Grieving for a public figure

When a public figure dies, the news can elicit a range of emotions. You may feel a deep sense of loss if they were someone you admire, but it’s also OK to feel indifferent. If you’re coping with your own bereavement too, you might find that their death brings feelings of your own grief to the surface again. 

The most important thing, says Sue Ryder's Head of Bereavement, Bianca Neumann, is that there is no right or wrong response and we should respect that everyone will feel or react differently.

Different emotions and responses

However you feel when someone in the public eye dies, is normal. You may feel nothing and find it hard to understand why people are upset. However, it is important to be respectful and understand that everyone grieves differently.

It is also normal if you feel a sense of sadness around their death, particularly if they had been unwell for a long period of time, if they had died suddenly or if they had taken their own life. Although they are in the public eye and so you may not know them personally, it is still possible to feel a connection with them and empathise with how their friends or family may feel.

Perhaps you really admired them and so their death marks the end of that feeling. Perhaps they were a similar age to you and so their death brings your own mortality into question. Or perhaps, as with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, they were a constant figure in your life, present throughout many moments and milestones, and so their death leads you to reflect both on their life and yours. 

A constant reminder

Often there is extensive media coverage when a well-known person dies, and this can sometimes act as a constant reminder of both their death and your own grief. On some occasions, the media coverage might portray the person in a negative way, and this can also feel very upsetting for someone coming to terms with the death. 

If the amount of media coverage is hard to take, try to switch off your social media channels or the news and focus on taking care of yourself. 

Some people may also experience disenfranchised grief when a public figure dies. This is when the person who is grieving is denied the chance to openly grieve their loss, perhaps because how they are feeling doesn’t align with the views of others.

If you’re unable to express your grief with your family, for example, you might start to feel low or experience shame, guilt, anger or frustration. This can be difficult to cope with, so try to find a friend or someone you trust or feel comfortable with to talk about how you’re feeling. 

Take time to process your own grief

When someone well-known dies, events where people are openly mourning allow their grief to come to the surface. This is why you shouldn’t be surprised if the death of a public figure triggers your own bereavement and sense of loss. If you're finding things difficult, try to be open with your family or friends about how you're feeling. We’ve also got lots of information and advice about how to cope with your grief after a bereavement

You might also find it useful to write about your feelings or send a message to pass on your condolences, perhaps through laying flowers or sharing your thoughts on their social media. This, in turn, may also bring comfort to the friends and family who are grieving.

Online Bereavement Support

Our Online Bereavement Support provides helpful resources, qualified counsellors and a community of others with similar experiences to help you through your grief.

Bianca Neumann, Head of Bereavement at Sue Ryder

Head of Bereavement

Bianca Neumann

Bianca is a healthcare professional and experienced psychologist and hypnotherapist, with a demonstrated history of working in the hospice, hospital and healthcare industry.