one of my favorites. Murder on the Orient Express is great, but maybe I do like Curtain the best. Oh I don’t know. It’s possible that every title you showed me I’d say no read that one! I haven’t donexanythingcwith GoodReads, but know a lot of people who have. I’m going to think about a reading list for 2017. You’ve given me the idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Scott says:

    I can’t think of a movie star I would call a favorite. I remember what I was doing when JFK was killed. I was in the air force preparing B-52s for when the other shoe dropped. I don’t recall the Pope being shot. Being a licensed Amateur Radio Operator, when the 1991 Gulf War occurred I went active in Oregon Army MARS (Military Affiliate Radio Service) and help pass messages to and from the Gulf because there was no Internet. In Oregon alone the total exceeded 10,000. When 9/11 occurred I operated a radio relay station for 48 continuous hours passing information between Seattle and Chicago for the SATERN (Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network). When New Orleans went under water I spent several days relaying information out to the civilized world.

    I haven’t had time to consider my own future. There have always been hundreds worse off than me, needing what little I could offer. Now that I’m 80 years old it’s too late to get excited about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      What an interesting comment and life! My father started out in Army Air Corps and then career Air Force. I was born at Elmendorf in Anchorage in ’53. I think your average teen and adult feels that the celebrities have offered something to them. I don’t really understand the weeping and carrying on. But I have a soft spot for authors. Reading is my escape as well as a way to learn more about things that interest me. Thank you for visiting my blog, and especially for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Scott says:

        Then you know that Ike ended the Korean Conflict. Ike must have won the 1952 election. I don’t remember. My grandfather had scheduled the vet to inoculate 400 pigs the morning after Ike’s win. He was beaming. The vet was a democrat and I remember his yelling at my grandfather and telling him he threw an ashtray through his television when Ike won. That was an expensive temper tantrum. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Barb Knowles says:

        Ha! I’ll say. Ike graduated with my grandfather from West Point in 1915. My grandfather died in France in WWI, the only member of his class to be killed in battle.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I think it is good to face our own mortality – it brings everything into Chrystal clear focus. Death is perspective personified. Happy new year Barb – may 2017 be kind to you, look forward to your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Bea dM says:

    Like all (or most of 🙂 ) your posts, I read it with interest. But I seem to be odd-woman-out, because hardly any deaths of famous people have touched me over the years. Personal friends are quite another matter. Maybe it has something to do with believing in the natural rhythm of birth-death-rebirth that’s all around in Nature too? Best wishes for the New Year to you and all your loved ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      The reason I said selfishly I’ve been sad when authors have died, it’s because I miss their work. I haven’t known them personally, so I don’t mourn them, per se. I don’t understand the caterwauling (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating) that has been going on in the US over these deaths. And there is the morbid fascination some people feel, like slowing down to see a car crash. It’s just a phenomenon that I don’t feel the way many do. And that is why my take is that it is about facing one’s mortality.
      And, of course, you are right. Personal friends and family are completely different. Happy New Year! I want you to know how much I enjoy not only your blog, but our discussions based on what each other have written.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ann Coleman says:

    I think you are right that we mourn celebrities’ deaths because it forces us to confront our own mortality, and our own aging. Like you, I feel the deaths of authors much more than movie stars or musicians, because, selfishly, that means no more books for me to enjoy. Agatha Christie was a great loss. I was also very disappointed when Magdalen Nabb died from a riding accident when she was still middle aged, as I loved her books so much. Sometimes our reaction to death really is selfish, I guess.


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