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Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V, Michael and Farrah

Venus Nicolino holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships. This week: private school and my twins
Dr. Dr. V,
I’ve been thinking about the recent deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett and for some reason, I’ve been feeling really down about it. I didn’t know these people but in a weird way I feel as though my childhood was surrounded by them: listening to “Thriller” or walking into any high school boy’s bedroom and seeing Farrah on the wall in her red bathing suit … I feel kind of weirded out … Why?

Dear Penelope,
I believe the reason why you, and many other people, have been emotionally affected by the recent passing of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett is that even though we may not have known these people personally, their deaths still make us confront our own mortalities. Also, these deaths were unfortunate, as both Mr. Jackson and Ms. Fawcett were not really “old people,” so there is a feeling that they went “before their time,” (though of course we all go exactly when we’re supposed to).
I think the deeper issue here is our mortality. Truly facing this issue, this one commonality we share with every other living thing on our planet, can be profoundly moving, even frightening. So perhaps these two high profile deaths have acted as a catalyst in your consideration of your own life, and how fragile it really is.
I also think something you brought up in your letter really illustrates how deep the connection can be between pop-culture icons and the people they entertain. These artists and performers act as signposts in our memories. I think there is a part of us that expects them to remain just as they were years ago while the rest of the world moves on.
You might notice this when you’re watching TV or a film and an actor you haven’t seen in awhile comes on the screen, and the person next to you says, “He got old”; the supposition being that somehow these people should not age. Especially in the case of Michael Jackson, one of the first superstars of music video revolution, his moving image as well as his voice has been frozen in time, adding to this effect. What does your mind’s eye see when you hear the song “Billie Jean?” Where are you? In a classroom? Getting into mischief with friends?
For many people, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album was a soundtrack for their youths, even their childhood. Michael Jackson himself was someone who never really appeared “old.” His appearance may have changed drastically, and the tabloids may have profited from speculation on his behavior, but he was never someone who seemed feeble or sickly. His death was unexpected, and now that he is gone, many people may be realizing that as Michael Jackson aged and passed on, so all of us are aging, and without wanting to sound morbid, we are all moving towards that final event horizon. Older generations may have gone through a similar experience with the loss of celebrities like Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, even Johnny Carson.
Whenever we are confronted with death or go through the grieving process we are reminded of our own mortality. Our culture on the whole has become so myopic on its fixation on attaining material wealth as the sum total reason for existence that we have neglected to feed our spiritual appetites. As a result, when confronting questions that cannot be answered with “retail therapy” or checking to see what the Market is doing, (and the issue of mortality certainly falls into this category) we find ourselves at a loss, and in a larger sense, lost. I think comfort can be found, but to find it we must look both inside of ourselves, and outside of what we accept as our day-to-day reality.
Now, I’m not suggesting we can all move beyond our fear of death. I happen to be a big supporter of the instinct for self-preservation. In fact, many people only finally lose their fear of dying when they themselves are dying (as in the case of a terminal illness), and are in fact in an altered state of consciousness. I do suggest that, through prayer and meditation, we can find peace and acceptance with our mortality.
There’s an old adage to “live each day like it was your last”; cliche, but very true. I don’t mean to say we should all quit our jobs and go skydiving, but rather, I think we need to carefully consider our daily routines, our jobs, what we do in our free time. Does it fill your being with joy? Is it what you really want to do? Do you feel like by doing it, your being in the world is something positive, that you are contributing to this grand game of existence without just consuming? When the answer is “Yes,” living your life to its fullest potential may not answer the question of what happens after we die, but it can grant the comfort that, whenever it is time for you to go, you can do so without regrets, without feeling as if the miraculous gift of your life has been squandered. I believe that both Michael and Farrah gave so much to us all; their legacy lives on in all of us and they are forever etched in our memories.
Grief and sadness will always accompany the loss of a loved one, whether it is someone with whom we had a personal connection, or someone where the bond was more of an emotional association. Honor those feelings, and see what they trace back to inside you. Being sure that we are maximizing our time here on Earth might just ease those fears, and hopefully let us know that it’s OK for some questions to go unanswered, at least for a little while longer.
With Empathy,
Dr. V
Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.
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