[cancer|culture] The hour and manner of one’s passing

I don’t have a lot to add to what’s already being said about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a successful actor and director who was still underrated, in my uninformed understanding of Hollywood and Broadway. He took brave and frightening and silly roles, sometimes all at once, and inhabited the screen with a certain everyman awkwardness that was both endearing and familiar.

But death, now death has become a close friend to me this last year. Riding on my shoulder, always at my side, hearing with my ears, speaking with my tongue, thinking with my thoughts. Even as I write this I am lying in a hotel room bed on a heated mattress pad with my right side wrapped in a heating pad, every breath a pain, every movement an ache, each of those tiny, sharp, endless crystal moments a reminder that barring a medical breakthrough of almost literally miraculous proportions, I will be gone in a matter of months and weeks.

As it happens of course, we’re working on that medical breakthrough. That’s why the bed I am lying in happens to be in Ocean City, Maryland, 2,950 miles from my home in Portland, OR. My crowd-funded Whole Genome Sequencing drives a realtime experiment in mutation-based selection of TIL cells happening on a lab bench not far west of here at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. I am choosing to live, in pain both physical and psychic, for so long as I can. I am perhaps too stupid and stubborn to die any sooner than I might.

Yet, I say this as if I have any direct control over the ways and means of my cancer.

As a matter of philosophy, I don’t oppose what we somewhat ironically call “recreational drug use”. As a matter of philosophy, I support a right to die for those who feel the need to do so. That would almost make me a Libertarian, at least back in the days before that group became Tea Party lunatics and lost all moral and intellectual credibility.

But I strongly oppose harm to others. In any form. Medicating yourself to death, as Hoffman appears to have done (whether accidentally or with a purpose) slays a portion of the hearts of everyone who loves you.

I know this, as I know that my own increasingly overwhelming mortality slays a portion of the hearts of those who love me.

As I’ve said in several other contexts recently, when death is being forced upon you, as it is with me, then life becomes all the more precious. There’s always a tomorrow, no matter how bad today looks.

That’s not me speaking in cliche. That’s me speaking as someone who spent my teens and twenties so gripped in chronic clinical depression that I found it necessary to try to take my own life, and wound up in considerable treatment because of that. I was lucky enough to have a chance to walk it back, and go on to have a life and loves and a child and writing career.

My chances to walk it back are almost gone beyond recall. The hour and manner of my passing is being dictated by genetic inevitability and the toxic tumor-children of my body.

Philip Seymour Hoffman will never have a chance to walk it back now. The hour and manner of his passing has been set and sealed, seemingly by his own hand.

And that makes me sad. For him. For those who loved him in his everyday life. For those among us who admired him from a distance.

Because one of the things that makes me saddest for myself is that there’s always a tomorrow, but soon enough I will never again see the sun rise. Neither will Mr. Hoffman.

The hour and manner of one’s passing is always the last today.

7 thoughts on “[cancer|culture] The hour and manner of one’s passing

  1. Laurie Mann says:


    Hoffman was due to visit his children yesterday afternoon, still had more of Mockingjay to film, a movie to direct and a TV show to star in. Even if he was depressed, I think he probably got the bad heroin that killed at least 22 people in Western Pennsylvania last weekend (normally there are about 2 drug-related deaths over a weekend in this region). But…I do think that using a drug like heroin always playing Russian roulette with your life every time you use it.

    1. Anna FDD says:

      Quitting, even when you know the drug is killing you, is not easy. He was sober for twenty years but he fell off the wagon and was trying hard to get back up. He didn’t make it in time.
      There was in him a tenderness and vulnerability that he carried even with the most loathsome characters. I think that is what makes his death so hard.

  2. Guess says:

    Your blog posts are some of the best writing I have seen anywhere. I hope they make you feel better to write them and interact with people on your blog.

    1. Jay says:

      Thank you.

  3. Harald Striepe says:

    Poignant, sad all around!

  4. “The hour and manner of one’s passing is always the last today.”

    beautifully put.

    Seymour Hoffman’s drugs were his cancer, coming back when he must have thought he had beaten it. He seemed to know enough that unless he beat it, it would beat him.Sadly he lost.

    The other day, on discussing someone’s death, I heard it said of him “he was at peace with himself, never wanting to go, but at peace enough not to fight it the moment life ended”

    I want to be at peace when my time comes, I don’t want to have to fight it because I am not ready, or be taken while still in a turmoil of losing control to an overdose.

    Its probably the only thing having time does, allow you to try and find peace.

  5. Stevie says:

    Jay, thank you for your thoughts on this; I never even saw one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s roles, to the best of my knowledge, but everyone deserves a bell tolling for them.
    I have known many people who have declined further therapy; they were all teenagers with Cystic Fibrosis whose entire lives had been devoted to therapy of varying kinds, and they had reached the point where they said ‘no more’. Some of them said ‘no more’ when they were on the transplant list; they were apparently turning down the chance of new and sparkly wonder cures, notwithstanding that the average life expectancy of someone with a lung transplant is around 5 years.
    But they had devoted their lifetimes to therapy, and that therapy would not stop post-transplantation; it would go on, and on for ever.
    Their circumstances were very different to your own; I once sat with the grieving mother of such a child, endeavouring to find an an answer to the statement that if she would just hold on then a transplant would become available. The best answer that I could come up with was that she had nothing left to hold on with. And I still believe that is true; it isn’t about walking away from a chance of life, but rather living your own life for once.
    I remain hopeful that the treatment will give you at least some life back, and I shall continue my entirely non-scientific keeping my fingers crossed for you 🙂

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