Why It's Totally Valid To Grieve The Death Of A Celebrity

Some people mocked me, but I learned to move forward. Here's how.

Grieving For A Celebrity Like Chester, Jonghyun, & Dolores Is Valid CNN

A month ago, on December 18th, I woke up at exactly 8:20am EST. Out of habit, the first thing I do is check my phone for messages. To my confusion, there were several messages.

 One was from a friend in England and another from Texas; both were asking if I was okay. I opened up the one from my friend in England, first, asking, "What happened?"

Then I opened up the group chat. And there it was: "Breaking: SHINee’s Jonghyun reportedly found dead in his apartment."


With those words, it felt like my entire world crashed. And what followed was a series of denials: "This can’t be real. No way. This is not real. They’re spreading rumors again. This is not real."

But, everywhere I went, every platform I checked confirmed the news: Kim Jonghyun of SHINee was gone. He passed away in what was ruled as a suicide. He was only 27.

This week, fans of Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries learned exactly how I felt that day. So many fans of celebrities who have died understand. 

RELATED: 5 Heartbreaking Facts About Kim Jonghyun, The K-Pop Star Who Died By Suicide

The next hour after learning of Jonghyun's death was a blur. I remember calling up one of my friends since high school, crying on the phone as I told her what happened and the disbelief in her voice (she was the one who introduced me to the genre and we both love SHINee). I remember my friend from England calling me up; she was also crying. I remember telling my co-workers that I need just 10 minutes to cry, but that was a lie; I cried the entire day and the following days after that.


I wrote an article about him. I posted several times on Facebook and Twitter, expressing my grief. I answered worried texts from friends and some of my cousins. I cried in front of my dad, who, although he didn’t understand, hugged me anyway. 

Lately, I actually believed that the grieving process is over for me since I had started smiling and laughing and enjoying K-pop again. I believed that I had moved on and accepted reality. But, for some reason, yesterday, I was feeling rather gloomy. This morning, I realized why — today is his one month death anniversary. And all those feelings of loss came rushing right back. 

I couldn’t help but think back to the following days after that awful day a month ago.

Other fans who experience a loss like this may feel the same way on important anniversaries, too.


For the first time ever, I saw the K-pop community — regardless of the fandom they belong to — come together to grieve. I saw fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr reaching out to strangers. I probably talked to more strangers than I ever did in my entire life, offering comfort and leaning on them too. 

Kim Jonghyun had that much of an impact that even non-fans felt his loss. His wake reportedly garnered 10,000 attendees, possibly more, of both celebrities and fans alike. And that’s not counting the various vigils around the world — various parts of Asia (Japan, in particular, where SHINee has a large fanbase), America, Europe, and Australia.

I couldn’t go to the New York Vigil but I was able to visit the memorial set up by fans four days later. I went there with one of my best friends, and when we arrived, there were at least six fans standing in front of it.

One girl was silently crying into her bouquet of flowers. A guy held another girl in his arms. Two friends were quietly talking about fun memories of him. Flowers, letters, and even a stuffed dog that looked like Jonghyun’s pet dog Roo, were piled and arranged neatly on top of one another. A box of tissues was placed in one corner for fans to take; it was almost empty. The entire time, many people passed by, sparing us a few curious glances but otherwise leaving us alone.


Of course, along with reports of fans coming together to mourn their loss, there was the ridiculous backlash and mockery from others who saw their grief as an overreaction.

We heard it all. "You don’t know him, why do you grieve?" "You’re overreacting." "He’s just some famous person, why do you have to cry?" You’re being ridiculous." "You’ll get over it." 

In addition to that, there was mockery of K-pop as a genre itself in the comment section of every major news outlet that reported on the news. It seemed that people forgot that a human being died and they chose to poke fun at a genre they didn’t understand. They chose to mock grieving fans and reduce them to stupid teenagers who only cared about their celebrity crush. 


