Eight days ago Michael Clarke Duncan, who you probably know better from the Green Mile but who I remember as the Kingpin in Affleck’s Daredevil, passed away having never fully recovered from a heart attack. Whenever a celebrity dies people take to the internet to mourn, and I saw the following comment on one of MGK’s very simple memorial posts:
What struck me was what exactly made this summer more heartbreaking than any other. Was it the suicide of Top Gun filmmaker Tony Scott? The passing of puppeteer Jerry Nelson? Moreover, was this summer any more “heartbreaking” than 2009, when Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and Billy Mays died?
Billy Mays was the spokesperson for OxiClean, as well as a slew of other products. When he died thousands mourned, with many wondering who could ever replace such a huge figure in the infomercial world. There are groups commemorating him, with a Facebook page called “i remember where i was when Billy Mays died 😦“, and a group on Experience Project called “I Remember Billy Mays“.
Billy Mays was a person who was famous for “being famous” and being able to “shout his lines rapidly while hunched-over.”
On Sunday evening my grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, opened the door down to the basement and closed it behind her. Standing there in the dark she had a stroke and fell down the stairs. In the ICU of St. Michael’s Hospital she passed away just as the priest finished administering the last rites.
Liwayway Angeles was born March 10th, 1924, and left her family too soon at the age of 88. While she had been struggling with Alzheimer’s for over a decade, it was within the past month that a daily dose of coconut oil had begun taking effect on her mind. She had become more lucid, and happier, forming complete sentences when it had been so difficult in years past.
I lived with my grandparents for the first three years of college, from the summer of 2008 to the summer of 2011. While the dementia from her Alzheimer’s was difficult more often than not, I took it upon myself to help them in every way I could, even if that meant simply sitting next to her on the couch and marvelling with her at the size of the crowds on the television.
My grandmother, or Nanay [mother in Tagalog] Two, as we had come to call her, was a lovely, kind, intelligent woman who was victim of a disease that robbed her of her memories and played havoc on her mood. But as one of her older grandchildren I can remember a time when she was well, when she played the piano and asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.
Last night almost twenty family members gathered around her bed in the ICU to say good-bye before they took her down to the morgue. We were there actually, sincerely mourning the passing of a life that had affected every one of us in ways we couldn’t fully explain.
These weren’t tears like the ones I saw in the eyes of my classmate one January morning in 2008, with news that Heath Ledger had just died. This was someone that we knew personally, who we loved even during the most difficult times.
I’m not saying that the passing of Billy Mays wasn’t a significant, sorrowful experience for those who knew him. I’m not saying that Michael Jackson’s music didn’t have a profound, and even life-changing effect on those who listened to it. I’m not saying that an actor’s performance in a film and the knowledge that it’s their last isn’t a sombre thing.
What I’m saying is that there is a difference between mourning a celebrity and mourning someone you actually know, just like there’s a difference between “loving” Farrah Fawcett and loving your grandmother. Death in any case is a powerful, real thing, but how we choose to react to it is important. Sadness at the loss of a celebrity makes sense, but we need to realize how much it pales in comparison to actual, palpable loss.
Rest in peace, Nanay Two.
March 10th, 1924 – September 9th, 2012.
I miss you already.