Watch Patti Smith Share Wisdom About Death and Grieving

The rock icon talks about the importance of keeping the spirits of loved ones alive

Coping with the death of loved ones is part of the human experience. It’s unavoidable, and most people experience several periods of grieving throughout their lifetime. This fact of life is nothing new to rock legend and author Patti Smith, 70, who opened up about death to ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News’ current affairs program 7.30. In this much-watched video (more than 3 million views), Smith spoke about the universal understanding of loss in a poignant, comforting and accepting way.

“I have lost many people now in my life, and I know — because I’ve been through it so many times: friends, loved ones, my brother, my husband, my parents — that I know with each time that we are all going to have this moment,” she says.

Patti Smith Doesn’t Believe a Person Is Ever Gone

Smith’s close friend and former roommate, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, died due to complications from HIV/AIDS in 1989. She detailed her relationship with him in her National Book Award-winning 2010 memoir Just Kids. But Smith doesn’t believe a person is ever completely gone.

Though Mapplethorpe died nearly three decades ago, Smith says in the video that the two still talk about art and the future. Smith’s late husband, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, died in 1994 of a heart attack, and Patti Smith says she continues to feel his presence as well.

“[I talk with] my husband about our children, and I feel them within me. I’ll be walking alone, and — just all of a sudden — have such a warm feeling of my father with me or my brother. If we keep ourselves open, they will come,” Smith says.

No matter how many family members or friends you lose, dealing with death may never feel less heavy or taxing. But perhaps a mindset like Smith’s can make the processing and accepting stages feel more manageable.

“We just all have to pass through it, and I’ve just learned that all of these people that we lose — and this is what I mean by experience — they’re all within us,” Smith says. “They become part of our DNA. They become part of our blood.”

By Grace Birnstengel
Grace Birnstengel is an editor at Next Avenue. Her work has appeared in Minneapolis-St. Paul's alt-weekly City Pages, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Stereogum.com, The Riveter Magazine, VICE's Live Nation TV, 89.3 The Current and more. She most recently worked as an editor for a B2B magazine in New York City. She holds a degree in journalism and gender, women and sexuality studies from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities where she was the editor-in-chief of the student magazine, The Wake. Reach her by email at gbirnstengel@nextavenue.org.

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