There’s no right way to grieve. And Vanessa Hudgens showed the world this by throwing down an acclaimed performance in Grease: Live on the same day that her father died. According to CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/31/entertainment/vanessa-hudgens-fathers-death-grease-feat/index.html), Hudgen’s father passed away on Saturday and she announced his death yesterday, with the note that she is performing “in his honor.”
When people have a death in their life, I have noticed that they often seek assurance that they are responding in the right way. “I don’t think I’m sad enough,” some might say. “I feel like I should be crying all the time but, I’m not. Is something wrong with me?” The answer is a resounding no. We all experience and respond to grief differently, and the best we can do is be honest about how we are feeling.
One thing that always strikes me about this situation is that, like each of us, every death (and surrounding circumstances) is unique. We are going to have a different emotional reaction to the death of an elderly person who has been suffering and in pain for year, as opposed to the sudden and tragic death of a child. So a person who experiences both of these losses is likely to respond differently to each. But even people who are experiencing the “same” loss (such as siblings who lose a parent or parents who lose a child) may respond in different ways. This may even cause some conflict: “why aren’t you as upset as me?”
Sometimes people assume that when someone loses someone with whom they are estranged, that they won’t “feel it” in the same way. “They weren’t close, so I’m sure she’s fine.” That may not be the case. Consider someone who always wanted to be closer with a now-deceased family member. The chance that this closeness will ever happen has now died with the family member.
Something I ask people when they have experienced a loss is “how would your loved one like you to respond? What are you doing to keep their memory alive?” Which brings us back to Vanessa Hudgens, and her reaction to her father’s death. I’d like to believe that she had the option to not appear on the program last night. With the amount of money going into such a presentation, surely there are understudies (like in theater productions) in case of illness or injury. So, setting aside the idea that Hudgens had no choice, I commend her bravery. We don’t know what she was feeling about her father’s passing, and, it’s a mistake to assume we CAN know, given that we know nothing about her relationship with her father. But I think it is safe to assume that it was challenging to sing, dance and make merry given what had just occurred. And, no matter how we might act in the same situation, I think it’s fair to commend her for carrying on in the face of adversity. Maybe it’s what her father would have wanted. Maybe she felt like she needed some semblance of normalcy. Maybe she had no idea what to do, so she did what she was planning. And sometimes, that’s enough. Or even just right.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture