Whether it’s Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, or any other person in the mainstream awareness that passes away from these circumstances, the same responses are always so irritatingly prevalent.
“You didn’t know them, stop pretending like you did.”
“Suicide is the coward’s way out.”
“He abandoned his family.”
“Permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“Fuck them, I didn’t like their work anyway.”
I’m curious why it is so many people seem determined to remove the agency of how people feel from the conversation. What is it about feelings, especially surrounding one of the most difficult situations a person can deal with, that causes others to speak up about how others shouldn’t feel a certain way?
As I described in the last blog, I recently went through the loss of a friend of 14 years, the 18th person I’ve known in my life to have left via suicide. This was shortly before Chester Bennington of Linkin Park resurrected the same conversation I hear as mentioned above, so my feelings are still sort of raw on the topic, and I’ve had to avoid a lot of threads based on that.
What I can’t understand is how some people seem determined to not let anyone feel or grieve, whether it’s because they didn’t care about the person’s work, or because they’re unwilling to acknowledge the impact artists can have on our lives.
I had this conversation a lot when Robin Williams passed, and the graphics and memes were passed around where people were mourning. Whether it was because of the Genie, Good Will Hunting, his standup, or any of his other endeavors, he touched a lot of lives. And there was, as mentioned, the usual offputting responses of “He took the easy way out,” “You didn’t know him, why do you care?” etc.
I think you have to wrap yourself in a layer of ignorance to not think that artists can impact our daily lives. You’ve seen pictures of my library. You’ve heard my interviews with podcasters and activists. Some I consider friends at this point, but they all started out as people who influenced me, or whose voices were prevalent in my life. Losing one of them would be devastating, because their voice or words were a part of me, even if it wasn’t an interpersonal connection.
For many of us who grew up in the late 90s, Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory” managed to capture an essence of rebellious youth, of suffering, of being angry and not necessarily knowing why. It was my entire freshman year, especially being in and out of the hospital. Granted, I moved on from it rather quickly, especially when an album of remixes came out. It didn’t catch me anymore, but for that brief moment in time, that screaming and raw emotion captured my inner conflict of the time.
That level of angst was so real for many of us, especially post-9/11 when those of us who were social outcasts were singled out and pushed away. I didn’t last an entire school year after that happened, partially because I wasn’t interested in conforming to my elitist school’s image of what a student should be. Many of us were pushed out the same way. That’s part of what “Voice in the Dark” (available now at rismccool.com and free to patrons at patreon.com/RisMC or patreon.com/incitingincidentpodcast) was really trying to recapture; a time in my life where it seemed like the management was more interested in pushing us away for not wanting to fit a certain model of a student or citizen.
But sometimes, someone who speaks up about those things the most ends up losing their battle with mental illness. Then people call them a coward or someone who abandoned their family or a quitter or a piece of shit for leaving people behind, and you stand there and wonder… “Gee, I can’t imagine why people don’t speak up about these feelings when they have them.” When you stigmatize mental illness, or refer to anyone on anti-depressants as weak, crazy, or say that they just need to go outside, the world can feel empty and alone. People don’t want to reach out for help because they don’t want to be belittled, insulted, or condescended to. Or even worse, proselytized.
I sat through the funeral for a friend recently, and I saw little to no reflection of who my friend was. Instead I heard about Jesus and heaven and the same stories we’ve always heard, but I went there to remember my friend. I cannot emphasize that enough. I kept my mouth shut, even though I know when I’m being stared at (it was a Catholic service), but this was like Aiden’s grandmother’s service. Thirty seconds on his grandmother, 29 minutes and 30 seconds on Jesus and the rapture and going to heaven and salvation.
Maybe it’s because I was raised in a family where you talked about and celebrated the person when they passed, but this seems so foreign to me. I didn’t get that experience of remembering the person until a bunch of us who were friends back in the day sat around a table at the diner and reminisced, laughed, and even teased. To me, that’s always been how to remember someone, and I wish more of that was incorporated into remembrances such as that. I’d rather remember my friend who was an amazing musician than what Jesus said about X. I’d rather acknowledge that he thought he was way better at martial arts than he was, which led to him getting dumped on his ass a few times, than hear about how God called him home because X. It seems so fake, and more to convince people that they shouldn’t be sad because they lost someone because better tomorrow or something.
I mean no disrespect to anyone for whom that is a comfort, but distracting from what’s going on, in my experience, has never been a healthy method of coping. Remembering who the person was and what they meant to you? That’s how you learn to accept what has happened, and remember them fondly.
But yet, we don’t allow people to feel this way when it comes to the death of an artist or celebrity, because you didn’t meet them or know them, so that means you’re not allowed to feel. Feelings are constantly invalidated by those others who are uncomfortable with them, because god forbid things are being discussed that don’t involve you, or are about someone you didn’t personally admire.
Whether it’s about the death of a celebrity, our experience as LGBT people, or anything else that anyone has to deal with, there’s always someone out to tell us what is more important that we’re not focusing on, what is more important than whatever it is being discussed. “Why do you care about X when Y is happening and nobody’s talking about it?”
And usually, whichever Y is, they don’t do anything about it. They only want to stop the conversation, pat themselves on the back for pretending to care about an issue, and then move on like nothing happened because conversation about feelings outside of their box made them uncomfortable, and we can’t be having that shit going on.
Feel what you feel. If an artist meant something to you, celebrate their presence in your life. If a writer captures your imagination, you’re under no obligation to pretend that meant nothing to you when they pass. And for the love of everything, don’t invalidate how someone feels upon their passing just because it isn’t how you feel. We have to deal with that enough without adding grief to something that can’t be expressed without being explained to why it’s wrong and being constantly invalidated.