Upon learning of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, I felt a deep sadness. The kind of sadness that pulled like a weight through my chest. More emotion than I have a right to feel. Yet, I am not alone. Blogs and news sites and social media are awash with fans expressing their collective shock and grief.

doubt

Watching this outpouring I’ve come to understand something about why we grieve for celebrities, people who are strangers to most of us. We have a shared relationship with these people. My relationship to Hoffman was likely the same as yours. His acting moved us. Doubt rocked our conscience. Capote made us wonder if the real Truman Capote had been brought back to life. We have all lost that inspiration.

This grief is more accessible than a private tragedy.

I’ve long wanted to write about my own family’s struggle with grief. Two years ago we lost my step-father and aunt (ALS and breast cancer, respectively). Even now, I struggle to find the words. They were in their 50s, too young. Too fast. They were good people, amazing people. What am I supposed to say? How can I explain what they meant to me?

My relationship to and love for each of them was complicated. One I still struggle to understand and explain. Partially, I’ve learned, I keep this to myself because a hierarchy exists, even if that hierarchy is unspoken. My grief is different from that of my mother, brother, and uncle. Our grief is different from that of the extended family. Their grief is different than each circle beyond. In theory, grief diffuses.

With a celebrity we can grieve on an even plane. We can talk about grief without fear that we are feeling more or less than we should. We latch on to these celebrity deaths because we’ve been waiting to talk about death and grief and loss and life and longing.

So let’s talk. Grief should be shared.

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