I spent most of today prepping for and teaching a class on funerals and views on death. I didn't get home until 7 p.m., and that's when I heard about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I've been a fan of his for years. The first movie my husband and I saw together was "Magnolia."
He's not always been the most easy actor to watch--but that's part of what made him great. Even when his characters were dispicable, you knew you were watching a master of the craft.
But I'm not writing this post to discuss his talent. Or to moon over yet another lost celebrity. People die every day who get no fanfare. So why do we get so emotional about people we've never met? Because it's a reminder that we can and will die. Even the larger-than-life movie stars who seeming shine so much brighter than the rest of us.
A celebrity death is also a communal loss. We connect with the roles they play, and many of them become part of our lives by being present. Magazines at the checkout counter, on the movie screen and our TVs, throughout the Internet, singing our favorite music, writing our favorite books. Fans of someone who have never met have something in common.
Funerals are a public display of grief. The audience is limited by geography or by those who know the deceased personally or someone who wAs close to that person. A funeral allows for closure and connection with fellow mourners.
The Internet--especially Twitter--allows us a different way to connect with a world full of other people feeling the same loss. People expressing feelings of loss for famous individuals are not saying only the famous are worthy of their sympathy. They are sharing a moment, reaching out and connecting with people. They are not belittling the lives of everyday people; they're seeking meaning in something scary and final.
With all of this being said, I'd like to share my thoughts about death by drug addiction. I read an article tonight where a doctor said, "We don't tell someone with asthma to stop having asthma." Someone with a drug addiction had an illness. And the complexity of addiction is mental and physical.
Celebrities are far from the only people to suffer from drug addiction. But even though I don't know someone personally with this affliction, the loss of an untouchable gives me a glimpse into the pain that accompanies it.
If you find yourself questioning the sincerity of people mourning the famous, remember that this is a way of connecting with others and paying respect. It is an acknowledgement that someone lived and died. And that that someone's life meant something.
I'm the founder and editor of TheCemeteryClub.com and Epitaphs Magazine. I love cemeteries and sharing the art and history of them with anyone who will listen!