By: Joshua Neuman
There is a feeling that is equally as powerful as shock, but which perhaps is more addling.
When someone close to you passes away suddenly, you are struck by a vicious one-two punch: The fact that someone you loved is gone and the fact that you didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I got that feeling when I was by my brother’s hospital bed at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital on September 12, 2001 in New York, watching the morose testimonials of those who had lost loved ones the day before just a few miles south of us.
“If only I could have just told her how much I loved her.”
“I would give a limb in exchange for three more seconds with him.”
“I never had a chance to tell her how I felt about her.”
Those were some of the refrains we heard over and over that day. I remember looking at my brother as he watched the 4-inch black and white television hanging from a crane-like apparatus that he could adjust from his bed. I remember feeling grateful that I had the chance to say everything that I needed to say to him.
Despite the tremendous outpouring of sadness since she passed away last week, Amy Winehouse’s death wasn’t a shock to anyone. Late night talk show hosts have been making light of her dance with death for years. A website, WhenWillAmyWinehouseDie.com, received over 96,000 entries since it launched at the end of 2007; even Amy’s mother talked openly about the likelihood that her daughter would die young. Upon learning of her death last week and deprived of the ability to process it through “shock,” a strange feeling ensued—I’m not sure I know how to describe it. It’s not like it’s less painful than the feeling of learning that someone close to you died with little warning. No, gradual decline grants no more reprieve from pain than slowly inching yourself into an icy pool of water grants you from feeling cold.
If anything, the fact that we knew that this was coming, that there was no opportunity for shock, made it more painful. We couldn’t fantasize about things we would have wanted to say to Amy Winehouse—we had every chance we needed to say anything we wanted. We couldn’t fixate on the results of the toxicology report as we did with Heath Ledger—who the hell cared which specific substance had done her in? We didn’t get angry at her father, who was traveling to New York City at the time of her death to perform at the Blue Note—after all, he probably did all that he could to save her.
The snail-like pace of Amy Winehouse’s descent deprived us of the capacity to feel shock upon her death and perhaps shows us how much we use “shock” to insulate us from our experience of death. In her farewell, she has less in common with the 27 Club than she does with Biggie and Tupac, whose lives and work seemed to forecast early death—however unable to soften its sting.