Grief and the Fangirl

Over the past week or two I’ve seen a few different posts that address the feelings of loss that some fans are feeling in relation to Richard Armitage and this fandom. More than just loss, grief has been spoken of.

When I read that I thought, surely not.

For me the word grief is attributed to how I felt when my best friend died at 18 years old from cancer. Or four years ago when one of my aunts and my father passed away within a twelve hour time period. In both cases, I felt as if the world had ended, or at least like it should have. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. I lamented the fact that my dear friend should have had a lifetime ahead of her. I raged at the fact that if my dad had only taken better care of himself he wouldn’t have had the health problems that led to his death at 59 years old. In some senses I pulled away from my friends because no matter how much they genuinely cared about me and wanted to be there for me, they just couldn’t understand the loss. There was this aching hollow in my heart, that even now I’m not sure will ever heal completely. Sure, life goes on, but those people are never coming back and the void they left can’t be filled.

So, when I read that fans grieve in regards to Richard and the fandom, I thought maybe I had a narrow view of grief and went to look up the definition.

Grief (according to Merriam-Webster):

a : deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement

b : a cause of such suffering

I suppose I have to conceded that perhaps there are fans that do feel bereaved in deep or poignant ways. I am just having a hard time reconciling my personal experiences with grief to understand the grief of a fangirl? What does that grief look like? Surely it isn’t the bone deep ache that comes with the loss of a loved one. If it is, why? How have fans become so emotionally involved with an actor that they grieve so hard, so deeply? And I guess my real question/concern is this: Is such grief healthy?

I’ll admit that I’m also confused as I just don’t see anything to grieve over. The source of the grief seems to stem directly from the good things that are happening in Richard Armitage’s career and how that effects the fandom. We want him to be successful in his endeavors, don’t we? Like Judiang, I see the lessening of Richard Armitage’s personal relationship with his fans as an inevitability. Like Servetus, I’m very much looking forward to the influx of new fans that are sure to come, and the potential positive changes that will bring about it the fandom.

If you are grieving, I don’t begrudge you your feelings. I just want a better understanding.

Update: Because this post has been linked elsewhere, I feel the need to address something. This post was not “directed” at Judi. To me that seems to imply I was spoiling for a fight. I had a reaction to the choice of one word that prompted a lot of thought on my part and led me to this post. Judi, if you thought I was “directing” this post at you, I apologize for that.

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38 thoughts on “Grief and the Fangirl

  1. Servetus

    I’m interested to see what discussion transpires here and am leaving a comment so it gets pushed to me. I have some thoughts but I’ll wait a bit. In general I struggle with applying the “healthy / unhealthy” dichotomy as applied to feelings. Grief is grief.

    • I too am interested to see what, if any, discussion transpires. And I’ll be interested in your thoughts if you choose to share them. As I said, I don’t begrudge anyone their grief. I think their are unhealthy feelings, although I wouldn’t attribute them to someone I didn’t know incredibly well. But if I knew someone whose grief over the changes in fandom was as intense as mine over the deaths of loved ones, I would view that as unhealthy. In that sense, I can’t agree that grief is grief.

      • Servetus

        I realize I’m not in the majority on that, as I am not in anything that relates to the term “health.” But to me, it’s a bit like pain meds. When I was kid, I was always treated at the dentist without anesthesia; I had something like eight fillings without benefit of painkiller until I was paying for my own dental care. This happened because my mother has a really high threshold of pain and simply wouldn’t believe that my physical pain was as bad as I said it was. In this story, whose attitude is unhealthy? Me, for experiencing a lot of pain, “too much” pain, or my mother, for not acknowledging that others process pain differently than she does?

        Re grief specifically, I was told that my apparent lack of grief over leaving my last job was unhealthy, and that my grief over the end of my last relationship was disproportionate. What constitutes “healthy” grief thus appears to me very much something that’s in the eyes of the beholder. Moreover, people telling me that my grief was wrong did absolutely nothing to influence the substance of my feelings in either case. So, from my perspective, if I were to tell someone their grief is unhealthy, it would be more a statement about me and my standards than it is about their behavior and / or the proportions of what they are feeling. In particular, people who grieve “too much” get told to stop grieving not because they really need to, but because the person who witnesses the grief is uncomfortable about how *they* feel.

