A friend of mine died the other day. Writing that out is weird. You’re not supposed to die at 37.
Even weirder is that I don’t know if I can call him a friend, because he didn’t know who I was. But here I am missing him anyway.
His name was Michael Brooks, a political commentator I’ve followed for a few years. I watched his show and listened to him talk for hours and hours every week. At the end of YouTube clips, his signoff was: “To get more of the show, subscribe — why wouldn’t you? Don’t be foolish.”
Now he’s dead, and I’m left grieving someone who didn’t know I existed.
Initially I struggled to make sense of it, but I’ve come to understand that, as is the tradition of dying young, it’s senseless.
There are no easy answers on this side of finality.
I don’t know if I should call him a friend, but friend or not I cried the night he died. I do know that I listened to him talk more throughout the week than with most friends — maybe something I should change. His weekly absence has already become conspicuous.
So I’m testing out thinking of him as a friend, even though I never earned it. I’ve noticed the title is helping me grapple with the loss, peeling away a layer of introspective melancholy. Being upset over how much I’m upset at his death didn’t do me much good. It was a fool’s mistake.
We didn’t have an equally reciprocated relationship, which is a dynamic all too common given modern technology and media personas. Famous and not-so-famous people in the world touch our lives and might only be aware of us as another account following them. Some of these lopsided relationships feel out of place, and dislocate you further when they’re suddenly gone.
There’s even a fancy word for it — parasocial. It describes one style of asymmetrical relationships, how we pour our time and energy into media strangers, becoming connected to them while they don’t know us at all.
It’s a word trying to cure its own definition, an ideological onomatopoeia. If we have some 10 dollar academic word to describe how we’re too emotionally wound up in people who don’t know we exist, then maybe we can get some healthy distance from them.
But despite the accurate description, I’ve learned my grief requires no explanation, no fancy sociological term to validate my feelings.
It’s not just Michael Brooks who holds this position, not just my friend who died. Friends keep dying. Maybe for you it was Robin Williams, Toni Morrison, David Bowie. Chadwick Boseman. Maybe it’s someone else special to you who others never got to know.
They hold an important place for us. They’re our muses, mentors, or makeup gurus. They become our superheroes and our friends.
A week after Michael died, I heard Louis Prima’s cover of “Enjoy Yourself”, a song written many years ago, performed by someone long dead. It’s a reminder to savor the moment, because our time is up soon enough.
“The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
… Don’t be a fool”
I’ve learned that when your friend dies, it’s ok to miss them — even if they didn’t know you. It’d be foolish not to. If it helps, other people are missing them too.
— a lost friend