There is a sad comfort in scrolling through social media on a day like today. I can click through song after song, letting sadness wash over me — a soundtrack for mourning a musical legend. Beautiful memories, inspiring quotes and written tributes to Prince let me know I’m not alone in my grief, that there is a whole world mourning alongside me. There is something about public mourning that is cathartic. It is a rare moment in which grief is communal — the weight more evenly distributed than in any instance of personal heartache.
Grief is something we don’t often get to experience out in the open. We tend to closet our sadness because it makes others uncomfortable. Those who don’t share the sense of loss you are experiencing don’t know how to look at you, don’t know the right words to say, don’t understand when you need space and when you need the simple comfort of company. Our personal grief is something we must learn to process on our own because it isn’t something we’re culturally comfortable with expressing publicly.
When we experience a personal loss, there are few, if any, friends and family who understand the depth of your grief. The relationship between you and a friend or family member who dies is deeply complex and personal, something that can’t be summed up into a general experience, even when grief is a process we all suffer in some capacity. Grief is unique and fresh each time. We are never ready for it and rarely able to process it in a way that feels adequate.
Our personal grief is too messy, too unpredictable to live out loud much of the time. It never follows the line it’s supposed to. There are detours and stagnant periods that the stages of grief don’t mention. There is pain that can’t be described in a way that makes sense. There is no closure, no endgame. It is simply there, shifting shapes for the rest of our lives. We carry that grief quietly, because it’s the only way we know how.
However, when a public figure dies, we tend to have an outpouring of public grief. In a way, we use it as a sort of therapy for all the grieving we don’t get to process in our personal lives.
There are quotes, songs, moments that we are able to share because we know that other people will understand. There is a level of love that so many feel — a similarity of grief that can only be experienced through the death of a beloved public figure.
Prince may have had a slightly different impact on everyone’s lives, but his legacy struck a communal chord. His music served as a bond for all his fans. His words and his spirit inspired so many. His message of love and acceptance told us we are all in this together. Losing a person like that allows us to express our sadness out in the open, together in our grief, if only for a moment — making the world a little less lonely in his absence.
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