Why Do We Grieve When Someone Famous Dies?

Written By: Dr. Gloria Lee, Registered Psychologist

In light of Queen Elizabeth II’s death last month, I’ve been asked the question, “Why do I feel so sad that she died? I didn’t even know her.”

Grieving over someone who is famous, like the Queen of England can feel weird. You never knew her personally and you only observed her from afar. Despite her being a perfect stranger, you feel the loss and the sadness, nonetheless. It feels psych-illogical to be grieving the death of someone you never knew.

Sometimes it’s hard to grieve someone that you have no personal memories of. It’s not like you hung out with Queen Elizabeth and are reminiscing about the time when…. However, grieving the death of a famous person is very common.

This person has been part of your life, at least from afar. There’s a sense of personal attachment that you have with famous people.

You know a lot about them (e.g., Queen Elizabeth), they may have been an important part of your past (e.g., Princess Diana), you listened to their music growing up (e.g., George Michael, Michael Jackson, or Prince), they may have represented an ideal (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr.), or they were your teenage crush on TV (e.g., Farah Fawcett, Luke Perry).

You may have felt a deep connection with them. Perhaps their music comforted you through some of your darkest moments, or their show made you laugh out loud. Famous people can be a big part of your life. So, you can often feel a deep sense of loss when they die.

This type of mourning is considered as “ambiguous grief” or “disenfranchised grief”. It’s a type of grief that isn’t validated by others. Or it’s a loss that others think you shouldn’t or wouldn’t grieve for. Sometimes you can’t even put a finger on why you are so sad about this death, but you just are.  

For many of you, you’ve known Queen Elizabeth all your life. You’ve seen her family grow over the years. You’ve watched the royal weddings on TV, and felt like you knew her family, at least from afar. Some might have toured Buckingham Palace in England or seen the memorial for her late husband, Prince Philip.

For me, I admired the Queen’s tenacity and commitment to lifelong service of 70 years.

She is worthy of grieving over, whether you knew her personally or not. Her life and death have affected you and that’s good enough a reason to grieve. Do not allow others to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.

Honour yourself, your loss, and your experience. If you need to reminisce about the memories you have of her, do so. If you want to say your goodbyes, journal your thoughts. Feel the sadness and process your grief.

Talk to others who may be feeling the same way (remember you’re not the only one experiencing this loss. Recall the daily miles long line up outside Westminster Abbey in England of those who were mourning the Queen).   

If you are having a hard time with this loss and would like some support or if it’s stirring up other losses for you and you’d like to explore your grief more, please contact us at Brentwood Counselling Centre today.

Recent Posts