What It Means To Grieve Someone You’ve Never Met

grieve someone you've never met
Photo by Liza Summer

I first saw his face in old french movies my parents and I used to watch during the summer holidays. His face was so unusual; it was like looking at an ancient sculpture. Every time he appeared on screen, I was filled with so much warmth. It made me forget whatever was wrong at the time. It might sound cheesy, but to me, he made life and love seem easy and worth living.

When I heard of his death a week ago, it took a few hours for it to sink in. I thought I’d be sad for a short while and move on. His films or photos weren’t going anywhere. I could still hear his voice anytime I wanted to. Nothing had technically changed. And yet, it felt as if something had.

I didn’t push the topic with anyone. It wasn’t worth the risk of receiving predictable remarks such as “you didn’t even know him” or “he’s not real” thrown in my face. It wouldn’t have helped. All I knew was that morning, afternoon, and evening, I was sad. And that sadness wasn’t going anywhere.

Grieving someone you didn’t know is not so different from grieving those you do. It can be incredibly difficult if you keep it all bottled up inside.

We often hold on to things, people, or places that we associate with joyful memories. It helps to chase away the hard times. His face reminded me of easier times. I credit him for the artistic direction my life took after years of interrogation. Even today, I aspire to recreate in my work that effortlessness he embodied. I hope the stories I write will create that same sense of wonder he brought me.

There was never a question that this relationship was similar to the ones you have in everyday life. Given a chance to meet him, I am unsure if I would have gone ahead with it. Why risk something that is already perfect the way it is? We rarely have instances in life where it is ok to accept things for free. I never felt like I had to give anything in return. It was easy, which is what made this relationship so special.

I’ve often been tempted to cut out painful periods of my life to move on. But I always ended up feeling cheated.

Why should I remove years of my life to focus in order to heal?

Since I first came across his work, I’ve continually turned to him for entertainment, inspiration, and comfort. Regardless of how bad your life gets, it is comforting to know that some things follow you through thick and thin. Lasting memories turn your life into a long and continuous journey instead of a series of disposable episodes. I found it reassuring.

I was reminded of a scene where his character ironically asks for a “pink car with green stars” that he then receives and must reluctantly drive through Brazil. I couldn’t think of a better way to illustrate my state of mind. Grieving someone you’ve never met is a little outside the norm but so are most lasting memories. This is what makes them unique and personal to you.

It didn’t take this death to realize that people don’t always stick around, but memories do. I told myself that it wasn’t him being alive that brought inspiration into my life. Memories don’t always have to be baggage that prevents you from keeping your feet on the ground. They can also bring reassurance that if your life decides to take a curious turn again, you’ll always have something to anchor you. When I remember him, I remember me, eager, cheerful, and at peace.

Why should it be strange to wish a long and healthy life to anything or anyone that brought you joy?

My advice to you if you are going through something similar is to give yourself time to grieve. There is no point in fighting something you have no business fighting. With time, they’ll go back to being the unconditional source of comfort and inspiration they’ve always been. Only you can choose to forget them.

To this phenomenal being, rest in peace, my friend. And thank you.

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