Here are some things it might be nice to say when somebody dies:
–I’m very sorry for your loss.
–It will pray for them. [But this one is only nice if you know the bereaved’s beliefs and you know they wouldn’t be offended by that].
–[The deceased] was such a wonderful person.
–I remember when [share xyz happy memory of the deceased].
–What, if anything, can we do to help you?
–When will the funeral service be?
–Don’t feel obligated to call me, but if you ever need to talk to someone, I’m available at any time.
Or, of course, you can just listen attentively. Sometimes there are no words.
Here are some things that are almost never okay to say when somebody dies:
–Our fervent Rosaries have finally been answered.
–It was probably because [the deceased] took birth control. I don’t know that she took birth control, but she looks like somebody who might. Birth control causes heart attacks. Would you like to hear about NFP and the Catholic church?
–We should remember that [the deceased] was gay, excuse me I mean same-sex-attracted. That’s a very unhealthy lifestyle.
–If they did not repent of their sins, they are in hell. Otherwise, they are in purgatory.
–[The deceased] was a heretic, after all.
–Their life’s work wasn’t all that good anyway.
Now, I don’t think that most people would say such awful things directly to the face of a bereaved person who had lost a loved one (some would). But they are the kind of thing that gets bandied around when a celebrity dies. We had an opportunity to watch a lot of that in the past year. It’s shocking how tin-eared, ungracious and gossipy people get when a movie star or a musician passes away.
There are those who act as though they’re genuinely happy when a celebrity suffers misfortune. It makes their day. Finally, they’re free to wag their jaws about how a dead person deserved what they got. Finally, an opportunity to de-rail a conversation with a long chat about their favorite moral issues. A chance to look more sophisticated than those in mourning.
This is not okay.
A movie star or a musician is not a different sort of being than an accountant, a cashier or a waiter. They are humans. They are humans who make their living by being entertaining for an audience, yes, but they’re still humans. They don’t lose their human dignity by appearing at a film or a concert. Gossip about them is still gossip and a sin. Speculating about their immortal souls is still judging your neighbor.
Rejoicing in their death is still rejoicing in the death of a human being.
Mocking people who are sad is still mocking a bereaved person.
Now, it can be tricky to take the way you’re supposed to behave when someone you know personally dies, and apply it to the death of somebody famous who you didn’t know personally. How does mourning the dead and comforting the bereaved look in this case?
For one thing, you can refrain from making fun of people who are sad. They have a right to be sad. Death is a sad thing. The death of someone we admired, someone who brought us joy and entertainment, is a sad thing even if we didn’t know that person– in some ways, it’s sadder, because we would have liked to know that person and don’t know what to do with our feelings now.
You can also refrain from gossiping about and judging people, dead and alive. Just don’t go on comment threads where people are sharing celebrity horror stories. There are probably websites you shouldn’t look at and magazines you shouldn’t subscribe to, as well.
You can always pray for the dead. If you can think of a way of saying you’re praying for the dead that isn’t self-aggrandizing, you can say it, but either way you can pray.
There might be something else you can do. Maybe the dead celebrity had a favorite charity whose activities you agree with, which you can donate to. Maybe you could just share a story about one piece of art that celebrity made that you enjoyed. If you didn’t enjoy their work, you could have the courtesy to keep quiet about it.
Manners and morals don’t go out the window, when dealing with a person who was famous.
A famous person is a human being.
(image via Pixabay)