Divorce, Loss and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Edvard Munch painting, The Scream

My parents told me and my siblings that they were divorcing when I was seven, my sister was five and our brother was four. It came as a complete shock because they never fought or argued in front of us. In addition, it was 1966 and no one in our world had divorced parents.

As I remember, they called us into the living room one evening and told us that they would not be living together any more. My little brother was so young, he probably couldn’t understand much of what was going on, and occupied himself playing in a cardboard box. Afterwards, my Dad went into the kitchen to get ice cream for us kids. He started crying, and as his tears fell into the vanilla ice cream, he dug out scoops for us kids. My heart was breaking. I told him I’d write him a letter every week, I felt so helpless to stop what was happening. My Dad moved out to an apartment in town shortly thereafter, and within a year, he moved to California where we saw him only during summer vacations and occasional holidays. 

They made a huge effort to be very clear that they still loved us very much, and we hadn’t done anything wrong to cause their split. But I worried that the fighting among us kids helped drive them apart. After my Dad moved out as part of the temporary separation, he would visit on Sundays and us kids always loved wrestling with him. I would try to get my Mom to join in and once she was all in, I tried to direct my siblings to back out so my parents would be left to wrestle each other. It was one of my many unsuccessful attempts to manipulate everyone into recreating what I thought was the happy, cohesive family that had been lost.

I was traumatized by their divorce, by the loss of our father from our day to day life and the economic and emotional devastation it did to our family. I didn’t marry until I was 42, and never had kids in part  because I didn’t meet the right man until I was 40, but it was also in part because I was just terrified of ever getting divorced. It wasn’t the thought of being alone that I feared, it was the ripping apart.

I have so much compassion for people going through divorce. My heart breaks for the person being left behind. I’ve been dumped several times by boyfriends and the pain was searing.  One break-up was so bad, it spurred my move to California because I couldn’t seem to find “me” in the town where I was part of the “we” that he and I had created. I can only imagine what it feels to be left by a spouse, the dismantling of a home, the breakup of a family. I’ve also left boyfriends and know how hard it is to realize that to be true to yourself, you must hurt someone that you’ve loved and who still loves you. My heart also breaks for those who are married but still lonely, and those who are single and yearn to find a partner. Bottom line, there is so much pain in the world, and my heart goes out to anyone suffering.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman

I wrote this blog post a few days ago and meant to wrap it up yesterday, but I opened up Facebook and one of the first things I saw was that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died. Later in the day, the updates started mentioning it was due to an expected drug overdose, and by the end of the day, details about his brawl with heroin were everywhere.

His death was so shocking, in part, because the day was supposed to only be about the Superbowl and the ads. Also, the only time I ever saw anything about him was in relationship to another spellbinding performance. No gossip magazine appearances, no Los Angeles party-circuit shots, no news about bad behavior, or a political stance, or any news about anything other than his work.

Like most people, I always thought he was one of the greatest living actors. I think it was his role in Boogie Nights that first blew me away. I loved everything I saw him in since, especially Capote (duh), The Master, and Flawless but also The Savages, Almost Famous, Cold Mountain,  and Magnolia (to name a few).

Though I have many, many flaws and challenges, addiction has not been one. But I can only imagine the strength it takes to keep such a disease at bay for a lifetime. I read he was clean for 23 years, which means he won ever hour of every day for all those years. Yesterday, I guess he lost for one moment and now all is lost.

I feel sorry for all of us who loved his work and who won’t get the pleasure of another blindingly transformative performance. I feel enormous compassion for him and cannot imagine the struggle he fought. But of course I mostly feel so sad for his broken family whose world was shattered.

What are your stories about loss? Divorce? Did Philip Seymour Hoffman impact you somehow? Tell me your stories.

A few links from around the web I hope you enjoy:

The New York Times’ obit for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A short video on the power of empathy.

Another piece on Philip Seymour Hoffman where he says “great talent admits shortcomings.”

An interesting, yet rather scientific explanation of why breakups hurt – even physically.

A beautiful take on how to be alone, a skill we all need, all our lives.

A series on how great actors create their art. I am especially interested in the book on Meryl Streep.

My Dad shared this post with me on how to be present for people who are suffering or trying to walk through the ashes of tragedy.

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