        In months of corresponding with various people behind the blog, I’ve gotten the sense that watching Richard Armitage is a huge emotional support for a decent number of people who don’t have much else to be happy about. He’s a real pillar to some people’s emotional lives. I’m not going to judge that, because I only talk about them with Armitage, I don’t see their whole lives or their range of possibilities. It’s one way of coping, as it has been for me, and as long as their behavior is not criminal, I don’t want to be involved in telling people that their way of coping is wrong. I can tell them how I wish they would treat me — which is really what my blog post was about in the first place. I actually sympathize with the confession. I just don’t want those feelings, whatever they are, to become the source of more policing. I’m starting to think that I have been badly misunderstood.

        • I think there are multiple issues here. Some of which I think we may simply be misunderstanding each other about. Others, we probably disagree on, which is fine.

          I don’t like the use of the word “grief” in regards to fangirling. This is really a semantic issue on my part as I can’t equate my own experiences of grief with what someone might feel about an actor or a fandom. Loss, sadness–those words work for me. I’m not telling other fans not to use the word, just that it seems extreme to me.

          We are going to have to disagree on the comparison of physical and emotional pain. To me, that seems like comparing apples and oranges. But as to being uncomfortable with other people “feeling to much,” I can’t discount that maybe I do have issues there. However, I still think there are unhealthy feelings. Life experience has taught me to believe this. Let me give an example. I had a couple of friends who grieved deeply over things that most people would find, for lack of a better word, trivial. Could they help how they felt? No. So in that sense I think people feel what they feel. However, with both of these friends, when something that most people would find tragic happened in their lives, they both took extreme measures–ending up in psychiatric wards because they had tried to take their own lives. I don’t expect others to agree with me, but any feeling that would lead to attempted or successful suicide is unhealthy in my book.

          Richard Armitage as emotional support is something I understand very well. I make light of it sometimes on this blog, talking about how looking at images cheered me up after baseball games, for instance. However, I discovered Richard Armitage at a time when all of the plans I had made for my life seemed to crumble. I could have fallen into a deep funk, but watching his works helped me immensely.

          I think you are confusing policing and worry. I am not trying to police anyone. I asked for a clarification of what the grief of a fangirl looks like–if it was as strong as that of losing a loved one. And I asked if such grief was unhealthy. Clearly I have a definitive opinion about the second. Yes, I do think it is unhealthy IF it exists–and that is a big if. I don’t think a person who feels such grief can just turn it off like a light switch–if they could they would. But I was raised to believe, and I still do believe, that we should be concerned for the welfare of our fellow human beings. If I saw a friend in RL dealing with what appeared to be excessive grief I would worry–and do what I could to help them. I don’t see why it should be different in Cyberland. Were I to be the one experiencing such grief, I would hope that people in RL or even here who noticed wouldn’t stay silent, but do what they thought was best to help–even if at times it made me angry. True friends tell you want you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. Because sometimes it isn’t about the current issue causing the grief, but the next one.

        • Having had a night’s sleep. I realize I didn’t address the part about you feeling as though you’ve been badly misunderstood. I’m rather baffled as to how my post has anything to do with you being misunderstood. I saw a word used, yes, in Judiang’s post not yours, that I had a strong reaction to. So I took to my blog to work out why I had the reaction I did.

          • Servetus

            misunderstood: because I thought I was fairly direct on the issue of the consequences of prescribing behavior / attitudes, and specifically encouraging people, when they are bothered by something they see (like a confession) to remember the shared cause first. Maybe I wasn’t direct, or wasn’t direct enough, but it seems that the discussion has moved to legitimating something that I was actually arguing against. I’m troubled that we’re now discussing appropriate vs inappropriate emotions, because fandom for me has been a key tool that has allowed me to recognize and accept how I actually feel as opposed to how I or others think that I should feel. And I’ve repeatedly been charged by fellow fans with having or expressing “inappropriate” emotions. Perhaps I do. On the assumption that we are perhaps talking about different things (although I am not convinced of that, and I would say my emotional pain has been much worse than my physical pain, perhaps because I have never been seriously sick or injured), I’ll stop there.

            • Serv, I’m apologizing in advance for this comment, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to come off sounding like a bitch and I really don’t want that, but here is what concerns me:

              This seems to be an issue of you having a misconception of the amount of power you have over other fans. It reads like, “If only I had made myself more clear, Jas wouldn’t have published this post.”

              That just isn’t the case.

              I’m sorry this topic seems to be so personal to you. I intentionally left the body of the post itself with questions and not my opinions because I didn’t want to stir up trouble. But once you commented, I had to either ignore your comments or answer them. Maybe I should have ignored them, because I wasn’t going to be dishonest with you or myself.

              I think this is a good time for something I’ve seen you say often. “Let every woman have her own conscience.” My conscience is clear.

