RIP Alan Rickman: Mourning in the Age of Social Media

Yesterday was one of those days that I wanted to end before it even began. Opening my eyes, I instinctively rolled over, grabbed my phone, and looked to see if I had any breaking news notifications. After skimming the numerous headlines on my lock screen, I decided it was in my best interest to roll over, go back to sleep, and hope it was all just a dream.

Alas, when I woke up, a brief 20 minutes later, I was dismayed to find out that what I had read earlier was not just a dream as I had hoped, but was in fact real. There are a few things you don’t want to read when you wake up: first, is that you did not win the Powerball Jackpot. Second, is that there was a terror attack in Jakarta, because even though it’s become almost commonplace in our world today, you still feel pain for all of those affected. Thirdly, you don’t want to find out that one of your favorite actors while growing up, Alan Rickman, died.

It’s this third event that I want to focus on for two reasons: firstly, I wasn’t expecting to win the lottery, so I didn’t even waste money buying a ticket. Secondly, it’s easier to make sense of a single death than it is to make sense of multiple deaths. I haven’t yet been able to make sense with what is going on in this world.

So, I mourn Alan Rickman, while also talking about him.

I know him best as Professor Severus Snape from ­Harry Potter. He’s the actor who brought the not-so-good, not-so-bad, morally ambiguous character to life. You can read a story so many times and still not fully understand a character. Such was the case with Snape. I didn’t love him, didn’t hate him, wasn’t quite sure how to feel about him.

And then I watched the movies. And BAM! Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape caused my eyes to open. I understood the character in a way I didn’t before. I understood why he did what he did. He did right things for the right reasons, right things for the wrong reasons, wrong things for the right reasons, and wrong things for the wrong reasons. I understood his actions, but I couldn’t justify them.

Which was ok, because I was still sad when (SPOILER ALERT) Snape died.

I’m even sadder now that Alan Rickman died.

Death is a private event, reserved for a party of one, but sometimes witnessed by family and close friends. Death is intimate. Mourning is public, a collective experience. Especially in the case of a beloved celebrity like Rickman. When a celebrity dies, the earth seems to stand still, like a pillar in the community has died.

The earth stands still, and people begin remembering. All my social media newsfeeds were filled with tributes to Alan Rickman. Twitter and Tumblr were perhaps the most personal, with users sharing how Rickman’s characters got them through a tough time in their life, sharing quotes of Rickman’s that mean a lot to them, sharing stories of interactions they had with Rickman by chance. Celebrities, too, got in on the collective remembrance. Those who worked with him sharing personal anecdotal memories of what it was like to work with Rickman: how funny he was, how truly he cared about the characters he portrayed, how he impacted the lives of his costars.

This sharing of memories is not just reserved for celebrities. I’ve seen it happen at funerals. When my grandfather died almost ten years ago, I distinctly remember a portion of the service reserved for neighbors and friends to share stories about him, stories I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, stories that made my grandfather a full-fledged person, and not just a person with a title: he became a man with a name, in possession of a whole identity other than “Grandfather.”

I’ve become more aware of this with my remaining grandparents, gathering stories about them from anyone who knew them when they were younger.

With celebrities, I don’t’ have that luxury—we don’t have that luxury. We don’t have the luxury of hearing stories first-hand. All we have are the roles they filled.

So we gather stories and memories anyway we can, from whoever we can—memories and anecdotes of how their roles impacted lives, but perhaps, most importantly, who the celebrity was as a person.

It’s easy to place celebrities on pedestals, forgetting they are real people with real lives, real families, real friends. We strip them of their humanity, judge them solely based on their artistry.

Collective mourning as a group, over the internet, allows family, friends, and fans to combine artistry with humanity, creating a whole person.

We forget that people aren’t immortal, sometimes we hope that our favorite people are immortal because dealing with death is difficult. Death is easy; it’s the mourning that’s painful.

I’ve found mourning to be easier when stories are shared. Perhaps Rickman himself said it best, “. . . it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible?. . .”

We tell stories to keep memories alive.

We told them yesterday; we told them today; we’ll probably keep telling them for a while.

And that’s ok.

The people who knew him best—his friends and family—have stories and memories.

We, the fans, have the characters he left behind, the memories of what they brought us through. We read books and watch movies to temporarily forget what we’re going through, to be transported somewhere else.

So, let us mourn.

We’re not only mourning Alan Rickman, the man. We’re also mourning for the characters he left behind: Hans Gruber, Colonel Brandon, the husband who bought the necklace, Severus Snape, and whoever else he had been. We mourn for the characters he never will be.

And I think there’s beauty in the way Alan Rickman was different things to different people, and how, despite the varying degrees of intimacy we may have had with him—whether personally, emotionally, or artistically—all of us are mourning at the same time.

“The pain we all feel at this dreadful loss reminds me, reminds us, that while we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”-Albus Dumbledore

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