Help! My Office Thinks I’m Being Heartless About Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 3 2014 3:14 PM

Response Unkind

In a live chat, Prudie advises a letter writer getting flack for being unsympathetic about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: OK, so the Super Bowl itself was a bust, but I am now the president of the Bruno Mars fan club!

Q. PSH Death—What About the Kids?: At my office today everyone is talking about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and how great of an actor he was. I made that the comment that while he was talented, he was also a junkie who just left three children without a father. I am now getting the cold shoulder from many colleagues. If he hadn't have been famous many others would be also be critical of the situation. How do I mend the fences and find some middle ground within the office?

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A: Everyone who loves great acting, who has been moved, thrilled, and chilled by a Philip Seymour Hoffman performance is mourning his tragic passing. Yes, it was due to the fact that he could not overcome his addiction. But fortunately, society is moving to a place where we recognize this is a terrible illness, one that needs treatment and compassion. That doesn't mean one simply excuses the terrible things that addicts can do; part of treatment is accepting responsibility for one's actions. But if Hoffman had been a colleague of yours who had been struggling with addiction, I doubt many of your co-workers would have agreed with your, "Hey, what do you expect—he was junkie" remark. I think you should reconsider what you said and tell people you feel terrible for being so harsh. Say you know he openly struggled with his demons, sought treatment, and you truly feel sorrow that he couldn't overcome them.

Dear Prudence: Missing Cousin

Q. Meal Payment in Lieu of Gift: My daughter is getting married soon. She wants to ask guests to pay for their meals in lieu of gifts. I have never heard of such a thing in all my years, and this seems outright tacky to me. She says there's nothing wrong with "just asking" and apparently her friends have made similar requests, like contributions for honeymoon and cash gifts. There are some relatives coming as well and I'd be very embarrassed if my daughter were to make such a request. Am I being old-fashioned or is this completely outrageous?

A: If only the former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen had thought of this as a way to pay for the catering for their daughter's wedding. Then they might not have been indicted on criminal charges! Does your daughter take PayPal? She certainly wants to make underwriting the wedding as easy as possible for her guests. Also she should clarify for them if payment is due upon sending in their RSVP, or if the waiters will come around with the check at the end of the celebration. Yes, your daughter is being completely outrageous. Unfortunately, I promise you she is not at the vanguard of expecting one's friends and loved ones to pay for her special occasion. As the example of the McDonnells proves, much heartache can be avoided by living within one's means. If your daughter can't pay for a fancy dinner, then the reception should be a buffet of something she and her fiancé can afford. Or they should make the celebration a dance party with passed hors d'oeuvres. Your daughter is starting out a new phase of her life, so urge her begin without expecting those she loves to underwrite it.

Q. Military Spouse: I'm a military spouse whose husband is about to complete his eighth deployment. This morning, I woke up to about nine emails/Facebook messages of friends and family sending me a link to the "homecoming" Budweiser commercial that aired on TV during the Super Bowl last night. This is the most glaring example yet of a pattern of people sending me links to EVERY homecoming story/video/picture that they come across and/or inquiring about what "epic plans" I have for my husband's return. For the record, having been through this process on multiple occasions and knowing how difficult reintegrations can be, I think "surprise" homecomings are awful and can't imagine how hard they are on families, especially children. I have tried to respond graciously in the past, but it is starting to get on my nerves. I don't think that the stories and ads are sweet and patriotic. I think that they are exploitative and insincere: that Americans post these feel good snippets so that they can feel like they are doing something to "support the troops" while they ignore/allow involuntary drawdowns, untreated PTSD, family violence, V.A. backlogs and all the other unpleasant realities that happen after the ticker tape parades are over. I know, of course, that my friends and family mean well and I don't want to upset them by unleashing this rant, but it gets harder and harder to bite my tongue. Can you suggest a firm but gentle way to request that the onslaught cease?

A: Thank you for this important statement. I have written about the effect of surprise homecomings on the children of deployed service people, and I agree that they are not a good idea. The kind of celebration portrayed in the Bud commercial was not a surprise for the kids. But you raise really important points about an epic homecoming. I'm sure there are people who have appreciated this outpouring, just as there are those for whom it would be a strain. You also make the larger point that a few hours of hugs and balloons make the celebrants feel good, but do not deal with the physical and psychological struggles of those who may have been deployed many times and endured terrible things. What you've said here—tempered just a little—is a good place to start in responding to well-meaning people. You can say your husband is coming home for the eighth time. Explain that a parade and hoopla is not what he needs. Then if there is something real people can do: bring meals, help with the kids while he acclimates, say so. You can explain a lot of military families feel pressure to have a big celebration, when what really is needed is a chance for quiet reintegration and a support system, because serving in a war zone comes at a high cost.

Q. Re: Phillip Seymour Hoffman: A few days before Thanksgiving, my nephew succumbed to his addiction to heroin. A wonderful, intelligent, warm, outgoing, friendly 18-year-old. I can tell you what would happen if I heard any of my co-workers react like that person ... and it wouldn't be pretty. The fact that Hoffman stopped using over 20 years ago and then fairly recently resumed shows that the fight against addiction is never won, it is just sometimes managed. Every single day is a fight.

A: I'm so sorry for your loss. At least as a society we are finally starting to move away from the punishment and criminalization model of dealing with addiction. You are right, it is something people must deal with for a lifetime. I hope we will continue to develop better means of treatment.

Q. Addict Mom Taking Away Family Relationships: My mother is a 52-year-old prescription pill addict. As a family, we have tried talking to her, rehab, hospital stays, you name it. She agreed to rehab only to get there and manipulate and bully her mom to come get her. Long story short, she got her way. I was raised by my grandmother, so she's the only mom I've ever known. Yet now, she's chosen to take on my mother and let her live with her, and life go back to just as it was. Mom's seeking drugs again and lashing out at grandmother for even talking to me. I've come to a point where it's not even a battle worth fighting. I called for commitment, Mom gets out, I've called for adult protective services, no investigation since grandmother is a willing participant (and the enabler to these actions). My question to you is, how do I move forward from here? I'm losing my grandmother because of my mother. I don't want to let go, but our relationship isn't the same now. The only person who was supposed to take care of me turned her back on me and is now taking the only mom I've ever known away. I've got a wonderful husband and his family is great—but still, dealing with the aftermath of mother being gone and her choices means my grandmother made choices to still support and enable my mother and drive a great divide between us. How can I move past this and keep my life in balance?

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