I’ve never been good at grief.
Love, happiness, thankfulness, and anger, yes. I can share all of these very easily, and do. But when it comes to sadness or grief, these feelings so often are locked up inside. I don’t know exactly why, it could be because as a society, people want us to smile. People don’t want to see sadness, they don’t want to be reminded of mortality. A lot of times our grief has guilt associated with it. We don’t want to burden our loved ones, so we keep it to ourselves.
Grieving the loss of a celebrity, an actor, musician, or artist has another dimension to it. I didn’t know these people personally, why should I grieve their loss? Why should they matter to me so much?
Two deaths affected me deeply when I was younger: Jim Henson and Carl Sagan. They were people who had inspired me to live and I felt a kinship with them. They both passed away before the advent of social media, and really, the only person I could confide my feelings about them with was my mom. She understood to a point, that these were two people who formed me into the young woman I was becoming, a person who believed science and art, music, fantasy and philanthropy were most important. She was there when I listened to Rainbow Connection on repeat for a day while I cried my eyes out, and she didn’t judge (or at least, kept it to herself if she did). But I never felt like I could share that with anyone, even my friends. Grief, especially over someone I didn’t personally know, seemed like something to shut behind closed doors, to never show to the public.
Then last year, I noticed something that would change the way I saw grief, possibly forever.
On April 15, 2015, Jonathan Crombie died. For those who don’t know, Crombie was the actor who played Gilbert Blythe on the CBC version of Anne of Green Gables and its sequels. I don’t know that Crombie was an especially good actor, or that he was notable in any other huge ways. But he was Gilbert Blythe, a character in a book that was very dear to me when I was young, and even now. Anne Shirley was a character who taught me about the depths of despair, who taught me to chase the castles in the clouds, who taught me about kindred spirits and bosom friends. Gilbert Blythe was her childhood friend and became her husband when she grew up. Through Anne, I loved Gilbert too, and Crombie was just the perfect Gilbert to me. I never really had a crush on him, per se, but he was Anne’s love, and Anne was truly my kindred spirit. So when I learned of his passing, I was a bit devastated.
I was fully prepared to handle my grief as usual, quietly, privately. After all, it was Gilbert Blythe. Why should I feel that way about an actor who played a fictional character—that was just weird, wasn’t it? But then I saw something funny. A couple of my writer friends commented on Facebook about him, and they seemed just as devastated as I was. I remember all of us kind of being like, “I feel the same way!” and sharing our memories. And I liked that. I loved not having to be alone with that grief.
This week, we as a world lost a few people who profoundly affected the lives of so many people, yet most of us never set eyes on them in person. It hardly seemed like a coincidence that two people who were a huge part of my life left within days of each other. On Monday, I opened Facebook to discover that David Bowie had passed away. It hit me like a physical blow. Bowie was immortal, wasn’t he? From the time I was about five years old, and asked my dad, “Who sings this song?” when I heard Space Oddity to when I watched the Labyrinth and suddenly understood what sexuality was, to when I was a teenager and felt no one understood this messed up person I was inside, to when I tried to “fit in” but just couldn’t get the hang of it, Bowie was always a presence. His life, his work, told me I was unique yet not alone. His words expressed complex feelings I had inside. I’m not ashamed to admit I grieved pretty deeply on Monday. But it was a strange sort of grief, because I wasn’t alone.
All over my social media feeds, people were sharing songs and images, videos, memories (dammit, here I go crying again). People created original artwork and posted it. And yes, it was sad. We as a community had lost such a great person (and yes, he had his faults, but he was human like the rest of us) who influenced so much in our geeky genre. But at the same time, social media allowed us to experience this grief without being alone. What was a sad time became a celebration of life of sorts. We all shared memories. We shared the wonderful ways David Bowie had changed our lives, and we remembered why he was a person we grieved for so deeply. On Monday, we were brought together in the memory of this one person who affected so many with his work.
Today, I was awoken by my husband who told me I was about to have another very bad day, because Alan Rickman had died. Rickman influenced my life in a different way than Bowie had. It was less personal, less visceral, yet I mourned as deeply, because Rickman breathed life into some of the fictional characters that I related to most deeply. His work had brought me countless hours of entertainment and wry, dark humor. He brought one of my favorite characters, Severus Snape, to life just in the way I imagined him from the Harry Potter books. He WAS Marvin, the robot from Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Alan Rickman’s characters have been the most quoted in my household since high school. From, “Yippee kay yay, motherfuck,” to “Or you’ll do what, exactly?, hit me with that…fish?” to “That’s my wife, crone!” Alan Rickman filled life with so many moments of dark, sarcastic joy.
Again, my geeky community on social media all came together and shared. Quotes, gifs, images, memories. We were sad at our loss, yet still laughed at our favorite Rickman moments. And we weren’t alone.
If there is one thing geeks know how to do, it’s how to celebrate what we love. We can lose sight of that pretty easily at times, but in these times that could be those we feel most lost, most alone, most empty, it is so wonderful to have a family, a community of people together who can share our vulnerable moments. It is a treasure to have people to help us remember WHY we feel so sad at these people’s passings—because they brought us so much happiness.
Social media could be blamed for a lot of ills in our society today, but this week, it has shown that it can be a godsend as well. It helps us share our universal feelings of grief, and to process them in a healthy way. It helps bring us together and shows us that we are never alone, that someone, somewhere, is a kindred spirit we can talk to, that we never have to bear the burden of sadness alone. That even in the darkest of times, there is a universal joy to be shared as well.
And that, my friends, is what community, geeky or otherwise, is all about.
About Melanie R. Meadors:
A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.
Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.