It's been a harrowing few days. First, we had the death of Natasha Richardson, wife of Northern Ireland's Liam Neeson.
Then, on Mother's Day, we woke to the news that Jade Goody had died in the early hours of the morning. With both tragedies, there was a ghastly inevitability, a countdown to only one denouement: death. For Natasha, it lasted just a few days since that fall on a nursery ski slope. For Jade, it had been a more drawn out process before she, finally, as we say in these parts 'got away'.
Both tragedies have received huge media coverage, filling newspaper pages and dominating news bulletins. We knew the outcome, and yet many of us were compelled to follow these women's lives to the very end. There was Liam on his way into the hospital, later attending the wake. There is Jackiey weeping outside her daughter's house.
And our avid attention to these events has prompted a kind of second wave of articles by commentators who are unnerved by what they describe as this new kind of ghoulism. What sort of spectator sport is this, they ask, that has millions locked on to the deaths of the rich and famous? Culturally, they see it as a new low, the breaking of one of the last taboos.
But the reality is there's nothing new in our interest in the lives and deaths of the famous. There are websites dedicated to Hollywood gravestones. There are databases of ‘who died how' on the internet to track the demises of film stars and celebrities.
And even here we have bestselling guidebooks to historic graveyards in Belfast, one penned by our own Belfast Lord Mayor, Tom Hartley.
From Brutus's oration to the frenzied crowd over the bloodied corpse of Caesar through to Rudolph Valentino, Eva Peron, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Diana, Princess of Wales, the macabre fascination with mortality dramatically displayed has been a perennial showstopper. Long before Jade, we were treated to photographs of Rock Hudson dying in Paris, taken through the hospital window.
And before we get too prissy about it, one need only look at the cult of the grassy knoll and the Kennedys as latter day saints to see how powerful the imagery of the sudden deaths of the famous can become milestones in the lives of generations.
So, it's a reality TV celebrity and a lustrous daughter of a distinguished acting dynasty, married to one of the biggest current Hollywood stars, who hold our attention at this moment.
Because while it's true that the deaths of those around us in our own sphere will change the direction of our own lives, with infinitely greater force and deeper emotional power, it's also true that powerful people, famous people, often only become recognised in the influence they have when their own lives end in sensational circumstances.
Car crash. Plane crash. Assassination. Freak accident. Disease. Alcohol. Drugs. The tragedies of their lives lived in extreme wealth and privilege take on an added frisson for the rest of us. And, yes, we watch their tragedies the way we watched their celluloid performances, or their stage acts. Why not?
Of course it's true they're only human, ‘just like us'. We know that, they know that, most of the time. But when that truth is brought home to them and to us, is it really indiscreet or unfair or just nosiness for we, the public, to take the opportunity to observe the minute details of tragedy at our safe distance from it?
On the whole, I think, the Press has handled the recent deaths of Jade and Natasha well. What has happened is not novel or unusual, and rest assured, there will be another one along soon.
Yes, there is always talk of wealthy and famous people being somehow cursed, particularly if there is a history of sadness in their connection — the Redgraves, the Kennedys, the Guinnesses.
But that's not where the fascination lies. They are no more blighted than any of us, and that's the fascination.
It's that no amount of money or power can divert nor deflect the fatal blow.
It's not that they're cursed, but that they're just not blessed enough.