The idea that someone holds another person’s very life in their hands and has the power to determine whether that person lives or dies is a painful and damaging misconception.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know very much about Mac Miller. I’ve never listened to his music or attended one of his concerts. My knowledge of him has mostly been in the headlines I’ve seen about his relationship with Ariana Grande and their subsequent breakup earlier this year.
And yet, the second that news broke of Miller’s death Friday, I instinctively knew what was coming. I knew that following the shock over his untimely death, the shame and blame would begin.
I knew because I’ve been there. I’ve lived it. And I’m here to tell you that casting blame is just about the most unhelpful thing you can do for someone following the death of a loved one.
Sadly, I was right. Just a few hours after it was reported that Miller died of a suspected overdose, people began hurling blame on social media. Their target: Grande, who first fended off trolls after their May split when fans blamed her for her ex’s DUI. She even took to Twitter to explain their relationship.
Now, four months later, Grande is battling trolls yet again. Trolls who are blaming her for Miller’s death and leaving hateful comments on her Instagram like “His spirit will forever haunt you,” “There’s a special place in hell for people like u [sic],” “You could’ve done something,” and “You should have helped him.”
Grande has since disabled comments on her Instagram and fans quickly came to her defense on Twitter, but unfortunately, what happened to her is nothing new. It’s reflective of a pattern we’ve seen before, most notably with Asia Argento following Anthony Bourdain’s suicide in June. Argento was cyberbullied and blamed for the celebrity chef’s death, which prompted those in Hollywood to rally around the actress in the form of an open letter published in the Los Angeles Times.
When someone dies suddenly and traumatically, it’s typically their loved ones who are caught in the crosshairs of other people’s grief and the struggle to understand the death. But what about those who don’t have an army of support like Grande or Argento? How are they supposed to traverse the minefield of grief following a traumatic death when they have so many questions and those around them are saying things that are more harmful than healing?
It’s human nature to want to make sense of death because a part of us will always resist the idea that death is natural. And when the death is unexpected, like Miller’s, we rail against death even more, looking for any explanation we can find that will help us make sense of everything. Even if it’s misguided, sometimes those explanations come in the form of lashing out and assigning blame to those closest to the deceased.
However, trying to place all the blame in the world isn’t going to magically bring the person back to life. Death isn’t something that we can wrap up neatly like a half-hour sitcom where everything is solved by the end. Just like life, death doesn’t work like that.
When I was 21, my father suddenly and unexpectedly died from suicide. Although the day he died was the most traumatic day of my life, I wrestled with feelings of guilt and shame for years. I was the last one to see my father alive, and the questions swirled around my head in a never-ending loop. What if I’d woken up just 15 minutes earlier? What if I’d seen the signs that he was struggling? What if he said something on the last day of his life, something significant that I just casually brushed aside?
What it? What if? What if?
Those are the questions that plagued me, and I’m sure those are the types of questions on Grande’s mind as she mourns the loss of Miller. The best thing we can do for her — and everyone grieving the loss of a loved one — is to let the grieving process take place. Let people mourn in peace without hurling vindictive words at them. Those words are incredibly hurtful, not to mention cruel and damaging. The idea that someone holds another person’s very life in their hands and has the power to determine whether that person lives or dies is a misconception that has no place in the journey following someone’s death.
As much as we’d like to think otherwise, we’re not superheroes who can swoop in and rescue someone. We can do everything to help them, of course, but we don’t have the all-knowing power to save them. And maybe even more importantly, it’s not our job to cure them. We can offer love, hope and compassion, but in the end, everyone on this planet is responsible for their own life.
I can only hope that those trolls who are blaming Grande have never lost a loved one to a traumatic death like Miller’s. Trust me, people who lose someone to an overdose or suicide struggle enough with self-blame. They don’t need the world shaming and blaming them too. What they need is love and compassion. And space to grieve without shame.