Thoughts: on Emotions (and a little Phillip Seymour Hoffman)

People handle death and grief in so many different ways. When an influential person or a celebrity passes away, as Phillip Seymour Hoffman recently did, our generation of twenty-somethings seems to flock to social networking, whether it be to pay respect or to share our thoughts and emotions. Most of the time, posts like these are caring and respectful.

Sometimes, they’re not.

As I was perusing my social networks (something I find myself doing far too frequently these days), I saw a Facebook status posted by a girl I went to school with a long time ago that looked like this:

All anyone can talk about is how sad they are about the death of a druggie movie star. I choose to be sad about Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield who were killed last year. RIP, you deserve more.

I’ll save you the rant about systematically categorizing and labeling a person based on their struggle with addiction, because that’s another discussion for another day.  The thing I was most struck by was the assumption that the grief surrounding one individual somehow minimizes or takes away from the grief surrounding another.  As if feelings are non-renewable resources, and we have to be careful about how much emotion we give out and to whom, in case it all suddenly runs out.

Let me back up and try to relate this to events in my own life. On September 11, 2001, we were hit with one of the biggest tragedies in our nation’s history. It was an event so tragic that our generation may never completely stop mourning, and we will certainly never forget. Trying to describe the emotion surrounding something like this leaves me at a loss for words.

But then, on September 11, 2002, something else happened. I came home from school and saw that my mom was upset. She sat me down and explained to me that my grandma, her mother, had passed away that very afternoon.  A wave of sadness hit me, knocked me over, pulled me under and tossed me around until I felt like I would never come up again for air. And all this was happening while the whole nation and others across the world were simultaneously mourning for literally thousands of people who had lost their lives just one year earlier.

Did my grief about my grandmother belittle their grief in some way? I don’t believe so. When September 11th comes around each year and everyone shares feelings in status updates and through pictures and video, I never feel like the memory of my grandma is lost, forgotten, or unimportant.  Sometimes I even post a status myself.  Emotions and memory are profoundly personal, and the memory of the amazing woman that was Veronica Johnson will always be with me, even as I remember and mourn the tragic loss of so many other heroes on that same date.

grandma, mom, and I rocking some serious florals circa 1991

grandma, mom, and I rocking some serious florals circa 1991

I think all feelings, from grief to happiness and everything in between, are unlimited resources. There’s plenty to go around—feel free to have a second helping, or a third. Some emotions are even contagious. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I feel like this is especially true for things like hope, and happiness, and positivity. “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” (all you Coach Carter fans best know what I’m talking about).

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was an amazing and troubled actor who lost his struggle with addiction. Chris Kyle was a brave retired Navy SEAL sniper who was killed tragically with his friend. The loss of each of them is truly sad, but one does not take away from the other. Many people lose their lives, and they come from all ages and all walks of life. Each is important in it’s own way. For whatever reason, some people get more public attention than others. If you’re looking to see justice, fairness, and equality for each of these people, Facebook may not be the place to search.

Lets try to find a way to fight the urge to compare and analyze and decide whose feelings seem more important or justified. We all have the potential for more empathy, and I think it’s something worth practicing (I have some work to do myself). When someone is suffering a loss, connecting with that person in a supportive way just makes everyone feel a little bit better, don’t you think? It gives us a sense that we’re all getting through the highs and the lows together, and sometimes we just really need to hear that.

Until next time,

Steph

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