When heroes die
Have you watched your heroes die? And I’m not talking about the death of heroes who died way too young. There comes a time in everyone’s life when our “heroes” grow old and start dying one by one. It hurts us, of course, but why? I never knew any of my heroes personally, yet I mourned them as they passed. I could never picture them as old and weak. They remained forever young and strong in my mind until the inevitable – death. I think the short answer is that, like most people, it reminded me of my own mortality. Many of my heroes have died over the years, starting with those who were near and dear to me: my great-grandparents, my grandparents and ultimately my parents. And then, of course, we have the “other” heroes that were not related.
We watch our high-school friends, teammates and old lovers fade away into obscurity. And as that happens, we begin to realize that we’re moving to the “head of the departure line.” Every time I return to a SEAL reunion, I note how many are now gone. In the beginning, the WW II-era vets had a special table at the front of the banquet, followed by the Korean War-era vets and then the Vietnam War-era vets. With each year that passed, our special table moved closer and closer to the front of the room. Today, we are at the front. Yet another sobering reminder. Christopher Hitchens, author, columnist, essayist, orator, journalist and social critic, said it best: “It’ll happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on, but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you! That’s the reflection that I think most upsets people about their demise…”
Obviously, these people are not immortal, yet they seem to be beyond that because of the way their performances have moved us. Consequently, it’s only natural that their passing shocks us. This is especially true with film and music celebrities for my generation. My cowboy and frogmen stars have ridden and swum into the sunset, yet they live on in my memory. These actors weren’t real people to me. I only knew them as the characters they played. They were icons, but I was too young to understand that. They never aged. In my mind, they continued to be the strong people who appeared on the screen and left me fantasizing about how cool it would be to be them. I didn’t want them to grow old, partly because it reminded me of my own mortality. And that sucked! But I think it hits us harder with music because we continue to hear old songs, sometimes daily.
Old songs never seem to fade away
“Songs get stuck in our heads and form the backdrop of our lives. We can immediately have that visceral reaction of hearing a song and having a memory completely attached to it to the point where we feel like we’re time-traveling back when we first liked that song or played that song all the time. That impact stays with you. We can kind of delude ourselves that time really hasn’t moved forward, then when our cultural icons are in poor health or pass away, it’s a reality check with the passage of time. We don’t reckon with the mortality of our idols — they seem to supersede that because of the way their art has moved us, so it’s a shock to the system,” according to Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland.
The power of artists and others
There’s no reason to feel guilty about grieving the death of an artist you’ve never met. Part of the power of artists, musicians and others is that they impact many people personally. The passing of one of these icons makes us mourn our youth. “We’re all aging at the same rate, and I think when we see the fact that death can take somebody who seems to supersede that and be timeless, it’s even scarier. It’s a reality check when otherwise you’ve been able to ignore the passage of time,” says Bonior.
When your heroes die
Don’t mourn the passing of your heroes. Celebrate that vibrant time you spent together. Savor the excitement they provided on the radio, TV screen or movie screen. Remember your fantasies and wishes and your best efforts to be like your heroes. Thank them for all they meant to you and let them go. After all, you will always have that special relationship with them that no one else could ever have. Or does it just seem that way?