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Grieving someone we don’t know

It can seem bizarre and disorientating to react with deep grief to the news that someone that we don’t know personally has died. The death of someone we know of but don’t know can bring about similar feelings to the death of a loved one, and yet we don’t feel entitled to them, because we’ve never met.  We disenfranchise our own grief, pushing aside our very real feelings and making it impossible to talk to others about it as we normally might when experiencing such tricky emotions.

Why might I grieve the death of a stranger?

Whether the person in question was famous, or you knew of them through other people you know, there are many reasons why you might find their passing difficult:

  • The person might have been a constant in your life – in an ever-changing world, there’s something reassuring about a celebrity or public figure that has been constant throughout the years. Whether it’s a musician whose songs you can always count on to calm you, or a public figure that represents stability through uncertain times, losing that constant shifts the landscape for everything else that happens in your life.
  • You might identify with how they died – perhaps the circumstances of their death were similar to those of someone close to you, bringing all the difficult feelings of that time back. Or maybe the person’s death was particularly tragic or harrowing, which is naturally difficult to hear about and it’s natural to feel upset by them.
  • Their death might feel like the end of something – Some people seem to define an era, if they’ve had a big impact on a certain area of time, whether through the arts, or through change they’ve brought about, when they die it can really feel like the end of something big and important, yet not tangible.
  • Perhaps we relate them to someone we miss – Maybe we have memories about the person that’s died, that are connected to loved ones we’ve previously lost, which can dredge up underlying grief for the good times (or tricky ones) with that person. Maybe your loved one was a big fan of them, and you feel the grief they’d have felt if they were alive today.
  • They might have been your safety blanket – Some famous people are our light in difficult and uncertain times. Perhaps they star in shows or films you watch for comfort, perhaps their music soothes you when you’re in emotional distress, or perhaps they’re someone you can count on to be calm and consistent regardless of what is going on in the world. Losing people like that can make the world feel a little less bright and hopeful.
  • The person might have been important in something – Perhaps they were instrumental in a movement or organisation that you support and now you’re uncertain about the future of it. Perhaps their death means there will be changes in certain areas of your life, which can be anxiety inducing.

What is Disenfranchised grief?

Grief that is not openly acknowledged, validated, or publicly observed can become disenfranchised. When someone we’ve never met dies, we can feel like we don’t have the ‘right’ to be upset about it, making it difficult to talk about our feelings for fear of being deemed dramatic or overly sensitive. However, our grief for a stranger can be very real, for the reasons mentioned above as well as others. Disenfranchised grief can be very lonely, as it can be hard to talk about it with others, for fear of being judged, it is important to treat the emotions that come up seriously and extend compassion to yourself at this time.

What helps?

As with any grief, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ fix and you may find that some things help when others don’t, just keep experimenting and listen to your feelings.

Here are some examples of things that might help:

  • Allow yourself to explore what you are feeling and validate your emotions. Try writing them down in a journal, it might help you to understand them.
  • Reach out to friends and family you can trust for support without feeling judged.
  • Perform a ritual, such as lighting a candle, in memory of that person.
  • Join an online forum for that type of loss and interact with others in a similar situation.
  • Write a letter to the person that’s died, thanking them for everything they brought to your life.
  • Seek additional support from organisations or charities that specialise in bereavement support.


No one can take away your right to grieve, take your time and be gentle with yourself as you work through the difficult feelings. It’s ok to be sad and have difficult days, but make sure you also plan in treats that will give you a boost, to help balance it all out.

For more information on our bereavement support services, please contact Fay Bloor on 01332 345268 or