The tragic death of Natasha Richardson has brought the need for traumatic brain injury (TBI) awareness into stark relief. As with many things in life, we tend to look around, look over, and look through dangers that haven’t directly touched our lives. Like the child whistling in the dark, we skim over the short news piece that notes another life irrevocably changed by a brain injury and we think “that could never happen to me”.
This perspective shifts when when the injured person suddenly become someone we are familiar with, who we can in some way identify with. In an article by Bryan Brown, Carlin Flora who is a senior editor for Psychology Today, said that we can develop this identification with someone we have no personal knowledge of because “we see their faces over and over” in the media. “Our brains are tricked into thinking we know these people.”
A study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explain it this way: celebrity identification allows us to feel a connection with some of the ideals they embody and that we consider our own, or as Matthew Hutson, news editor for Psychology Today puts it, “When they die, their memory lives on, and, by proxy, so does yours.”
When Richardson’s death was splashed across the media the people who had felt this connection to the actress, no matter how slight, were suddenly made aware of just how realthis type of injury was. Articles were written about the dangers of TBIs, bloggers relayed the details in post after post, and readers found themselves wondering how to keep this from happening to themselves and their loved ones. But, as with even the most incredibly painful experiences, time has started to dim this tragedy. People go on with their lives, they push the uncomfortable emotions down and after a while, they start to forget.
What needs to be realized from this is that while yes, people will and DO forget, the cause of Richardson’s untimely death made an impact and it will, often in subtle ways, affect the lives, choices, and actions of many – hopefully for the better.