              • Servetus

                You are free to feel how you feel; my comments, which express my feelings, don’t impact that, I think. Furthermore, my conscience is clear about what I originally wrote — but it’s very troubled about this discussion. You are of course free to interpret anything I said as seems best to you, and my comments don’t impact that, either. However, for various reasons, I’m tremendously sorry that anything I said, which was intended as sympathy for a particular feeling that I don’t experience in the same way myself, led in this direction. It’s made me regret even raising the issue. And now I’ll stop. I’m linking to this tomorrow, though, so anyone who hasn’t seen it can see this facet of this discussion, which is an important one.

  2. Servetus

    Sorry — also want to mention that I did not use the word “grief.” That was Judi’s contribution. In my comment on her blog, I referred to “alleged grief” regarding her use of that word.

  3. Teuchter

    Having experienced significant grief over the years with the loss of my husband, both parents and some very dear friends, I cannot equate the changes that are bound to occur to both Richard as an actor and the “fandom” with those feelings. The one doesn’t really come very close to the other. Richard is, thankfully, still around for us to take pleasure in and even from the perspective of someone who thinks the world of him but can only “know” him from a distance I don’t believe “grief” would be the word I would use, unless – God forbid – anything should happen to him. Now THAT just doesn’t bear thinking about. I think – no, I know – I’d be a basket case.

    • Servetus

      “If something happened to Richard Armitage” — it’s funny you should mention that just because it’s started to become a worry of mine.

      • Joanna

        Oh..come on.. stop girls!..please,don’t mention about it! I’m an expert on worrying about everything and everyone!

    • Teuchter, this is very much my view as well. Really this is probably an issue of semantics for me. I equate grief with extreme loss and the pain that goes with it. So the word seems–misplaced, misused.

      And I too would grieve if something happened to him. Not really for myself, but for his loved ones and the pain they would experience.

      • Servetus

        I would grieve for them, and for myself.

        • Teuchter

          That would be my reaction too, Servetus – first of all for his loved ones but also for myself. I’m sure this will sound totally crazy to many, but my life has been so changed since I “met” him that I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like without him? It would also be infinitely sad to lose all the friends I have met from all over the globe as he has been both the catalyst that helped bring us together and the “glue” that helps keep us that way.

          On a happier note, I’m sure “we’ll survive the feast” as Fanny/iz4blue has so succinctly put it, and find ourselves perhaps even closer to one another! 🙂

  4. And here I’m excited to be getting MORE of RA????
    using the word grief in terms of a fandom changing seems a bit dramatic and I presume done by people who haven’t actually mourned. I remember the discussions of his desire to work in the states and the fear of UK fans to have to see another actor leave their shores.
    Talking about Armitage, his talent and how he moves us is the flour that binds the meat of the fandom together, we survived the drought, surely we’ll survive the feast??? 😉

    • I’m right there with you, Fanny! SO excited for more RA!!! And I have no doubt, we’ll definitely survive the feast! 🙂

  5. Snickers' Mom

    I have to say I agree with you Jas. I am someone who likes the people I’ve met through RA and I enjoy some of his work. I feel that this community can be a place to meet great people and offer lots of support. However, I can’t imagine feeling a huge sense of loss over a relationship that was almost entirely one-sided. If someone did feel that way, I would try to encourage them and feel bad, but true empathy would be difficult for me because I just can’t fathom it.
    I appreciate your honesty in posting your feelings. Whereas the person who posted the original confession remained anonymous, you are brave enough to own your own feelings and opinions. Brava!

    • I totally agree with your sentiments on a strong attachment that is one sided. As far as the fandom goes, yes it changes. But if the friends we’ve made along the way are true friends won’t we stick together even through the changes? That seems like the most important part.

      • Teuchter

        That would certainly be my hope, Jas, as it really is important to me too.

  6. collarcitybrownstone

    Grief in relation to Richard Armitage and his career skyrocketing? You are kidding me right? There are fans grieving over this? I had no idea. I want Richard to become a mega success so that I can see more of him on the big screen, TV and magazines. YAY!!!

    • Honesty, I don’t know, but I sure hope not. I saw the word used and had a fairly strong reaction to it. I’m totally with you on hoping his career skyrockets. I would love to see more and more of him in all the forms of media you named!

  7. When I used the word “grief” in my post, that’s what I’ve perceived in a subtle form for the past year. I agree that saying deep loss or lingering sadness was probably a better word, because I also don’t associate “grief” with a crush, having lost most of the members of my immediate family. Technically speaking, people can go through a cycle of dealing with loss over anything, but that’s not what grief is usually associated with, so I regret using the word. I didn’t mean to trigger such unpleasant feelings. I’m sorry.

