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 admired, but you might also feel indifferent. If you've struggled with a bereavement, their death may bring feelings of grief to the surface again. The 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 differently.

A grieving man with his head in his hands

Different emotions and responses

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

It is also normal to feel sad. Although you may not know them personally, they are in the public eye and it is still possible to feel a connection with them. 

Perhaps you really admired them and so their death marks the end of that feeling. Perhaps they were your favourite singer and you are now experiencing a sense of loss that you will never get to see them perform live again or they were a similar age to you and their death brings your own mortality into question.  

There are many reasons why you might feel sad about a public figure dying. You might feel sad about the way they died; particularly if they had been unwell for a long period of time, died suddenly or took their own life. You may also feel sad because you empathise with the friends and family of the person who died.

A constant reminder

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

Some people may have experienced disenfranchised grief. This is when the person who is grieving is denied the chance to openly grieve their loss. This could lead to feelings of shame, guilt, low mood, anger, frustration and sadness.

When someone well-known dies, events where people are openly mourning allow their grief to come to the surface. Therefore, people shouldn’t be surprised if the death of a public figure triggers their own bereavement and sense of loss.

Take time to process your own grief

If you are grieving the death of someone well-known, reach out to friends and family.  Sometimes, the amount of media coverage can be hard to take, so it might help to switch off your social media channels or the news, so that you can process your own grief.

It might also help to write about your feelings. If the person who died has a social media account, it may help to send a message to pass on your condolences and this may also bring comfort to the friends and family who are also 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