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January 2023

Grief Trigger: The Death of Lisa Marie

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Many things can trigger feelings of grief, whether the loss has just occurred or it is decades old.  January is always a difficult month for me.  On January 11, 1985 my maternal grandfather died.  He was the fun grandpa who took me and my sister on adventures, taught us to play chess, pool and shuffleboard, and loved us unconditionally.  His was the first funeral I attended.  The day after that funeral, on January 15, my mother died by suicide.  I was 19.

Since then, the approaching anniversaries of these dates tend to affect me more than I like to admit.  My thoughts turn to the events of those days, what I lost by losing them and what they’ve missed since they’ve been gone.  Depending on what is going on in my life at the time, they can also be a time of self-reflection about how far I’ve come or self-recrimination about not living up to what I judge to be their standards.  But I always notice.

This year the timing coincided with the untimely and tragic death of Lisa Marie Presley, something that brought back the feelings of trauma and grief that I felt so many years ago.  I didn’t know Lisa Marie or have a real-world connection to her, but for numerous reasons, her story and her legacy have made an impact on me.

I was 11 when Elvis died and remember trying to wrap my head around what death meant and wondering what that was like for a little girl.  When I was in college, my family moved to Memphis, TN, and I decided to seek employment at Graceland one summer.  I got the job, enjoyed the atmosphere, and fell under the Elvis mystique as I learned more about his life, work, and family.  I was curious what it must be like to be his only offspring, not just constantly having the honor/burden of living under his shadow, but to be constantly reminded of your dead father in such a public fashion.  I didn’t make a habit of keeping tabs on the family, but when they popped up in the papers, I was always interested.

When the news of Lisa Marie’s son’s suicide came out I was devastated for her, as I am for all others who survive these tragedies.  There is a kinship you feel with others who have lost someone in this way, a basic understanding of the suffocating grief that she so eloquently described in one of her last Instagram posts that has been making the rounds.  

Hearing someone in your age range has suffered cardiac arrest is pretty jarring, especially someone who had just been up and about and in the news honoring her dad’s birthday and then attending an awards show.  Just like that.  And then they’re gone.  I remember seeing the headline declaring her dead and trying to wrap my head around it – what is death?

Then you start reading about the survivors and that’s where I get stuck wondering what they are going through, especially because young girls lost their mom.  It is a situation that haunts me and I can’t stop going back to those feelings of trying to accept that news and all the implications going forward.  It is a truly tragic place to be.  

I now have the benefit of time, which doesn’t erase grief but softens the edges of its cutting pain, and talking about my loss after 30 years of silence around it has been healing and helpful, especially when it is triggered.  I continue to try and honor my mother by living a life of service to others and by telling her story through my work on The Silent Goldens documentary, which gives me a feeling of being closer to her and her hopes for me. 

I wish the best for Lisa Marie’s family and all those who are touched by her loss and hope their good memories of her and the outpouring of support help ease their grief in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.