Memento Mori: Death in the Limelight

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WORDS Avery Phillips

When I saw “Finn from Glee is dead” on my Facebook news feed my initial response was exasperation, thinking that my friend was posting a spoiler about the fifth season of Glee. It was a few seconds later when I noticed the update posted by the Daily Telegraph just below: “RIP Cory Monteith… The Glee star has been found dead after a suspected overdose”. It still took a few minutes to properly sink in.

The news of Monteith’s death has had a deep impact on a lot of people as social media clearly demonstrate. Although it can be easy to dismiss the grief felt by fans as superficial, the relationship that we have with celebrities is a curious and powerful one. We may never meet them and they don’t know who we are, it can feel as though we know them personally. We watch their interviews and follow their Twitter accounts. We share in their successes, and mourn their failures like they were our own.

Regardless of whether you consider the prevalence of this one-sided relationship to be a positive thing or a decidedly negative one, celebrities and media personalities exist as important features in our lives. When they pass away the pain felt by their fans can be immense, and this is especially true when their death comes as such a violent surprise.

Death is the one certainty in life which cannot be avoided, but we are forever attempting to delude ourselves into thinking otherwise. Death is contemplated as a remote possibility, only to be acknowledged when we can no longer work around it. Even then we still try to rationalise the situation: Neil Armstrong’s death was sad, but he was 82 years old and had lived a long life filled with accomplishment. He left a legacy in his wake, and we cannot pass on until we can do the same.

Monteith’s death cannot be rationalised in this way, and is a reminder of the evanescence of life and the facelessness of death. There is no criterion that needs to be fulfilled before its arrival, nor can we delay its approach for eternity. This man was young, soon to be married and working hard to get his life together. There is nothing fair about what has happened to him or what his family and friends are going through. There is no easy way to justify it.

For many of the fans who have followed Montieth in his role on Glee this may be the first time that they have been exposed to death on such a personal (and deeply unfair) level. Rather than dismiss their feelings as the typical overreaction associated with fans we should recognise that grief is a naturally reaction to the death of somebody we care about, as well as a coping mechanism for dealing with the inevitability of death.

A memento mori is a reminder of the inevitability of death. Today, consider this article as your memento mori, and take it as a reminder to embrace your family, your friends and the good things that you have in life. We might not be able to avoid death, but we can make the most of our time until the moment arrives.

R.I.P. Cory Monteith.