Lessons Learned From Those We Lost in 2020

So many people have died in 2020, it is hard to know where to start to pay tribute to them. The country has lost more than 300,000 people to COVID this year. And many others died of other causes, but because of the pandemic, couldn’t be mourned in traditional ways. And if someone close to you has died this year, we are sorry for personal loss.

We know, too, that many people grieve public figures who can mean so much to us as role models, entertainers and inspirational leaders.

Here are six beloved public figures lost this year who left a particular mark on us, but who live on in our hearts and minds with their art, their deeds, wisdom and words.

Chadwick Boseman

The young Black Panther actor’s focus and ethic are credited for his successful career. His everyday valour exceeded that of his most famous character. His perseverance, passion and love fueled his talent and grace. Boseman was an especially powerful role model for kids, as a fourth-grade teacher explained in the Washington Post, “Boseman’s portrayal as King T’Challa gave them a sense of Black dignity.”

Kobe Bryant

Bryant’s resilience and devotion to his family were admired long before his untimely and tragic ending in January. Like Boseman, his death left a particular grief with kids. His legacy was perhaps best articulated by his widow, Vanessa Bryant, at his memorial: “I want my daughters to know and remember the amazing person, husband, and father he was, the kind of man that wanted to teach the future generations to be better, and keep them from making his own mistakes“

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The champion of gender equality who died in September was only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She left behind many powerful lessons including one quote passed down from her mother-in-law: “in every marriage, it helps to be a little deaf.” Her mother also had taught her not to lose time on useless emotion like anger, resentment, remorse and envy. Perhaps RBG’s greatest lesson came from her friendship with Anton Scalia with whom she traveled and shared her love of opera, despite their opposite political views.

John Lewis

Civil rights icon John Lewis served more than 30 years in Congress, writing this opinion piece about redeeming the soul of the nation shortly before he died this summer. Lewis showed courage throughout his career. He believed in fighting for what he believed in, and had the scars to prove it. But he also believed in the power of forgiveness. Forty years after being beaten by a white man, the Klansman came forward and apologized. His relentless optimism and belief in the power of “good trouble” are among the many lessons he left behind.

Alex Trebek

Alex Trebek was beloved for his positive attitude in the face of pancreatic cancer and for his gentlemanly demeanor and his soothing and familiar voice. Trebek devoted his career to the promotion of curiosity and along the way helped immigrants learning to speak English while leaving us with many life lessons about civility, kindness and generosity.

Carl Reiner
The actor, writer and director was as well known for his comedy career as he was his deep friendship with Mel Brooks. Reiner and Brooks were friends for more than 70 years and in recent years would have dinner together every night and watch Jeopardy. Brooks told the Guardian, “This is a great place because I got friendship, love and free food.” In 2017, Reiner told AARP magazine, “enjoy the good times, and walk away from the bumps.”

If you’ve lost a loved one this year, know that you are not alone. In grief and mourning, there are still opportunities to rejoice in the wisdom, deeds and memories left behind.

Whether the people you are mourning were famous or not, we offer our sympathy and hope your memories offer some comfort in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Photo by Fred Kearney

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