I lost my grandfather in August of 1997.
He was a wonderful man, faithful and beloved by all who knew him. When we got word that he was dying, my father and I hopped on a plane to Pensacola, Florida to be with him and the rest of our family.
He died just a couple of hours after we arrived; I think he waited for us to get there, a lovely final gift.
My grandfather died on August 30, within just an hour or so of Princess Diana’s tragic death in Paris. While my family grieved a very personal loss, the entire world seemed to be grieving the tragic loss of Princess Diana.
Every television and radio station, newspaper and magazine was covering her death, her children, every detail of the car wreck and the weeping crowds outside of Buckingham Palace.
As someone who grew up watching Princess Diana, I too was shocked and saddened by her sudden death.
I remember calling a dear friend to tell her that my grandpa had died, and she responded “I am so sorry. Did you hear that Princess Diana died?”
I don’t think she intended to be insensitive, it was just all anybody was talking about.
It was such a surreal experience to be living with the reality of personal grief and the public grief that seemed to permeate the world in that strange week.
This past weekend, the world lost a legendary basketball player, Kobe Bryant, his teen daughter, along with seven other people, in a tragic helicopter accident.
Almost immediately, fans started making their way to the Staples Center or to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, the sports complex where Kobe’s helicopter was heading for a tournament.
The media also rushed to those places to report on the scene, and gather reactions from those who came to mourn together.
Few of those who gathered in these public places knew Kobe personally, but along with millions of others, they were inspired by the athleticism and skill he bought to the Lakers, and to the game of basketball.
I confess to not fully understanding the deep grief some people experience in the loss of a celebrity they did not know personally, but I certainly understand that such losses can tap all the griefs in our lives. One of the many blessings of being in community with one another is the ability to share our communal loss.
Those who knew Kobe personally, his closest family and friends, were gathered in less public places to share their more intimate grief.
My heart goes out to his wife, Vanessa. I can barely fathom losing a spouse so tragically, but to also lose a daughter at the same moment is simply beyond anyone’s worst nightmares.
Other families also lost loved ones in that accident, and they too will likely be consumed by the public nature of the grief over the loss of a celebrated athlete and father.
Beyond the bright media spotlight, so many families in our communities, many who you know personally, are facing loss and grief of their own right now. Their stories will not make the headlines, but their lives are in mourning.
I write all of this as I am reflecting on the public and private nature of grief. As a pastor, I am often privy to the deepest moments of loss and grief, the moments where sorrow and sadness threaten to steal all the goodness that remains in life.
I have personally walked through profound grief a few times in my own life. As a pastor, I am also tasked with helping to guide people through public expressions of grief as we honor a person’s life and legacy.
I have gathered with families who truly wished to celebrate the lives of their loved ones with big services and even parties, and others who would prefer just a quiet prayer and time to process the loss on their own without any sort of gathering. Either of these options are fine.
If I’ve learned anything over the years, it is that we all grieve in our own ways and in our own time. It is certainly not our place to tell anyone how to grieve a loss.
What I do know is whether our griefs are public or private, personal or shared, we all carry them.
Let us care for one another with tenderness and compassion. Hug the ones you love and reach out to someone who is hurting or grieving. We are all in this together.
Rev. Dr. Amy Aitken, is pastor at Riviera United Methodist Church in Redondo Beach