I’ve been thinking about grief for a while now in fact for about 38 years, since my brother died in 1978. Then again in 2011 when my Mum died and again more recently when my father died in December.
It became a focus of a different kind when the news broke that we had lost David Bowie and Alan Rickman in the same week, at the same age and from the same disease.
The reaction on social media cemented a notion, which had been permeating for me after I was told of the death of my father; apparently there is an appropriate way to feel when someone dies based on personal connection.
To me the definition of personal connection is being someone’s child but I was told by some, that as we hadn’t spoken for 4 years, this connection was null and void.
Which was, in the most negative use of the word, “interesting” to be in receipt of.
I find it fascinating that opinion now rules the day, on any issue you care to mention. The current narrative on opinion is this, ‘if enough people feel that a fact is a fact, then that fact is, in fact, a fact. FACT’
Is someone a loathsome beast; imbued with the tendencies displayed by fascists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, ableists, misogynists and sexual offenders, just because enough people have decided they are without evidence?
Well we need to ask the angry mob. If they cry online havoc and let slip the dogs of war, then this is a fact. Fact, not opinion, fact. It’s basic maths you see.
This mathematical equation is then transmuted by the media into an opinion piece, which uses the mob to its advantage, in the sure and safe knowledge that hits to the piece (otherwise known as traffic), don’t lie.
This becomes and omni-perma-fact, which will be referenced, cross-referenced, recycled and re-hashed forever.
As to the target, well who cares? They are one, the mob are many. If the target don’t like it, that’s just their opinion. If the target demonstrate the reasons why this isn’t the case, that’s just their opinion. If the target attempts to articulate their distress of the mass onslaught, they are triggering the mob, who have “facts” and are the real victim.
It’s funny how a bullying mob of many, attacking an individual, are nobly defending themselves. But hey, I don’t make the rules.
The mob does. It’s a war of attrition, omission and commission and as we know, in war, truth is the first casualty.
So, back to grief.
I would like to regale you with a cool anecdote about my first experience of David Bowie’s music.
No, I first learnt of him through the single (Google, that word young people) “The Laughing Gnome”
I think I was five but again five is a very long time ago for me. I do remember the single though because I remember thinking “that high bit isn’t a real gnome, its the same man’s voice only speeded up” I was a cynical child.
Anyway I liked it. Listened to it a lot and felt no need at that point in my life to pursue the gnome singer's back catalogue….
Then the 80’s happened. I went to 6th form and started going out with friends. This was a revelation for me. It involved alcohol, boys, smoking, crimped hair, red trousers, a toga dress, ruffled shirts and a club called “The Fridge”.
Shrewsbury had an alternative music night (park Lane Suite) in the function room of a much larger club (Park Lane) and the man who ran it was called Dave Thomas. It was very good and they'd play extended versions of songs, which I learned to my cost when I got up to dance to "Take a walk on the wild side' without going for a pee first. I was 16, I couldn't walk off the dance floor halfway through, people might have thought I didn't know what I was doing, are you mad?
In fact a few years later "The Stone Roses" played there and the crowd was so big that we had to spill over into the rest of the club. The disappointment expressed to me in the toilet by one of their usual punters sitting on a bin, swigging from a bottle of vodka and whose expectations for the night had been altered exponentially, ran thus, “No offence love but I get glammed up like this to meet a bloke and get back at my ex, not to listen to this shit”
So it was an education for me. Here I heard music that I’d never heard before. My brother who had been my reference for all things like that, had died, my sister was married and my parent’s musical tastes ran to Ray Conniff and his orchestra. No offence to Ray or any members of his esteemed orchestra, but I’m sure they would all agree, with a show of hands, that they were no David Bowie.
So that’s when I heard him properly. His performance at "Live Aid", be suited and with such style and perfection, did something so profound to my teenage hormone saturated brain, that I’ve never seen the like of it again. It's shallow of me I know but re-read the extended single story again if my credibility is in doubt.
His lyrics, his phrasing, his melodies and his technical wizardry are spoken of by those far more equipped to detail them than I am, but where the grief police rush in where angels fear to tread, is over the loss felt by millions whom David Bowie spoke to personally, through his work.
Because he spoke directly to our individual emotions, it isn’t whether each of us knew him, for me the hallmark of a great artist is that you feel that they know you, your life, your experiences and their expression of it tells you that it’s ok.
Saying the previously unsaid, expressing the pain, the joy, the fear, the anger, the hatred, the ambivalence, the passion and the confusion of what it means to be alive brokers a connection between people.
It penetrates isolation, heals wounds, calms distress, enhances love and liberates our frustration, through knowledge that our experiences are known, detailed and expressed.
That’s why we grieve those who we don’t know. That’s why we cherish actors, singers, poets, musicians, composers, writers and anyone who releases our hearts and minds from the prison society sends us to at times. They hold a mirror in front of us and in word and deed, our heroes show us that they understand.
Lastly, having lost my brother, my mum and my father, I can assure you, that people expressing sadness after their death, that the people I love would be missed and they had been valued, isn’t inappropriate.
The only thing inappropriate about grief is anyone claiming you have no right to your feelings.
So whether it’s by mob outrage or an individual assertion of correctness, the only person who knows how you feel when you lose someone you love, is you.