Grief and Social Media: Why Facebook is Not Going Away

Philip Seymour Hoffman tribute
Philip Seymour Hoffman tribute – Fairport High School hill

Yesterday the world lost an amazing actor, a Hollywood star and a talent beyond measure. We watched as reporters spread the news that yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman  succumbed to his addiction and died from a drug overdose in his New York City apartment. The world grieved. I didn’t learn about his death on the news though. I learned about it on Facebook.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Yearbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

Almost immediately my newsfeed blew up – photos, articles, tributes, questions all pouring into the feed, overshadowing the Superbowl.  My feed was full of the official announcements on CNN, PBS, NPR, CBS like most everyone’s. But it wasn’t those articles dominating my feed.

It was my high school friends sharing the news.

See, Phil and I were classmates at Fairport High School. And it was Facebook that brought many of those classmates back into my life, most recently for our 25th class reunion, but even before that, back in 2007 when Facebook started opening up to high schools. It was then that many of us jumped in and reconnected. Hundreds of classmates, separated by time, distance and the business of our lives. It was Facebook that reconnected us.

And it was on Facebook yesterday where we shared our grief and our memories. Immediately, yearbook photos started to surface. Little league, wrestling, drama club, graduation, prom. His sister, also a classmate, requested we set up a tribute page for him to share memories and condolences. My friend did just that and the page Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman now serves as a place where we can connect and remember. We all share memories of, not only our high school classmate, but of that feeling we had when we saw him on the big screen and said to ourselves “hey – I KNOW that guy!” Seeing someone you went to school with winning an Oscar, acting along side Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, well, for most of us – IS a mission impossible. And he did it. And we all felt like we were somehow a little part of it.

So we grieve and remember together on that Facebook page and in our own feeds. The world lost an award winning actor, and we lost a childhood friend.

Even as I write this, I can hear CNN reporting on his death. But I also hear the Facebook notifications coming in as my friends, my Facebook friends, continue to share their memories. I suspect we will continue to grieve there long after the news media has lost interest. This tragic event will bring us closer together.

It was this, his performance in our high school version of Death of a Salesman – that many of us remember the most. It is seared in my memory. It was like we all knew that day, as Phil portrayed Willy Loman, that something vastly larger than ourselves was there. We were mesmerized.

“I’m gonna show you and everybody else that Willy Loman did not die in vain. He had a good dream. It’s the only dream you can have – to come out number-one man. He fought it out here, and this is where I’m gonna win it for him.”  Arthur Miller – Death of a Salesman – Act 2

RIP Phil. Thanks for bringing us all closer to the stars.

death of a salesman yearbook
Death of a Salesman – Fairport High School 1985

9 thoughts on “Grief and Social Media: Why Facebook is Not Going Away

  1. Sue, thank you for sharing this very personal memory. I too found out about his passing on Facebook. I remember the quote because it spoke so closely to what I felt, “I normally don’t get emotional over celebrity deaths, but I feel like I lost a piece of myself. You will be missed, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.” I immediately checked on Google, hoping against hope it was a false story. Surely, she (the Facebook friend that posted) must have misheard, misread…something. And then I learned it was in fact, true. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for those that knew the man, but as a avid fan of his films, and someone that considers him to be one, if not the, greatest actors of our generation, I was very upset when I heard the news.

    Again, thank you for sharing.

  2. Beautiful words, Sue. For all the hyperbole and hype, people use social media to connect with each other and make a story personal. I’ve read various news reports about your friend Phil, but your post was the one that will impact me far longer than any other.

    As a former theater geek myself, thanks for sharing his memory.

  3. A death like this is always a little tougher when it is a peer who was walking the same hallways as you were and shared many of the same memories as you did. Hollywood will never know as much about his life in Fairport as his friends from Fairport and those who saw his first Oscar winning performance in Death of a Salesman. I did not know Phillip personally, but his performance in Death of a Salesman stunned me when I saw it and my family talked about it all the way home. We knew we had just witnessed something rare and special for someone so young. Although I never knew Phillip personally, it still feel like a punch to the gut knowing that someone who graced the halls of my school is now gone. I feel a lot more mortal today.

  4. Hi Sue,

    Can I ask you why you chose to share this memory on a site that you use to promote yourself for marketing purposes as a social media expert – rather than to a group of your own friends on Facebook or on a personal blog?

    Why did you then share the post, by email, with a large circle of influencers on Google Plus?

    I am curious to hear your motive – because, for me, if I were a social media marketer, this would represent an unconscionable blurring of the personal and the professional.

    1. I actually debated that very question for awhile before deciding to go ahead and write the post. Once a post is published I typically share it by all those means, including Google Plus, so that people can read and respond as you’ve done here. Social media itself has caused a blurring of the professional and personal and this is an example of that. I’m both professional and personal on all my accounts. This is my personal blog, my opinions are my own and this was a personal experience that I chose to share. Thanks for your comments. Sue

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