Coping with the death of a loved one is something we all must go through at some point in our lives. When a close family member or friend dies, we expect to grieve, we expect to feel sad and to need to find a way to cope with the death and continue with our lives. However, grieving for someone you didn’t know is more of an abstract concept, and one that brings up many confusing feelings including sadness, but also guilt. So, why do we grieve people we didn’t know and how can we cope with these feelings?
Grief for a person we don’t know
In some circumstances, grief over the death of a person unknown to us is accepted. The death of a celebrity or a high-profile death of a child for instance brings out a community, nationwide or even worldwide right to mourn. It is not uncommon to see flowers laid knee deep in such circumstances, and the news to be packed with images of people crying and mourning for the person that has died.
Particularly in the case of the death of a celebrity or public figure, we feel as though we knew the person. In 2022, with social media capturing the lives of celebrities we feel a part of their story, a part of their life and deeply connected, so their death, particularly if sudden creates shockwaves and an outpouring of grief that is widely accepted.
What about when it’s not a celebrity, or a high-profile case? We can feel grief for someone connected to us in a distant way, such as via another person. When someone we don’t know dies and it upsets us, we might find that our family and friends don’t understand. We might hear comments like ‘you didn’t know them why are you so bothered?’ This may bring up feelings of guilt – you didn’t know the person. Why are you bothered? You shouldn’t be crying or feeling sad. You may feel that your grief is unwarranted in comparison to the grief of their loved ones.
I don’t even know the person
“Recently someone I don’t personally know suddenly died. They were a parent of one of my children’s friends. It hit me so hard, I cried a lot. I felt intense guilt for feeling so upset, it’s not my loss. I felt intense pain for my daughter’s friend who had lost her dad. I felt sadness for her mum who had lost her husband. Through my tears I said to my husband ‘I didn’t even know him’ – but that’s the point I could say to my husband”
Stories such as this one are not uncommon, however, it is not talked about. We tell the story of the death, we tell of the shock, but we often do not discuss the tears, the sadness, or the pain believing that we do not deserve to feel these emotions.
Effects of Someone Unknown to us Dying
Why does the death of someone unknown to us affect us? Shock, empathy, realisation that life is short. There are so many reasons, all of them valid and perfectly normal. Just because you didn’t know a person, doesn’t mean that you can’t grieve them.
Grief can be triggered by more than the loss of a relationship with a person you knew. The death of someone unknown to us whether a celebrity, high-profile news case, or someone known to you can ignite unacknowledged worries and concerns. In the case above, it raises thoughts such as – that could have been my husband, my children’s father. There is also a strong empathy for a desire to protect the daughter’s friend who is well known and loved by the grieving person, as well as a desire to protect your own daughter from feelings of hurt and sadness.
This empathy and link to our own worries and concerns is also applicable in the case of the death of a public figure, or high-profile news case. How would we feel if it was our spouse, parent, child etc? The circumstances surrounding the death, particularly if sudden or tragic also impact our reactions, we may want to hold our loved ones closer. This is no bad thing. Life can be cut short too soon, and such events can help us to step away from the mundane, the unnecessary stress, and be grateful for what we do have.
Coping with the loss of someone we don’t know
In the case of losing a family member or friend, there is a wealth of support available. Your GP or a charity such as Cruse can help to arrange counselling or support to help you deal with your loss. However, in the event of the loss of someone distant you may feel as though you cannot ask for support. Your mental health is important, and if you are finding it difficult to cope, you should always seek support. Your GP will be able to organise counselling or other talking therapies that may help you to process your anxieties.
You may not need formal support, you may find that once the initial shock has passed you can talk to your own family and friends, if they are supportive, and that is enough to help you process your feelings. You may also like to do something to help the family of the person that has died. Ideas include:
- Offering to shop/cook/clean
- Look after children or walk pets
- Make a donation to assist with funeral costs or to a charity
- Suggest funeral directors/florists/ or a celebrant that you would recommend
Grief is normal
Death remains something that is often not talked about in the UK. However, it is inevitable, and grief is normal for people, whether that be relatives, friends, an acquaintance, or the wider population. Whether you are grieving the loss of someone close, or someone you didn’t know take this opportunity to talk about death, to be open about your fears, and to consider how you could live every day to the fullest.
Celebrant Steve now offers a funeral wishes certificate. Contact him to find out more, and to book an appointment to discuss with him what you would like to happen in the event of your death and to name him as your celebrant. Talking about death is the first step to acceptance, whether that is planning our own funeral, helping a loved one that is dying to plan their funeral, or simply starting a discussion with family and friends following a tragic event.