Saying Good-Bye to a Friend You Never Met

I’ve written in the past about fandom, but I never really specified which fandoms I am a part of (though you can guess that I am in the Harry Potter fandom since I’ve written about it a few times). Fandom is, as I’ve said in the past, a community of fans who are engaged and invested in a text. They discuss and analyze and even produce their owns texts (fan videos, fan fiction, merchandise, etc.) based on the original text. They are a group of people, sometimes thousands of people, connected through fiction, but connected truly and deeply. This past July, one of the fandoms I am a part of was shaken when a lead actor in the television series it is based around passed away. Tonight, the show, Glee, is airing an episode in tribute to him, Cory Monteith, and his character, Finn Hudson. And honestly, I am a bit of an emotional mess about it.

Being a part of fandom means that by definition I have an emotional connection to Glee. I love watching the show, I feel for the characters, and I want them to do well and be happy. But even more so, I am connected to the cast. I support other work they do, I watch interviews with them, and I also went them to be successful and happy. There is an undeniable tether between an actor and their fans, an almost symbiosis. An actor moves their fans through their work, and the fans support the actor making sure they can continue that work and giving them motivation and support. And if that fan is more than a casual one, is a part of fandom, that tether is even stronger.

Glee has become a huge part of my life. The majority of my friends watch the show, and I have a lot of friends I only met because of the Glee fandom. When something good happens on the show or to one of the cast, we rejoice together. When something bad happens in the show, we rant or cry together. But this was an event that no one was prepared for.

I know exactly where I was when I found out that Cory had passed. I was in a hotel room in Chicago, it was 6am, and I checked my phone to see a text from a friend asking if I had heard. It was not a Glee fandom friend, but one who knew that I was in the Glee fandom. I was in town to see a show, and my sister was asleep next to me. One of my best friends, and the person who first got me into the Glee fandom, was asleep in the next bed with her sister. And after frantically checking Twitter to see if the news was true, I knew I would need to tell her.

Grieving as a fan is a strange thing. I never met Cory, though I know people who have. That first day I was a wreck. Part of me didn’t think I was even allowed to grieve. He wasn’t a part of my life, he was someone else’s family or friend. Why should I be crying, why should I be shocked and numb and breaking? Going online was even worse. The online hubs for fandom, like Tumblr and Twitter, were full of similarly emotional and crying fans. It was inescapable. And everyone was grieving in their own way, both for Cory and for his friends that we also felt connected to.

And then it hit me: my mourning for Cory was understandable and absolutely allowed. For one thing, sadness is sadness and it cannot be controlled. If I saw someone crying over a news story of a death in another country, I wouldn’t say, “hey, don’t do that, you didn’t know him!” Death is sad. But I was also, as I said, forever tethered to Cory. I knew about him. I’d seen him countless times, heard him speak and learned about him. I cared about him. I wanted him to do well, and I supported what he did. Even when his character was written in ways I didn’t like, I never stopped liking Cory. “I’m so mad at Finn right now. Still love Cory, though.” I was emotionally connected to him, and he was suddenly gone. I am emotionally connected to his friends and co-workers, and they are going through unimaginable grief. Of course I should mourn. When public figures die, when JFK and Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger died, the public mourned. And so I did.

But tonight, months after his death, Glee will pay tribute to Cory and to his character. In filming the episode, the cast and crew were able to properly say goodbye to their friend. The characters are able to rightfully say goodbye to their friend. But watching it is going to hurt more than I can even comprehend.

I have always personally felt that grieving is a private act. Everyone does it differently, and no one is connected to another person in the same way, so losing them is always private. And tonight’s episode, called “The Quarterback,” is not merely a chance for characters and fans to say good-bye. It’s not like when Joss Whedon kills of characters. Yes, I feel sad then, and I have shed a tear or two at the loss of a fictional person I loved. But the actor can do interviews about it later, can be in other shows, can even return in a new way or say, “nope, wasn’t dead!” This is something else. The people acting in the episode tonight are not really acting. Finn’s best friends were Cory’s best friends. Finn’s brother was like a brother to Cory after five years together. And Finn’s beloved girlfriend was Cory’s long-time girlfriend. I won’t be able to forget that while watching, and it’s going to be gut-wrenching.

Really, that’s also part of fandom. We learn to mourn together. It was weird for me to mourn in a group, and I was honestly not very comfortable with it. But that is what fandom is. You laugh together and you cry together. I’ve seen some fighting in the wake of Cory’s death, sure. There is always friction. But I’ve also seen countless fans come together to support Cory and his friends and family, holding vigils, showing their love, donating en mass to substance abuse centers and Cory’s charity of choice, Project Limelight.

Tonight is going to be hard. The past few months have been hard. But as always, when in fandom, you’re never in it alone.

Cory was a wonderful guy. Extremely talented, funny, kind. Never in the last five years have I heard a single negative thing said about him, which is rare. He was an amazing person, and he will always be missed. And even more, he will never be forgotten. 

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