Today is Grief Awareness Day in the USA. Coming hot on the heels of the shock of Chadwick Boseman’s death, it feels like an appropriate time to share some of my thoughts.
Chadwick Boseman was a black actor who, among other roles, brought a black superhero into the mainstream consciousness. His importance to a whole generation of children is difficult to put into words. Positive black male role models have always been there, but they haven’t always been given the spotlight they deserved.
The character he played would have been enough for his death to register widely. Indeed, within hours of the news breaking, the internet was full of “what now for Avengers?” type articles, and speculation about whether his character would be recast.
The fact that he died at the age of 43 would have been enough for his death to feel tragic to a wider audience. Then when his family revealed that Chadwick had actually filmed these action movies while secretly fighting colon cancer, having multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy he became a real life hero. A real life super human.
I was stunned. Like most of the rest of the world, it would never have occurred to me that the muscled chest of the Black Panther encased a less than healthy body. It was one of my favourite movies in the Marvel series. My mother has had colon cancer, and I am 43. Chadwick Boseman’s death felt personal.
This morning I was reminded of how the UK went into shock and mourning almost as one, when Princess Diana died. Tomorrow will be 23 years since our TV screens played nothing but footage of that tunnel in Paris.
I very nearly met her once, when I was little. She came to Australia on her honeymoon tour with Prince Charles and one of her many engagements was opening a building – maybe a library – near us. I was 4 years old and she couldn’t see me reaching my hand up over the barrier with my little posy of flowers from our garden. She looked ethereal, she seemed to glow like a fairy in my eyes.
As I grew up and her life changed, I remember judging some of her choices harshly. And then she died. She was just 36. Suddenly the same papers that had made millions from slagging her off and making snide commentary about her every move were filled with hero worship. It was bizarre.
We were all carried along with it, and the mood was sombre. Everywhere.
I went to Hyde Park with a friend to be in London for her funeral. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. London in complete silence.
I remember questioning why. Why were all of these people who had been devouring salacious gossip about her now eulogising her as if she’d been their favourite saint? Why were people bursting into tears all over the place when they couldn’t possibly all have known her? Why did I feel so bereft?
Diana’s death was a shock to everybody. She was young and vivacious and then she was gone. No matter their political stance, everybody felt sorry for her boys. There was so much tragedy for them.
More than that though, I feel it was like a gateway opening. Somehow her death allowed everybody to openly grieve, whomever or whatever they had lost. We were all allowed to cry in public and private. We were all allowed to wear black and just feel our feelings. I’m not even sure that a lot of people knew the who or what they were grieving, just that they had to let stuff out and now seemed like a good opportunity.
So when a famous person dies, and people who didn’t even know them are affected, we must remember to be kind. We have no idea what is going on for them in their own lives, or what that public death has triggered in them. Chadwick Boseman was the epitome of someone who kept his battles private.
When talking about a scene in Black Panther he said T’Challa “is basically saying, ‘We have a responsibility to the world to be a beacon of light.’ ”
I feel the same is true for us all. We have a responsibility to be beacons of kindness and compassion.
Rest In Power, Wakanda Forever Xx