Sometimes, people may feel sad when they hear about the death of a celebrity that they did not know personally. For example, millions of people grieved when Elvis Presley, Diana Spencer, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and other famous stars passed away. They may have felt a connection to these celebrities through their music, movies, or public image. They may have admired or idolised them for their talent, charisma, or beauty. They may have also related to their struggles, challenges, or achievements. Why do people experience sadness when someone else has lost a loved one, a person that they did not know themselves? There are different reasons for this phenomenon, and they may involve two psychological concepts: sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy and empathy are different ways of relating to the feelings of another person. Sympathy is when you share the feelings of another; empathy is when you understand the feelings of another but do not necessarily share them. Sympathy is more of a heart feeling, while empathy is more of a head skill. Sympathy can sometimes be seen as pity or condescension, while empathy can sometimes be seen as detachment or intrusion.

One possible reason why people feel sad when someone else has lost a loved one is that they feel sympathy for the bereaved person. This means they have feelings of concern or compassion resulting from an awareness of the suffering or sorrow of another. They may feel sorry for the person who has lost someone and wish to comfort them or offer support. For example, when Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997, many people around the world felt sympathy for her sons William and Harry, who were only 15 and 12 years old at the time. They may have sent flowers, cards, or messages to express their condolences and solidarity.

Another possible reason why people feel sad when someone else has lost a loved one is that they feel empathy for the bereaved person. This means they understand a person from his or her frame of reference rather than your own, or vicariously experience that person’s feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. They may imagine how they would feel if they were in the same situation and share the emotions of the person who has lost someone. For example, when Elvis Presley died of a heart attack in 1977, many people felt empathy for his fans that had followed his career and loved his music. They may have cried, mourned, or paid tribute to him as if they had lost a friend or a family member.

Not all people feel sadness when someone else has lost a loved one, a person that they did not know themselves. Some people may have difficulty feeling sympathy or empathy for others due to various factors, such as personality, culture, upbringing, or mental health issues. Some people may also have different ways of expressing or coping with their feelings that may not be obvious to others. For example, some people may use humour, distraction, or rationalisation to deal with sadness.

Feeling sadness when someone else has lost a loved one is a natural and human response that shows our capacity to care for others and connect with them emotionally. However, it is also important to recognise our own boundaries and limits and not let our sadness interfere with our own well-being and happiness. Some recommendations from Sonja Smith Funeral Group on how you can cope with this kind of sadness are:

  • Acknowledge and accept your feelings. Do not judge yourself for feeling sad or guilty for not feeling sad enough. Everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to feel.
  • Express your feelings in a healthy way. You can talk to someone you trust, write a journal, create a memorial, or join a support group. You can also use creative outlets such as music, art, or poetry to channel your emotions.
  • Seek professional help if you need it. If your sadness is overwhelming, persistent, or interfering with your daily functioning, you may benefit from seeing a counsellor, therapist, or grief specialist who can help you process and cope with your loss.
  • Take care of yourself. Grief can take a toll on your physical and mental health, so it is important to look after your well-being. Try to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and avoid substances that can worsen your mood or health.

Losing someone you admired or cared about can make you question your own values and goals. You can try to find ways to honour their legacy, learn from their life lessons, or contribute to their causes. Our best advice is that we encourage you to focus on the positive aspects of your own life, such as your family, friends, hobbies, or passions.

For more information about handling grief, or funeral arrangements, visit our website at