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Why We Grieve Celebrities and 3 Steps You Can Take to Help

Understanding why people grieve and knowing how to help is as important in the office as it is at home.


Are you wondering why your employees (or you) are grieving the loss of a public figure as if they knew that individual?

The curse of personal branding is that you can love, hate, and grieve for people you have never met. This is especially true regarding people who are frequently in the public eye: actors, politicians, musicians, and other celebrities. Personal branding makes you feel as though you know someone you’ve only had indirect contact with. You’re emotionally invested in a relationship with that person through your interaction with his or her public persona (brand).

According to neuroscience research, our brains have trouble differentiating between things we physically encounter and things we have read about, and that “reading produces a vivid simulation of reality.” If reading can affect your brain the same way real life does, how much more do you think watching TV and movies does? According to Joe Carver, Ph.D., “The brain doesn’t know if a file [memory] is real or imagined.”

Our imagination is as powerful as our physical reality, so it’s understandable that we feel pain and joy for people we don’t personally know.

Grief in any form is often difficult to deal with, especially at work, where we are culturally conditioned to keep our emotions at bay. When the loss is from a personal relationship, it can be hard to know what to say to a loved one left behind. But when the loss is that of a public figure, many other conflicting emotions come into play, such as:

  • Guilt for grieving someone you didn’t know personally (“I don’t have the right to grieve“)
  • Shame for feeling the loss more deeply than others (“I’m embarrassed to feel so emotional“)
  • Isolation from thinking you’re just too sensitive (“No normal person would feel this way“)

These additional emotions can make the situation a little more complicated, but not prohibitively so.

So, when they’re grieving, what can you do to help your team members?

The first step is to understand more about grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief that people move through during the grieving process: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (DABDA). While they do tend to occur in that order initially, grieving is a fluid process and people may move back and forth among the stages at random.

The second step is to increase your empathy and emotional intelligence and align your behaviors with these concepts. One surprising way to do that is to read more fiction. Scientists have found that “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them, and see the world from their perspective.”

The third step is to make sure your company has resources available for when people need help that goes above and beyond an empathetic leader or an emotionally intelligent culture.

Understanding grief and taking these steps to help can improve not only your business culture but also your employees’ lives.

This article was originally published on in August 2014.
Ariana Ayu is the author of the Business Mojo column on (a website and magazine geared toward entrepreneurs) which was published between 2014-2016. Ariana is the CEO and founder of several companies, including Ayutopia International, LLC, which develops profitable collaborative corporate cultures, personal celebrity brands, and custom branded websites. Her press and media appearances include USA Today, International Business Times, ABC, CBS, CBS Money Watch, the CW, Eyewitness News, FOX, NBC, Newsday,Virtual-Strategy Magazine, World’s Luxury Guide,, Miami Herald, BlogTalkRadio, and Hollywood Industry, among others.

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