I was at a birthday party with my son when I heard the news that Whitney Houston had passed away. Another party guest announced the news, and at first I was skeptical. In the week previous I heard that Mike Tyson, George Lopez, and Taylor Swift had died, and all those turned out to be false. So I did what any discerning adult would do: I checked Facebook. Sure enough, Whitney Houston had passed away at the age of 48.
I’ve been a Whitney fan since the beginning of her career. I remember taping the video for “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” off of MTV and spending an embarrassing amount of time singing along to it while I bopped around the living room. I wore out the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, and I confess to belting out “I Have Nothing” in my car as recently as last week. I would shake my head at any reality show contestant attempting to sing one of Houston’s songs, because…really? Do you even want to attempt to match one of the greatest singers of all time?
Sadly, Whitney’s personal life was not as beautiful as her voice. Her marriage to Bobby Brown was a rocky one, with allegations of physical abuse and drug use. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, Houston confessed that while she was with Brown, her drug use was a daily habit. And this drug use took a toll on her voice. Whitney made a valiant attempt at a comeback in the past few years, but her voice just didn’t sound the same. The Whitney of “I Will Always Love You” was no longer.
I won’t say that I was shocked to hear that Houston had died, but I was certainly sad. Her music has been a part of my life since I was a kid. Plus, she was a mom, leaving behind a young daughter to grieve her loss. There’s just nothing happy about it. An amazing talent died too soon.
However, based on some comments I saw on my Facebook and Twitter feeds in the days after Houston’s death, I shouldn’t have been sad that Whitney had died. I saw people complaining that so much attention was being paid to Houston’s death, when American soldiers die every day without a mention from the news. I also saw people saying it was wrong to shed a tear for Whitney when thousands of people in third world countries don’t even have access to food or clean water. The implication was that those who were saddened by Houston’s death were somehow shallow for feeling that way.
I understand the sentiment. Really, I get it. I am the first to admit that I easily get caught up in our celebrity culture, and tend to forget the important and tragic things happening in our world. I agree that our soldiers don’t get enough respect, and the problem of world hunger does not get enough attention. My “first world problems” are nothing compared to what others face on a daily basis. But is it really wrong for me to be sad that one of my favorite singers will make music again? Do these things make Houston’s death any less of a tragedy?
I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive. I can be sad about Whitney Houston’s death and be sad about the suffering that goes on all over the world every day. Houston’s death is a sad event. Death is a sad event. Yes, Whitney was a celebrity, but she was also a mother, a daughter, a niece, a friend. She was a real person who died at a young age under circumstances that can’t fully be explained. She was a real person, a prime parent, just like you and me.
Is it shallow that I’m sad Whitney Houston died? Is it wrong that I get misty-eyed listening to her songs? I don’t think so. So many times we want things to be “this or that;” we forget that life is not that simple. We as humans have the capacity both to be grieved by the problems of the world and saddened by the death of just one person. Even if Houston’s death wasn’t a big deal to you, don’t assume those of us affected by it can’t see the bigger picture. For some of us, Whitney’s music was special, and that made her special to us.
Rest in peace, Whitney.