Every fissure of the internet — social medias, list-sites that mask themselves with the news, credible news sources — has been deluged with the premature death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Monday at the office, I sat at my desk that just so happens to be outside of an acclaimed movie reviewer’s office. And I listened. I heard stories throughout the day. Anecdotes of his acting brilliance, hilarious remarks from interviews and disbelief of the man so suddenly gone floated over to my cubicle. There were bits cynicism, but mostly it was ‘he was utterly genius in this’ or ‘can you believe that scene was entirely improvised?’ There’s no question, he left his mark, and his departure was untimely.
I saw Hoffman this past October on a flight. I was causing a stir thanks to my standby ticket resulting in being the the last one on board and without space for my bag. In the midst of my embarrassment, a disheveled man whipped around from the first seat of the plane, the seat by the window with the shade pulled down. He was a familiar man under a Ghostbusters hat.
I froze, he scowled. Philip Seymour Hoffman was peeved with me. I was causing the ruckus that was preventing us from pushing back from the gate. Cringing on my way to my coach seat I chuckled. What a story, I thought.
Throughout that flight, I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Bravely and poetically Didion plunges into the grief of the sudden death of her husband. How apropos.
I had the book merely because I knew I liked Joan Didion. I ended up spending that short weekend at the beach confronted with death, and despite the fact I hadn’t lost anyone, I devoured the pages with my lifelong infatuation with grief, which stems from my funeral director lineage.
Stretched out by the ocean, I read Didion’s emotional account while donning a flopping hat and 45 SPF. Mama, a fifth generation funeral director, was already browned but still oiled in hopes of more color. While she flipped through an InStyle and we sipped beers nestled in koozies, I would share snippets of the book. My mother has the gift of handling death, grief and coping engrained in her being. I suppose that makes sense when it’s her business.
I’ve always been how astonished at how handling the delicate time of death seems to be a natural part of her way. Is it because she’s removed herself from the situation enough while maintaining her grace and compassion? Is it because she has grown up in the business? Like the child of a grocer understands how to restock the shelves, she understands death? But I’ve grown up in it, and I’m not like that. Some are just able to confront and accept the inevitable better than other, I suppose.
I come back to Didion, however, extrapolating that when we’re shocked of the passing of people we love (or even slightly familiar) it’s because we’re faced with our own temporary time here:
"We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all."