How to Make sense of his untimely death?
After Foo Fighters’ drummer Taylor Hawkins’ fatal overdose on 3/25/22, I ponder the untimely demise of a person who seemingly had it all. A recent article portrayed the drummer as an entertaining, upbeat performer with a ready smile for his fans and friends. How do we reconcile this portrayal with someone who died of a drug overdose with multiple substances? A coroner’s report said he had THC, benzodiazepines, opioids and tricyclic antidepressants in his blood. What is the take-away from this tragic death of a man who was only 50 years old? Especially when he seemed very successful and productive in his music career?
You may ask, why do we need a take away from someone’s death? It is normal to try to make meaning of tragic occurrences like death, especially untimely deaths such as this one. In 2018, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade also took their lives from suicide. This leaves me to wonder what constitutes a life worth living and preserving. Apparently, fame, success, and ample financial wealth are not necessarily sufficient to make a person want to continue living. Since I don’t know the circumstance or reasons for their choices, I can only wonder from the outside what happened.
What does it mean when someone dies prematurely?
As a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma and grief, it’s important to me to explore what this particular death means. What does it mean to his surviving wife and children, as well as his fans and admirers? He is certainly not the first rock star to die before reaching a ripe old age. Musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Janis Joplin have all passed away well before they could have. Is it burdensome to have so much talent and fame, so early in life? What are the pressures of someone living in the public eye? What leads to the rampant substance abuse that plagues the entertainment industry? Could their deaths have been prevented?
If it sounds as if I am passing judgment on these talented young people, that is not my intention. Instead, I’m intrigued by the nature of untimely death. It leads to so much suffering for all who cared about the deceased. One of the risk factors for complicated grief or traumatic grief is losing someone suddenly, unexpectedly, or violently.
Taylor Hawkins did not die violently. However, he suffered chest pains before he passed away at his hotel in Colombia while on tour with his band. What led him to take so many substances at the same time? Was he aware of what this combination of drugs could do to him? Was his overdose accidental or was there an element of choice involved? None of us will ever really know; the answer most likely died with him.
What do the survivors of an untimely death do with their grief?
In my work with people who who lost someone much younger than expected, people are sometimes angry. Anger is not always directed at the deceased or those who treated the deceased medically. Sometimes, the anger is at God or whatever force the survivor thinks took the young person’s life. While 50 years old is considered middle-aged by most, it is still younger than what most people would expect. In situations where the death is man-made, it is harder to accept than dying of natural causes like an illness.
There is still anger and frustration about the untimeliness of a natural cause of illness. However, it’s somewhat harder to accept deaths due to suicide, homicide or terrorism. A drug overdose is certainly man-made, at least it seems to be in this case. Other famous entertainers who died of overdoses have had suicide attempts and mental health issues prior to their successful overdoses. This raises the specter of whether an overdose is an intentional risk-taking, or if it is accidental. It seems that again, no one really knows except for the person who overdosed. Perhaps, in some situations, even that person does not know fully what or why they were doing it.
when untimely deaths are unnatural
If the overdose is intentional, do the survivors then feel responsible? Do they feel angry at the deceased for not taking their responsibilities to friends, family, and the community seriously? Do they wonder if there was something that they could have done to prevent the overdose? The meaning that people make from a loved one’s death can greatly influence how their grief proceeds. It also influences whether their grief is acute or prolonged and painful.
I can only speculate as to how Taylor Hawkins’ wife and children make meaning out of his death. Let’s hope that whatever their emotional response or how they think about the death, their grief is matures. I also hope they move to a resolution that allows them to have a satisfying life despite his death. That is my hope for all people who mourn a loved one’s death. However, there are certainly many factors that could interfere with the evolution of their grief. Grief matures from the initial painful realization to thinking of him fondly. This allows for a loving connection that lasts well beyond his physical body.
Do you know someone whose death was untimely or unpredictable?
Sometimes when the public loses a beloved celebrity, it brings to mind losses in our own lives. Maybe this death has you thinking about someone in your life who died young. Perhaps you’re thinking of someone whose death was a shock to you. It is quite natural to feel upset and conflicted about such a death. If you struggle to cope with the untimely death of someone in your life, please call 661-233-6771.