    • Judiang, please don’t apologize. So much about life is about processing what we read, see and hear. My questions came about as part of that processing, it just happened to be in relation to a choice of word that you used. I’m afraid that with this post the impression has been give, to some at least, that somehow this is about them or you, when really it is just me using this platform to work out my own thoughts. So thank you, for making me think.

  8. Teuchter

    I truly think we need to go back to see what you wrote at the beginning of this post, jas, as I feel some of us have lost sight of what you intended. I am in total agreement with your statement “I don’t see anything to grieve over.” How can the advancement of Richard’s career, how he will finally be known and recognized for the superb actor and wonderful human being that he is, be something to grieve over? I think we (or maybe that should be “I”) need to place less emphasis on what I/we are feeling re the potential for him not being able to send messages to “the community” like he has in the past. Surely he deserves our support just as much now as he ever did, even though he is much more famous.

    From statements he has made he doesn’t think of himself as “a movie star” for example, even though he is a leading character in three of the biggest movies ever made. To me that just emphasizes how humble and unassuming a man he is. Even though he may have to distance himself to some degree from his fans, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of person to forget the support he has had from them over the years. I for one will NEVER forget him or think any less of him if he never sends another message. What kind of person would I be if I did? Please, let me just say these are MY thoughts, and in NO WAY are to be understood as a criticism of anyone else. I just want us to continue to enjoy the wonderful feeling of community as we have in the past and never lose that, no matter what.

    • Teuchter, I agree. I allowed myself to be led down a rabbit trail that was not the original intent of this post. In hindsight I should never have engaged in such a conversation to begin with.

    • Well said, Teuchter! And nice post on putting things into perspective, Jas!

      Tangentially, a quote from a YWCA document in our hometown came to me: “There are but two lasting gifts that one can give to another. One is roots, the other is wings.”

      IMHO, our RA fan girl friends’ admiration is “rooted” in appreciating the artistic work of Richard Armitage. As I and others have said, from this shared interest of RA has sprung many wonderful friendship–and artistic explorations of our own.

      That’s where “wings” come in. We RA fan girls write, blog, vid, create graphics, etc.–things I, for one, would have never done, but for sharing with others about Richard Armitage. This sharing has enriched my life in very positive ways. It has “uncorked” my creativity “chip”. For which, I will be forever grateful.

      So now that Richard Armitage is about to take flight himself on the worlds artistic stage, I intend to sit back and smile–immensely happy for his hard work and dedication to be finally garnering him the artistic recognition and acclaim that he so richly deserves. And the enhanced artistic opportunities that will inevitably come his way will, hopefully, let us all enjoy him telling us stories for decades to come. It’s a win-win situation! Snap!

      Cheers! Grati ;->

  9. Teuchter

    Thanks jas and Grati! It really did mean a lot to me to read your comments.

  10. UK Expat

    Hi Jas,

    Sorry to be so late in posting a reply to your question.

    I understand you to be asking ‘how can anything experienced in a fandom be comparable to the grief experienced by the death of a loved one?’ This seems a fair question and your post is a request for better understanding. While I can’t speak to the fandom element or this fandom’s experience, I’d like to add additional clarification that the word ‘grieving’ can mean something very different to ‘grief’ (and really, my example below is ONLY my own perspective).

    But It seems to me a common ‘proxy’ for dealing with loss is a framework called “The Five Stages of Grief” – developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (working with terminally ill patients and their families) while she was an instructor at the University of Chicago medical school.

    These 5 stages are (more or less): Shock / Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Sadness. Acceptance.

    I’d venture to say that while events of loss can vary widely, the framework for healing (as listed above) – can be almost exactly the same. This can be true whether the event is: loss of person, loss of home, loss of identity, or loss of confidence that a barista can get your coffee order executed correctly! 😉 Did you find absurd that last item in the list of losses? The magnitude of event may not seem comparable to the losses mentioned before it – yet that loss of confidence is just as valid a loss by which to apply the framework.

    I think your question might be trying to compare the magnitude of events (which may still be impossible to quantify, given that magnitude of psychological impact is still defined by each person – as your story illustrates). I simply wish to state that the framework for working through to ‘Acceptance’ can still be the same.

    So here is my point of clarification – the Kubler-Ross model, which is the same across events of loss of differing magnitudes – is entitled “The Five Stages of GRIEF”. So as shorthand, a person may say ‘grieving’ when they mean – working through the STAGES of loss. And this process is no simple task – in fact, many people seem to avoid grieving as it is often associated with pain (or stay in Shock/Denial).

