When Your Loved One Was Famous
I’ll never forget the cold winter day when I first visited our family burial plot in Moscow, Russia after many years abroad. Novodevichie Cemetery is the final resting place of certain notable Soviets like Boris Yeltsin and even Stalin’s wife. Among them are writers, composers, singers, scientists, military and political brass. For this reason, the cemetery attracts a large number of tourists. As I stood that day in front of the large, triangular, black granite monument, I pondered what my ancestor would have thought of what I was doing with my life, and other private thoughts.
I took a deep breath of the frozen air and suddenly, heard chattering behind me. I was startled to see a large group of camera-wielding tourists taking my photo - even though I am not a public figure in the slightest. I froze for a moment, not knowing what to do or say, and then I simply turned my back to them and ignored them. Eventually, they walked away.
Some images in the news are hard to forget, like Jackie O’s bloodstained Chanel suit, the young princes William and Harry walking behind their mother’s casket, the plane carrying Polish President Kaczyński, and just this year, Kobe’s helicopter. All of these, and more, remind us of grief that happened in the glare of the spotlight. Mourning is hard enough in private, and the pain can only be exacerbated by public attention.
If public deaths and funerals are challenging for family and friends of the departed, the spotlight doesn’t always fade with time. In many cases, the resting places of beloved public figures become shrines, tourist destinations, and places of high interest. How can bereaved family members get any private time at the grave?
First of all, pre-planning can always help, and not just for public figures. Families do have some choices when it’s time to choose a resting place, for example, burial on private property. Choosing an unmarked grave is another option for those wishing to avoid the shrine effect at publicly-accessible burial grounds. If a public figure has been buried in a place that attracts a lot of visitors, it’s still possible to seek out privacy. There are cemeteries that offer visiting hours by appointment only on certain days of the week.
And if every precaution is taken, and someone still interrupts your private moment of connection, you still have the choice to ignore them, or to politely ask them to come back a little later. Today, some famous graves are publicly livestreamed online, like Andy Warhol’s. And technology now makes it possible for anyone to place a private live-streaming camera at their family member’s resting place and connect as fast as FaceTime.
The point is, no matter the obstacle, there is always a way to connect with those we have lost. Hopefully, that knowledge can give our hearts some peace on this earth.