But, for many fans, Jonghyun was more than a celebrity crush. He was a significant part of the Korean Entertainment industry for a decade; most of his fans quite literally grew up with him. He was their anchor, an inspiration, a person who understood their pain and frustrations in life. He was a friend, confidante, and biggest supporter of his group members and many of his colleagues in the industry. He was a loving son and a doting brother to his mother and older sister.

But, all of that meant nothing to those who only see a celebrity who died. Our grief was reduced to a ridiculous fangirl overreaction. And that must be why it's been difficult for some to completely move on because no one understands.

RELATED: How To Heal From CRUSHING Grief And Loss

There were times when I even felt silly for crying. I kept most of my feelings from my non-K-pop fan friends because I didn't want to bother them or annoy them with what I believed was a ridiculous grief.


But comfort came in the form of Linkin Park fans. Earlier last year, the world lost Chester Bennington to suicide as well.

Many of those fans reached out to SHINee fans on Twitter. In a Reddit post, a Linkin Park fan offered their condolences to SHINee fans, comforting them, sharing their own experience when they lost Chester, and offered some helpful advice:

"I encourage you guys to talk to each other a lot because it truly helped me the most. The general public tends to frown upon grief over somebody you didn't know, and if you don't "just get over it" within a couple of weeks, you can get scathing criticism. Try to make this a place for fans to go when they need support and to be heard."

This Reddit post was spread around by SHINee fans. And I can probably speak for the entire SHINee fanbase that these words from a Linkin Park fan were one of the most comforting things to hear because they had been there and we were so incredibly grateful. They knew what it felt like. They understood. Our grief and feelings are valid.


That's why I understood so intimately the pain of fans of The Cranberries, who lost their lead singer, Dolores O'Riordan, and I felt for them. I want to extend my condolences and words of comfort to them as they grieve their loss. She was a light in their life, a comfort in their darkest days.

Her fans' grief is valid. No one should be made to feel like they're not allowed to cry because it was a celebrity who died.

So, I’m here to tell you that if you grieve for a celebrity who made a significant impact in your life…grieve.

You are a human being. Feel your sadness. Feel your anger. Feel your anguish. There is nothing wrong with grieving and crying for a celebrity who changed your life.


You are not simply a fan. You are someone whose lives they changed, even if they had never met you. They were a part of your life and that will never change. Feel blessed for the opportunity to have known them, to have witnessed their life, to have been a recipient of their art, and to have been touched by their existence.

As soon as I was old enough to know and understand grief, I had always grieved very deeply. I lost my cousin in a brutal manner last year and I grieved for months. Until now, I’m still grieving, even if it looks like I’ve moved on. It’s been 6 months since then.

And I realized that I’m also still grieving for Jonghyun, despite my attempts to go back to everyday life. It’s only been a month.


I don’t think there’s really a timeline for the end of grief. If you lost someone, you will always remember and grieve for that person. But, then, as time goes by, you slowly come to accept it. You remember them more for the way they lived rather than the way they died. 

Acceptance may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month. Maybe not even next year. But, someday, you’ll get there. And that’s okay because your feelings of grief are valid.

For those of us who were left behind, we continue to live for that person. We continue to smile and laugh and experience life for that person.

So, to end, I leave you with a quote that Kim Jonghyun of SHINee once said on his radio show Blue Night. He said this during the second anniversary of the Sewol Ferry Tragedy in South Korea that claimed the lives of 304 people, many of them teenagers on a school trip (translated from Korean):


"As time goes on, memories of things that have disappeared or the pain of loss can grow pale and faint. Those things happen if we just lend ourselves to time, but if we don't compromise with time and commit ourselves to remembering those people, I think the things that disappeared may never have disappeared after all...And I hope that from now on, those who were left behind will hurt less and remember more. That's the way I hope they'll live."

Note to our readers: If you ever need to talk to someone about depression, please call 1-800-273-8255. Someone will always be on the line. You are loved. 

RELATED: Why We Cry For Those We Don't Know Personally

Caithlin Pena is an Editorial Fellow at YourTango. Her interests revolve around books, music, and collecting Pop Vinyl Figurines.