We mourned for Peaches Geldof because we are human
There has been much tut-tutting at the public grief which broke in waves across social media within minutes of the death of Peaches Geldof being announced. Apparently, it is "manufactured" and a symptom of our celebrity-obsessed Twitter culture, with much of the sympathy as profound as an 'lol' at the end of a text message.
Worse, we're all emotionally incontinent rabid sentimentalists desperate to jump on the tragedy bandwagon – after all, Peaches was often castigated in life and, let's face it, she didn't really contribute that much. She wasn't Tony Benn, or Steve Jobs.
She was a media dahling who occasionally turned up on daytime TV shows. Which misses the point entirely, of course. For we have mourned Peaches not because we are ghouls wallowing in misery, but because we are human. And part of being human is the gift to empathise, the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes.
Why and how the 25-year-old mother-of-two died is still a mystery, but either way we are struck by the terrible sadness: a woman who couldn't escape from the traumas of her life, or a woman taken away from her children and family in a cruelly arbitrary fashion.
It is a death so apparently random that it sends a tremor of fear through us, bringing back those pulpit warnings of how the Grim Reaper would come like a thief in a night, that we would never know the hour.
Just because we don't actually know someone doesn't mean that we can't feel for them. We feel for many whom we have never met: the parents whose child died; the friend of a friend who lost the will to live when their spouse died. The man a few streets away who took his own life. Their stories move us, shape us and haunt us. And that, as fleeting as the intensity of those feelings may be, is only right.
I think, too, in the case of Peaches, we are aghast at the Greek tragedy of it all. How can Sir Bob save so many lives on another continent, but seem powerless to prevent the loss of those closest to him? Why do bad things happen to good people?
And there is it again – fear. Clearly, being a decent sort, as most of us strive to be, offers no protection when it comes to being engulfed by terrible events.
Since Diana, there's been a kickback at public displays of sadness. The week that followed her death is now looked back upon by some as an odd aberration, when briefly the country went insane.
All of which fuels the growing disdain about those who express grief online, much the same way a certain type of person rolls their eyes at flowers left by roadsides, or taped to a lamp-posts across Northern Ireland, those little shrines on blind corners and at crossroads where a loved one has died. In both cases, the inference is that the public nature of it is somehow tacky.
In fact, each is actually rather beautiful. That brief but substantial, collective expression of sorrow, love and support, forever floating around in cyberspace, a communal pause when everyday things – work – seem inconsequential and everyday things – family – seem everything.
And why shouldn't people remember where a loved one died? It's only natural that place will take on a kind of holy power all of its own: of loss, longing, transition. It may comfort the Geldofs to know that Peaches died in the home where she had been happiest, as a young mother.
So, yes, reprehensible as it may seem to some, we do feel it when a celebrity dies. They are part of the commonality of our experience. We all 'knew' Peaches Geldof. She was part of our lives. Maybe not an important part of our lives, but she was there all the same. Beyond reason, higgedly-piggedly she became part of the cultural furniture.
Indeed, in many ways, it is the walk-ons who pierce our hearts so stingingly when they die. Prime ministers and captains of industry can depart with all the official solemnity the country can muster and yet we look on, strangely unmoved.
But a shadowy figure from the TV of our childhood? We are reduced to genuine sadness and, yes, in some cases tears. We turn up one more time, like the horseman in that great poem The Listeners, to keep our promise with fame, to see if there is anything we can do.
Peaches. Diana. Those fading blooms blowing in the wind, the crackle of Cellophane, the blur of faded writing, as our car sweeps past. They are all shadows of our own mortality.
It is only right that we should mourn, shiver and then strike out once more in search of the sunny uplands.
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