    On a personal note, I actually refer to “Stages of Grief” ALL THE TIME because I simply find it such a helpful tool for working through anything that initially appears as ‘an unexpected setback’ – “death of a perception” or “death of an ideal” or just “death of my vision for how next week was going to be”.

    Here’s a sample story to illustrate: I have been planning my next business trip to the US for a month, including everyone I would need to meet, the tasks – everything was laid out taking into account multiple coordination points of demand. The trip was approved, but on the condition that the trip be moved FORWARD in date. This actually sent me spiraling into my own “Stages of Grief” process to deal with the ‘death of my plan as presented and psychologically attached to – including original dates!!’. I assure you, I moved very swiftly from Shock/Denial to full-fledged ANGER at this verdict from my management – especially when I did not agree with their justification reason, which seemed almost flippant. A short period of time was spent in “Bargaining” before I moved on to ‘Sadness’ and finally I got to “Acceptance”.

    One reason for my feelings of ‘Sadness’ was that important work with one of my London co-workers would now not be possible to complete, due to my earlier departure date. That co-worker was on vacation when I received the decision a few weeks ago and was only told of my imminent departure this week when she returned. I could see a similar process in her look of shock at the news. She kept saying, “What? You’re leaving? Next week? And will be gone for how long? Next week? You’re not going to be back for how long?” We were getting coffee at the time, and I could see she was exactly where I had been when I’d first been told the decision – in Shock. So I told her, ‘the only reason I look so calm now is because I’ve already gone through the shock and disappointment – you are still in shock, so just keep working it through.’

    While my story is, again, not the order of magnitude you would consider in a league with ‘grief’ – it does have a few common elements with the posts about ‘grieving’ in the fandom mentioned elsewhere. That is to say – I had an attachment to my plan just as it was (fans may be attached to how things used to be), and when the external reality did not align to that plan – I felt anger and sadness. I had resistance initially, but came to acceptance after working through the additional stages to understand my feelings for that resistance. These are all elements laid out in Kubler-Ross’s model, and to me, this is what I mean when I say ‘grieving’ (absorbing unexpected change, embracing the stages to acceptance).

    I’m sorry my response has been so long-winded, but I do hope it provides another perspective for use of the word ‘grieving’ – not just to fandoms – but also to encounters in everyday life. 😉

    • UK Expat, feel free to be long winded. Really, I don’t mind. Especially since this is actually along the lines of answering the question I asked. Your examples do an excellent job of laying out how you go through a grieving process. I can see how it would be beneficial to use the “The Five Stages of Grief” as a model for healing in all kinds of situations, large or small. Oh, and I liked the inclusion of the barista getting the coffee order correct. A nice bit of levity there. 😉

    • Thanks UK for making clear use of the term “grief” in my post.

      • UK Expat

        Judi – I guess I was just trying to broaden the scope of ‘grieving’ and ‘grief’ by offering perspective on how I use the word – outside the scope of catastrophic loss that many may associate with its appearance (to Jas’s question). There’s really no prescribed time for how long it takes each person to make it through to the other side – but understanding the stages is still helpful. 🙂

        I enjoyed both posts very much and found them to be quite complementary, although I haven’t had time to comment more broadly. Jas’s question seemed narrow enough in scope that I could offer something by way of clarification.

        An addendum to my business trip story above: I received urgent notification on Friday that my hotel was without power and closed (thanks superstorm Sandy!) – Argh. Got it re-booked to a midtown hotel, but crikey, I wish we’d stuck to my original dates. 😉

  11. Servetus

    You told me that this post was a response to Judi, not to me, although my name is in it. That’s why, and the only reason why, I used the word “directed.”

    I’m not going to say anything more about this. I apologize sincerely to all to whom I have caused offense by my words and actions. I’m sorry.

    • I told you this was a reaction to the use of the word grief in Judi’s post. That does not mean that the post was directed at her. Perhaps you should read my response to Judi in the comments.

      As for your name being in the post: I was clarifying why I don’t see a reason to grieve. I thought that given the fact you had already said you were looking forward to a new influx of fans, that it would be inappropriate not to acknowledge that you said it first. I guess you somehow interpreted this to mean that the entirety of my post was a response to your series. I’m sorry if you got that impression. I won’t reference you anymore, to prevent further misunderstanding.

      • Servetus

        All I can say is that I am sorry for causing offense.

  12. Jas, I never for a moment thought you were “directing” anything at me. No apology is needed.

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