Why the tears? Reflections on the death of Steve Jobs


The death of Steve Jobs has had a profound impact on all of us. Most of us never knew him, never met him, but are feeling the loss on a very up-close and personal level. In fact, we do feel that we knew him. His very existence has had a profound impact on our lives and will continue to do so for years to come. He defined a generation of style, esthetics, and technology that is unparalleled. The products of his innovative genius are part of our everyday life. He was an iconic figure who achieved greatness and has had a transformative impact on the world’s cultures.

The question is why are so many of us moved to tears?  We knew Steve Jobs was very sick with a cancer diagnosis that certainly robbed him of decades of life and continued creativity. He certainly evoked our curiosity about his liver transplant that clearly extended his productive life. His death was not sudden, in fact, it was expected. Nevertheless, we were still shocked to learn of his death. We have had many deaths of celebrity and public figures including Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Although, we didn’t know them personally, modern media and technology have enabled us to get to “know” people we have never met in a way we never thought possible. In fact, watching them for years made them a part of our lives.

But, what makes us cry and feel so sad? We all share death as a common destination in one way or another, but I think that mourning a public figure evokes us to recall and re-experience our own deeper and earlier losses. At one level, we may be contemplating our own mortality perhaps with thoughts about how we would be missed, which is also dealing with a loss–the loss of ourselves. Perhaps we are saddened that our own productivity and contributions pale by comparison. And yes, we are saddened by the loss of a hero with a brilliant, creative mind who made a significant contribution to global society.

It is difficult not to be reminded of our own personal losses when we confront the death of a public figure. When I hear this type of news I begin to think of other losses. I think about the loss of my sister and my father. I think about the incredible pain that I experienced when I first lost them and I re-experience that pain anew for a period of time. This experience of loss is as individual as one’s DNA, our shared humanity feels a common expression of pain, which is cross cultural and may be universal.

Hopefully, in time, the painful thoughts of those we have lost will produce comfort and warm memories of their lives. After the pain lifts this may be possible for us all.

Steve Jobs, you will be mourned and that, for many of us, brings tears.


Photo by Allan Reyes (via Flickr)

Print Friendly

3 Responses to “Why the tears? Reflections on the death of Steve Jobs”

  1. Peter Strisik, Ph.D.   October 13, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Another aspect – the loss of a personally meaningful figure such as Steve Jobs (John Lennon was another that hit this hard for me) represents the loss of our own youth and a piece of our own lives. We grow up with these public figures and integrate their stories and their social impact into our own identities. When they die, so dies a bit of us.

  2. parvin   October 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Hello.Ihave written a text about Steve Jabs and its one of my wishes that people read it (like your text about him).could you help me to put it on a website or somewhere people read it.This is my text about Steve Jabs: Message body
    I do not know who read my mail but I want to speak with you who know Steve Jabs. I am here in Iran but I liked Steve Jobs as my best friend.He did not know me but I knew him and was proud of him. I am so sad for his death .I do not know how long it takes that we could see another Steve Jabs. I loved him and love for ever .He set a wonderful example for me in life. I WILL NOT FORGET HIM. He did not know me but was my best friend beacuse I learned living from him.DEAR STEVE JABS I NEVER FORGET YOU.THE WORLD NEVER FORGET YOU.YOU ARE ALIVE IN OUR HEARTS.WE WILL TALK ABOUT YOU WITH OUR CHILDREN TO KNOW YOU AS A HERO.TO KNOW HEROS ARE NOT LIMITED TO CARTOONS AND THEY CAN FIND THEIR HERO IN THE REAL WORLD AS I FOUND MY HERO :STEVE JABS..MY DEAR HERO HAVE A GOOD TIME IN HEAVEN

    best wishes
    Parvin Mirenayat

  3. Jennifer S   October 8, 2011 at 9:12 am

    There is irony in the hundreds of thousands are articles singing the praises of Steve Jobs this week after his unfortunate death while people all over the world are marching against the 1%. And yet we are totally overlooking the gentleman who marched to help win us freedom, despite the danger to himself… I think this is a good snapshot of our world, sadly.