When Princess Diana died in August 1997 I was sixteen. I heard the news from my mum through a crack in the door late one Saturday morning as I sprawled, probably hungover, under my duvet. What followed was an unprecedented outpouring of national grief complete with unedifying scenes of people crying in the street – people who had clearly never met and did not really know her.
My distinctly British response was that this expression of emotion seemed excessive, mawkish, maudlin and, confident in my sixteen years of expertise in life on this Earth, I airily dismissed it as a particularly unpleasant form of sentimental hysteria far removed from the devastation of true grief.
Over the years, my discomfort with the mourning of public figures has endured and in my social media musings on the slew of celebrity deaths in 2016 this is apparent in the way that I have marked my respects.
Self-consciously I comment on the nature of the “petty sadness” that we feel when a person who has appeared in our lives and memories, and yet who we have never met, dies. We feel sad, but we should always remember that the measure of our grief fades into insignificance when positioned next to the torment of the family and friends. I felt it was important to keep perspective and not confuse the desire for a connection with it’s reality, because regardless of how much Prince’s music had meant to us, no matter how many of our childhood memories Victoria Wood appeared in, or how many of Alan Rickman’s films we had loved, we did not actually know any of them.
And then, on an ordinary Thursday, Jo Cox, MP, humanitarian, campaigner, wife, mother was murdered. The acute sadness that I, and many of my friends, have felt at her death has surprised us, and I’ve asked myself over and again, “Who do I think I am?” to stand and cry in the shower over a woman who’s name I had never heard until I received a text message asking me if I’d seen the news. Why do I feel like the next day is too soon to continue on like this hasn’t happened, too soon to not mention her in my interactions with people in my real and virtual lives? It feels self-indulgent, deluded even, to linger on these feelings and give them air – after all how inconsequential our sadness is compared to the total devastation that has just been levelled at an entire family. But still I cried and still those thoughts remained, “Who do I think I am? Why should I feel this way?”
But then I realised that actually the “Why?”isn’t at all important. In fact, the most important thing is that in these feelings of grief is humanity. These are not the tears of a teenager imagining a connection that does not exist, these are the tears that can imagine the cruelty that can without warning rip the most precious presence from a child’s grasp. As a woman who so passionately believed that “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” it is clear that Jo Cox recognised our shared humanity regardless of faith, colour or creed, and valued every human life.
So, contrary to the feelings of my sixteen year old self, perhaps this sorrow should not be suppressed or dismissed because surely it simply shows that we care. When we care we find connections where previously there were none, and we do exactly that which Jo Cox wanted us to and move past the differences and look for the similarities. A mother’s absence in a child’s life is felt just as profoundly regardless of faith, nationality, language or culture and to feel this isn’t mawkish, or maudlin, or sentimental. It’s Jo Cox’s abiding legacy – it’s human.