The Ark

Whatever floats your boat...

It’s an odd thing to mourn the passing of a public figure. I’m not referring to the “saddened to learn of their passing” kind of sentiment, but the kicked-in-the-gut misery of grief that’s usually reserved for the loss of those we knew and loved. It seems somehow inappropriate to truly grieve for people we didn’t know—but knew of. There really isn’t a name for this variety of grief nor any social convention for comforting those experiencing it.

I’ve been deeply mourning the loss of the writer Sue Grafton for the last four days. I have not grieved like this for the loss of a public figure since John Lennon died. In fact, John received a measure of grief in my heart that was equal to the grief I have experienced for personal friends. I grieved for a long time for him and I expect I will experience the same for Sue Grafton.

Both of these artists touched me deeply. Many other artists have touched me deeply too, people whose passing saddened me. But John Lennon and Sue Grafton shared the capture of my perpetual interest in them—until each of them died, I was always looking forward to what they might do next, how they were going to touch me next. Both of them simply got better and better at what they did. Other artists have touched me only for a time in my life and then my interest moved on. John Lennon and Sue Grafton spoke to me each in their way and never stopped speaking until death interrupted them.

 

John Lennon moved a whole generation of people and when he died, nearly everyone I knew was experiencing the same grief I was. It was a great balm to share that grief. But John Lennon became a public figure when fame was a more homogenized phenomenon. Literally every American my age knows of him. Since his time, fame has become more esoteric and as stratified as a point of bandwidth. Not all readers have heard of Sue Grafton, not even all mystery readers, even though she is considered a titan of the genre. To many people the mystery genre seems a trifling and superficial entertainment, even when compared to pop music, so to admit to anyone that my heart is aching because a mystery writer passed away sounds downright loopy.

 

But here’s the ache of it: public figures touch other people’s lives, often in profound, direct, and personal ways. Sue Grafton, for instance, got to crawl around in my head for the last 35 years and plant characters and vistas and new insights in me. But with public figures, we non-public folks don’t touch them back, except in the indirect way of helping to provide their livelihood. It’s a one-way communication for which, when we’ve been profoundly moved, we can hardly provide thanks. There is a twisted loneliness inherent in that, the kind of loneliness that could be assuaged a bit by sharing one’s grief.

 

If only admitting to such a grief weren’t so damned loopy.

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Comment by BlancheNoE on January 7, 2018 at 9:54am

Not loopy at all. Don't kid yourself. From my own experience there is most likely a solid reason. Possibilities ?

1.) You might actually be related to Sue or John. Maybe not first cousins but we now know from science that like-genetics make for like-minds. 2.) A hardwired connection from childhood that's so obvious that we can't see it. John or Sue may have been playing, or being read during a milestone event in your life with yourself alone or a loved one. 3.) We are all really the same person and we're (hopefully) drawn to the best of the best of our attributes and we feel like a very good part of us has been vaporized.

 I could go on and ON and ON but my point is: Nope. Not loopy. You *did* lose a loved one after all. I didn't leave the house for 3 days when Lennon was killed because my face was swollen shut from crying because he and his mates sang me through my mother's cancer and long, slow death. After reading my first Algernon Blackwood story and looking him up, I cried for an hour after finding out he died 14 years before I was born because I knew there wouldn't be more new material from him. Okay, maybe it *is* loopy and you *are* loopy but if so, I am totally loopy with you.

Comment by NatureJunkie on January 9, 2018 at 12:16am

Blanche, I had to Google Algernon Blackwood. I'll definitely be downloading and reading some of his stuff soon. Thanks for the reference. The dead-before-you-discovered-them-sadness--I felt that way about Eva Cassidy.

I deeply appreciate your understanding, Amy. I've been visiting Sue Grafton's Facebook page and I see that I'm not the only stranger in her life who's mourning her. I was thinking yesterday that my intersection with Sue Grafton lasted almost as long as the entire time John Lennon was alive, and it was more than half of my life. John got you through your mother's cancer, Sue got me through my mother's cancer, as well as a lot of other bad shit. What an odd and beautiful gift to use your art to comfort the hearts of strangers so outside your knowing. I envy that about them. 

Comment by pendragon on January 9, 2018 at 6:57pm

Howdy NatureJunkie
Greetings from Not Europe

I can understand that. I was about seven years old on November 22 1963. I never met the man but I was devastated because I somehow realized that something irreparable had happened. I still grieve.

Comment by NatureJunkie on January 15, 2018 at 3:37pm

Hello Pen. I was seven also when JFK died and I absorbed the same realizations about it. I can't say I grieved for him at seven but I sensed the grief of most of the adults around me, even school teachers weeping. As an adult, I find assassination deeply offensive and I grieve after all of them.

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