Legendary comedian John Witherspoon passed on October 30th at the age of 77. He made an impressionable mark on Black culture as the “funny father” from The Wayans Bros, Friday, Next Friday, Friday After Next, Martin, I Got The Plug, and a plethora of comedic Black cinema. He is also known for his hilarious display of love making by saying, BANG! BANG! BANG! He gave us laughter and now he’s gone.
Laughter is one of the easiest ways to leave a lasting impression on someone. Which is why when a celebrity passes away, we usually go back to the memories we had when we watched their movies or listened to their music.
We associate their talent with our happiness, our laughter, and our family bonding. It hits differently. This is why you can have immense feelings for people you’ve never met, because of the value and joy that they brought at some point in your life.
I remember watching the Wayans Bros with my family on Sunday nights and laughing when Pops would pull out his white belt to spank these two grown men, and chase them around as he popped his belt! This became a habit of my own father (in jest). He would just fold the belt, bend it, and pop it in front of us so we heard the Pop! John Witherspoon became apart of our display of the culture and illustrated an aspect of Black fatherhood.
He’s gone and with him, a link to our past and as such we grieve. We celebrate the good and remember the positive contributions.
Here are some of the most effective ways to honor someone’s passing, especially celebrities:
- Stop – Take a deep breath. You don’t have to keep working and act like it did not happen — stop and acknowledge their existence
- Honor Them- Talk about the memories you have of watching or listening to them. Where were you? Who did you share them with? Talk about the feelings in those spaces out loud
- Give Gratitude- Expressing thanks for their talent, laughter, happiness, and what their gift did for you is an amazing way to take something that is inevitable in life and make it a sweet victory of completion.
- Reflect- Watch their shows and movies and remember that you still have access to that laughter and feelings. Give yourself permission to cry so you do not have to hold it in inside. Their lives matter, and it’s okay that it matters to you.
This allows us to operate from a place of thankfulness and lightheadedness, and not fear death.
Death, whether expected or unexpected, effects our perception, functioning, and our own awareness about death. When you heard the news, what did you do?
Here are the common stages of grief, based on Kubler – Ross Model (This does not happen in this particular order for everyone)
- Denial- the individual does not grasp the reality of the person being gone
- Anger- The individual becomes angry, feeling that the loss is unfair and undeserving
- Bargaining – They start to petition with God, the loved one, and with themselves to gain the loved one back
- Depression- Prolonged sadness enters in as they realize the loved one is not coming back
- Acceptance – They accept the state of living without the individual and live in that reality
In American culture, it is common to stray away from feelings of grief and sadness and mask it with busyness. We think, “If I just ignore it then it won’t effect me or bother me… I don’t want to be sad right now… Let me go do something to take my mind off of it.“
These negative coping skills of avoidance, actually turn into baggage towards death, grief, and loss. When we do not take the time to honor, reflect, and express we harbor thoughts and feelings that could be released. This usually happens when we never managed the loss of someone previously. Then it turns to a mountain of feelings haunting us.
It’s okay to give yourself time and space to process the absence of someone in your life. You do not have to ignore it and make it seem like nothing happened. Use these tools to stay present, unafraid of your feelings, and honoring their memory while honoring your own feelings.
RIP John Witherspoon