Friday, February 7, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman - What a Waste

 How could he be so selfish? He had a wife and 3 kids. Didn't he care at all about them? Why would he throw it all away to do drugs? Life gave him everything. He had money, opportunity, talent. He had it all, and he still chose to do heroin anyway. Why didn't he just stop? What a waste.  

Pretty harsh, right? Yeah. Just writing it and then reading it back gave me shivers. I didn't really feel how cold and judgmental and superior the above thoughts sounded, until I wrote them out and then sat back and read my own words. Yes. These are my words. My thoughts. Well, sort of. These are the thoughts of the "old me" - the one that existed before July 13, 2011 - the early, earth-shattering morning of my husband's sudden death. If actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death had occurred back then instead of now, the words typed above would have been some of the very first thoughts that popped into my mind. Of course, the "old me" wouldn't have been brave enough to share thoughts like that, so instead, I would have jumped on the much easier bandwagon of posting careless and borderline cruel jokes about the famous person's shocking and untimely death. The comedian in me would have been pining away for that best tweet or that most shared Facebook status of the day, ending, of  course, with a very sincere #RIP so-and-so. And although my joke of choice would not have been of the cruel type, (mean-spirited humor has never really been my thing) it still would have been my only immediate instinct - to post a silly pun about it, get a cheap laugh, and make it go away. After a day or two of posting my favorite clips online from some of Hoffman's best acting roles, and saying to other friends in a concerned whisper: "Can you believe it? He was only 46 years old!", I would have then, very quickly and without much confetti or fanfare, proceeded on with my otherwise self-involved, naive little life.

It wasn't my fault. I didn't know any better. I didn't know anything at all about hurt or loss or death. I didn't know that one second I could be ecstatic and in love and planning our life together, and the next second, riding in a taxi cab on my way to being told by the E.R. nurses and doctors at the hospital, that my very healthy, paramedic, 46 year old husband suffered a massive heart-attack an hour after arriving at work, and that he didn't make it. I didn't know that in one moment, the word future would be replaced with the phrase What the hell just happened to my life? I didn't know that losing my spouse would transform every cell in my being, and that it would change every single thing, forever. I didn't know the first thing about being a 39 year old widow. I didn't know that there was a pain this deep, this all-consuming, this frightening. I didn't know that my husband's death would cause me to not want to be alive any longer, and I didn't know that it would take so long to no longer feel that way. So please forgive me, universe, for my past behaviors. I didn't know a damn thing.

Until, of course, I did.

The thing about knowing something that you didn't know before, is that once you know it, you cannot unknow it. It is impossible. Instead, it sits inside of you and it alters the way that you see the world around you. For me personally, once the shock and fog of my own pain finally began to lift some, I could suddenly see and feel all of the pain that others held in their hearts. Where there used to be judgement, there is now compassion. Where there was assumption, there is now empathy. Where there was celebrity, there is now human being. In my "before" life, I saw the death of someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman as the death of a famous person. In my "after" life, he is just a person. He is a person struggling and crawling and wailing and guessing through life, like all of us. He is a person with addictions, and unless you are a person with addictions yourself, you cannot possibly comprehend the hell of that particular demon, and the control and the hold that it must have over you. This person, this extremely talented and flawed and real person- had been clean and sober from drugs for 23 years. And then, just like that - he wasn't. I am not an expert on addicts, but to me, that says a lot about how fragile the world of an addict has to be. I would imagine it is something like living your life inside a house of cards, just always waiting for that one card to topple over and ruin all your hard work. A simple gust of wind, an unexpected emotion, or even something as simple as a doctor's prescribed pain medication - could be that card that knocks your house down, and sends you once again running toward the familiar destruction.

 In my new life as a widow, I have met many other widowed people, lots of them way too young to even be thinking about or using that  awful "W" word. Many of my fellow widowed friends lost their partners to alcohol or drug addiction. Some of the deaths were suicides, some were overdoses, all were the result of someone being in a massive amount of pain. I am a 42 year old woman, and I know way too many people whose partners lives ended because of addiction. It is heartbreaking. It is terrifying. It is real. The demons are beyond powerful, and sometimes the demons win.

Every single one of us has demons. If you look inside of yourself - really look - you probably know what yours are. We all struggle with something, and some of us win that struggle. Others don't. But the very fact that we all have a struggle makes us all the same. And in that way, you are only a few threads away from being Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's true. You are him. He is you. Or, he could be.

I am still a comedian, and so I will probably always make silly jokes when someone dies. Comedy is a huge part of how I cope with my own husband's death. But now that I am a widow, posting a funny comment is no longer the first thing that pops into my head when a famous person dies. The first thing that came into my head when hearing about Hoffman's sudden death was: His wife. His poor wife. I wish there was some way I could connect with her and just tell her that I get it. I wonder where she was when she found out. Was she alone like I was? Did somebody tell her personally? Were there cameras on her and her children in that moment when they found out the absolute worst thing you could ever find out about your loved one? What will happen to them? How will they live inside of the pain? 

Believe me when I tell you that I wish I didn't possess this knowledge. I wish like hell that I could go back to the days when a celebrity death was just a blip in my radar, and when I thought it had nothing at all to do with me. I wish that I could talk to my husband about what a great actor Hoffman was, and that we could watch his DVD of Charlie Wilson's War together, and remember with fondness. But I can't. That life is gone now, and so is that naive person who was too quick to judge people and make assumptions.

I am different now. I know better than all that, and I know that I cannot unknow what I now know.
And now that you've read this, neither can you.


  1. Yes, I've always felt fortunate that I was 41 before I experienced a traumatic death. That loss of innocence is something you never get back. Once you've seen your child in a casket, looked at photos of the car crash that claimed his life, you cannot unsee. My surviving son was 15 when we lost his older brother. 15. That is far too young to lose innocence, but that is what life forced upon him.

    1. So glad to read your response to Kelly's personal, raw,and to the perfectly made point letter. Experienced the traumatic death of our Daughter at my age 44 she was 24 and ours boys 14 and 18. Now that lost my wife after 52 years married I see looking back how our paths and attitudes change from events that happen in our families and beyond to friends. Like I just heard somewhere our life is not a dress rehearsal and we do not get second chances with some decisions. This is the second letter I have read of Kelly's and she does such a super job of feelings we all have had and worked thru in our lives and loses . It has been just over 1 1/2 years since my second loss Carol my wife, the not having your spouse after so many great years, reading letters and posts from other puts a different light on our sorrows. Thank You Kelley

  2. Outstanding, Kelley ~ just ~ outstanding. From my heart to yours, thank you for writing this.

  3. Kelley Lynn, really hit it on the head. You are such a talented writer and have a real knack for getting to the heart of things. Please know how much I look forward to reading your words on Friday and thank you for sharing your so helps to know that none of us are alone. All the best to you.

  4. When I heard he had died my first thought was of his family. I wondered if he had a wife or kids and my heart ached for them. Really ached. It's a sympathy I never had before my own beloved died. I had no idea, none, what real pain felt like. Now when I hear of anyone's spouse dying all I think is that I'm so sorry they will now know this pain as well and I wish they would never have to.

  5. Glad you posted this. I would say that not only do I think of things completely different from what I would have before I was widowed,but I have a very strong reaction to those that say things like "such a waste" or "that's what he gets" in these situations. As well as any media. I was saddened and angered to see his children and long time girlfriends trying to walk into his wake while the paparazzi snapped a million pictures and videoed them. I can remember when the news stations showed up at my house trying to interview me and kept showing arial footage of the scene where my husband passed away. I hate the way the media shows pictures of cars totaled where someone passed away and totally disrespects families during these traumatic times.