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Mourning those we don’t know

This past Monday, nearly everyone I knew, including myself, was in a tailspin following the announcement that iconic rock star and actor David Bowie had died on Jan. 10 following a secret battle with liver cancer. He was 69 years old.

Bowie had just released a new album, so the news of his death was shocking to say the least.

Most of my Facebook friends were posting tributes to the singer, Youtube videos of his music or other artwork people began to create in Bowie’s memory.

Several of my friends were legitimately crushed by the news of his death, almost inconsolable.

The same happened a few days after that when on Jan. 14, revered British actor Alan Rickman died. He was also 69 and had been having a private battle with cancer.

The man who played Hans Gruber, Professor Snape and the Sheriff of Nottingham would never again marvelously portray another villain.

In late December, one of my favorite musicians, Lemmy Kilmister, frontman of the band Motorhead, died just two days after learning he had cancer.

When news of each death was released, people took to the Internet to eulogize the person they never met, yet still felt a strong connection to.

Why is that? Why do we mourn, with such sincere emotion and grief, those we don’t even know?

I can’t even begin to answer that any better than one person explained in a simple tweet.

She said, “We don’t cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.”

I think that really says it all.

Artists, whether they be musicians, actors, dancers, writers, painters or sculptors, are at their most vulnerable when they are performing or creating. I think that’s why it is so easy to relate to a musician, for example, when they write that one song that perfectly sums up how you’re feeling at that moment. It’s a connection to someone you don’t know, but someone who knows what your struggles are like.

Those kinds of songs can get you through some tough times. Sure, they don’t solve your problems, but they become anthems you can go back and listen to to remind yourself that things do get better. Or an artist’s songs can remind you of a happy moment or time in your life, like a benchmark you can relive over and over again with the push of a button.

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Goblin King, Jareth, who was Bowie’s character in the Jim Henson movie “Labyrinth.” My mother and I watched that movie several times when I was a child and Bowie was certainly unforgettable in that role. Whenever I see photos of Bowie from that movie, it instantly brings back memories of my mother.

My mom and I watched a ton of movies together, and I have the same sort of association with Alan Rickman. One of my favorite action/drama films growing up was “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Rickman played the Sheriff of Nottingham so well I think I was actually scared of him when I was little.

I think it’s quite beautiful and amazing that artists, really good artists, can make such a connection with all of us. And in that way, everyone who is touched by their work is connected with each other as well.