In fact, his death makes us love him more.
When I heard about the death of George Michael, I had just finished tucking my child into bed, opened up Facebook, and literally thought it was a joke. Once I realized he had, in fact, died, I had to sit down. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn't sleep. It was as if I lost a family member, a friend, and a type of soul mate.
None of that made sense to me, and I went to bed disgusted with myself. How in the world could I have such a strong reaction to the loss of someone I had never met and who didn't even know I existed?
The next morning, I read the headlines sharing how the loss was affecting others, followed by comments on Facebook and Twitter mocking the emotional impact his death had on regular, everyday people. "Grow up," was the common phrase throw around.
People who love celebrities are often considered emotionally weak, illogical, and somewhat out of touch with reality. I realized I wasn't the only person feeling so affected, but I still couldn't understand the reason why.
When I noticed that the people most upset by George Michael's death were fellow Gen Xers, I dug deeper and concluded that I didn't need to "grow up," but instead to understand that I'd grown up in a world where musicians, movie stars, and television actors felt like distant family relations.
In fact, on many levels my pop culture icons raised me.
National Geographic calls the 80's "The Decade That Made Us." From Rubik's Cubes to leg warmers to ridiculously bright neon clothing — and that incredible hair! — it was a decade that redefined life in the United States.
The music of the 80s embraced the voice of a younger generation searching for their own reason to exist. For those of us who grew up in that era, love became that reason. But love, well, it's complicated. Because you know ... there's sex. We needed someone we trusted more than ourselves to help us put back together the scattered puzzle pieces of sexuality that our parents had thrown up into the wind throughout the 60s and 70s. The people who seemed most likely to hold the magic crazy glue we sought were celebrities — including, and maybe even especially, George Michael.
Kids of the 80s were the original latchkey kids. We loved watching Leave It To Beaver, but we surely didn't come home to apron-wearing mothers. Instead, many of us came home to an empty house, "TV dinners," and MTV.
When MTV debuted in 1981 it opened up a whole new world.
For those of us whose parents embraced their right (and often need) to pursue the lifestyle of a dual income family, trusting that the world was much safer than we think of it today. We spent our summers wandering outside until the lights at home turned on after dusk. We swam in public pools and spent Friday nights at the local skating rink after our parents dropped us off. We grew up learning about love, life, relationships, sex and romance from what we saw on television, not from our parents.
And boy, did we learn.
Our teenaged hearts found their words through the lyrics of songs played on the radio, and our loneliness echoed loud and clear. When George Michael came along in Wham! our aching spirits found someone who understood us. And when he branched out on his own in his powerfully seductive style, even those of us too afraid to actually "do it" could watch his powerful videos for a glimpse of what we were sure life must be like on the sexual and romantic edge.
We adjusted our views of love in an attempt to accept new visions of dramatic tension.
We embraced the belief that if the rules don't make sense, the right thing to do is to challenge them. As we grew and came into our own, George Michael was more than just another pop star. He expressed the answers to our most secret questions about sexuality that no one in our daily lives was willing to discuss with us.
In 1998, when George Michael came out on national television, he showed us that not only is it completely okay to be your super sexy self, but that you can own it, flaunt it, and encourage others to do the same.
In many ways, George Michael and his musical contributions picked us up where religion and family had failed. He encouraged is to seek out people who accept us as we are — perhaps broken and tired, but still worthy of deep and meaningful love.
Although George Michael will surely be missed, we will forever remember the way he taught us to embrace our pain in order to learn from it and find love again.
In honor of his memory, here are six of George Michael's songs that touched us so deeply he will forever remain part of our internal fabric:
1. Careless Whispers (1984)
2. One More Try (1987)
3. Father Figure (1987)
4. I Want Your Sex (1987)
5. Faith (1987)
6. Freedom (1990)
7. Jesus To A Child (1996)