The Muppets, Mental Illness and Me: Good Grief – A Caroll Spinney Tribute

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Kieran Moore – As some of you know, I haven’t been writing much this year because I’ve taken time out to look after my mental health. If you want to know more, my previous piece on the subject is still available to read

I’ve been kicking around a few ideas for a Sesame Street edition to this occasional series and with the sad death of Caroll Spinney this week I knew I had to get something down on virtual paper. 

You see, grief is one of the issues I’ve been dealing with recently and I think it’s important at times like these to discuss our thoughts, feelings and emotions.

My sister died 8 years ago, very suddenly, when she was 20. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. But just lately I’ve been spending time with a therapist to work through some of the issues I’ve had surrounding her death and so I’m here today to tell you grief is a good thing. 

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Now I don’t say this lightly and I completely understand that that statement could cause offense to someone who has just lost a loved one. It would have upset me at one time too. But I promise you will get there eventually. I can also tell you from experience that everyone grieves differently. And that sometimes makes it really hard, because at the exact moment you need those around you to be in your corner and by your side, they’re too busy needing you to be in theirs. It totally sucks.

But at the same time grief (or rather those experiencing it) loves company. One of the first times I actually felt ok after my sister died was as I walked into church for her funeral. The place was packed with people from all over the country that didn’t know each other, but were all there to celebrate my sister’s life. Seeing everyone there gave me comfort because not only did it show me that my sister was loved, it validated the depth of my feelings and told me that my level of grief was ok. 

Caroll touched the lives and hearts of the world and now we have the opportunity to come together and show Debi and his family and friends that whatever they’re feeling is correct and natural and okay. That from New York to San Diego and Japan to the UK, people are united in honoring this incredible man. At this difficult time, coming together is what we can do best. It would make Big Bird happy and Oscar miserable and that seems just about right to me. 

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I used to think my sister was the bravest person I knew. She had an illness from birth that saw her in and out of hospital all through her life and it impacted her life in many different ways, and yet she carried on. Not always happily, but she carried on. She was my hero. What I’m slowly starting to be okay with once again is that I was also hers. To my sister I was the big brother who was always there for her. I was strong and looked after her. Being able to acknowledge that that admiration and sense of feeling was mutual has been really important to the grieving process. 

So I say we do the same with Caroll. I never met him, but Caroll always seemed like a guy who had a lot of love to give. If we put together the perfect Muppet performer, Caroll would provide the heart. Through his work and his creations, Caroll bestowed love on the world. I felt it, you felt it, we all felt it. But I’m sure Caroll felt the love of the children he taught and the fans he met and corresponded with just as much. If Caroll taught you how to love, be sure that you taught him the importance of love in return. Take both of those lessons and strive to put them into practice. This is the perfect time of year to do so. If only 10% of the people reading this gave a toy to a children’s charity in Caroll’s name that would be amazing. If that toy was Big Bird related it would be truly special. You have the power to do great things. Caroll taught us that and we can continue to pass that lesson on.

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‘Saying Goodbye’ isn’t just quite possibly one of the saddest Muppet songs in existence, it’s also really difficult. Particularly if you didn’t get the chance to do it for real. But there’s nothing to say you can’t do it after the fact. If Caroll’s death has really affected you, first, know that that’s okay. You may have met him once at a convention, you may never have met him at all – it doesn’t matter. If Caroll’s passing has upset you, that’s perfectly natural. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. An emotion is never wrong. Second, take the time to say goodbye. One of the best things I did was sit quietly and imagine one last meeting with my sister. I got to say all the things I wished I still could and we hugged and hugged. It was wonderful. You can do this too. Imagine seeing Caroll or Big Bird or Oscar in your living room and spend time getting it all out. Say it in your head, say it out loud; but make sure you say it. Take your time – spend 5 minutes or spend an hour. I promise it will be hugely rewarding. 

Grief isn’t fun. It isn’t what any of us want.
But you will get through it.
You will become stronger.
You will connect with people.
You will learn important lessons.
You will love more than you ever thought possible.

Good Grief might just be the most fitting tribute to Caroll Spinney there is.

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