Death & the Hero: A Response

On reading Fraser Bryce’s article ‘Death & the Hero’, published in the last edition of the Strathclyde Telegraph, it got me thinking. Well, I’ve been thinking about the subject matter for a while now, given the fact that every celebrity reaching, or in, their 70s seems to be dropping off the face of the planet recently. We’re surrounded by loss. It’s only natural to have some kind of human reaction to it. Much like Fraser, I have sometimes felt despair at the masses of people and their sudden outpouring of grief. They hadn’t said anything about them before – why now? While it is totally understandable to feel like this, I think we should consider what bubbles underneath the surface of this grief: an earnest yearning for human connection and understanding.


When tragedy strikes, I have seen time and time again how people will try to relate to whatever has happened to themselves. This is inherently selfish, yes, but that’s how humans are wired to be. We should be thinking about the people directly affected at a time of tragedy but, for it to make sense, we try to process through our eyes our lives and our experiences.

Around the time of the Paris attacks, I heard stories of people who were in Paris only a week before, or had friends who lived in the area. It could have been them. I saw jokes on social media where people denounced those who said they were in France that one time three years ago, so, it could have been them, too. I had an aunt at Boston at the time of the Boston bombings; it could have been her caught up in that as a bystander.


No matter what angle you look at it from, these things are scary, and what’s even scarier is that these terrible things happen all the time. The nature of life is such that no one knows who or when it’s going to strike. It could always be you. We put ourselves in their shoes to grasp some kind of understanding of what has happened, at least to some extent.


The examples that Fraser gave — the late Viola Beach, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Lemmy — seem to have been given a hero like status after their death. We’re told to not speak ill of the dead so, by default, in not bringing up any negatives, they will be held to a heroic account. With Viola Beach, the tragedy with came with the idea that they had so much left to give, whereas Bowie, Rickman and Lemmy had already given so much to the world. Now the world feels emptier in their absence. In death, were reconsider an entire life in memoriam, no matter how long that life spanned. We think again about what they meant to us, or if they touched us in some instance but did not feel to shout from the hilltops about it at the time.


Is it right to police how an individual should feel in the wake of a death, even of someone they don’t know personally?


The fickle thing about death is that those who remain living are hit with the sensation that ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ You’re not necessarily hopping on the grief train for a free ride and a fun time. You’re doing it to cling back the appreciation that you should have felt before. In doing this, we keep them alive, heroes or not.