Today, I went to the memorial service for Philip Coffield, an actor
and director in St. Louis who died Monday, Jan. 9, at Barnes-Jewish
Hospital of complications from AIDS. He was 42.
Although Phillip had
AIDS for 14 years and struggled continuously with various subsequent
related Illnesses, including finally, brain cancer,
he performed in 132 productions and directed numerous others.
I usually have a hard time at memorial services. My grief over
the precariousness of life and the suffering of those who are left
tends to go into a pretty deep place. I am moved to cry in
less than usually socially sanctioned ways. At my dear friend
Mike Sampson’s service last year around this same time, I was
so wracked with sobs, a woman I did not know turned around to ask
if I was ok.
While I may express my grief more vocally than many, Actually feel
so emotionally constricted and self conscious because of
the setting that I cannot cry with a sense of freedom. Let alone
shriek and howl and tear my shirt. Which is what I really feel like
father's father died in Beirut (1917), his mom shrieked and cried
and ran around
the house. I guess it was a Jewish tradition. It must have scared
my dad because he wasn't very good at expressing grief (even though
he went through psychoanalysis)...nor was my mom (though she was
somewhat better). I have trouble crying...and mostly it is only
for short time. I do tear up when I think of my parents but certainly
fairly non-orgastic in my expressions of grief.
When my uncle's child
died in an accident my mom was crying, but I wouldn't say that
she was out-of-control, though that definitely was the saddest
event in their life.
to a number of funerals and wakes in the past year. It was interesting
the different expressions of grief. I sometimes wondered who people
are crying for—themselves or the dead one.
One of the worst was one
of my favorite students whose daughter died in her sleep with her
child on her chest. I think she was 21.
to belong to religion...and our house and my upbringing was generally
So grieving was not really acceptable. My mom would say, "life
is for the living.")
while there is a wake going on now at Champe O’Leary’s
house in Webster Groves, replete with the usual cold
cuts and the comfort of small talk, I have come home to regroup.
I hugged the people
I knew to hug, and even some that I didn’t and
I am now needing to be quiet and to sit with my feelings.
birds and my fish.
It was a beautiful service, well directed, no doubt
by Philip in absentia. There was much to make us
laugh as well as
from Arrow Rock Lyceum where he had been Artistic Director
until he became too sick said he did not think it would be
out of place to applaud Phillip, we all stood and clapped and some
of us shouted, "Bravo!”.
Phillip would have been pleased to know he had a full
I was reminded of why I love homosexuals and artists.
In these final weeks, Philip proposed that he star
in a one
man show called “The Yellow Purse,” the tile of which referred
to his catheter bag.
He sat up in bed; rail thin in a hospital gown, wearing
long dangling earrings because he said cancer should
His was a fierce humor that made no apologies, stepped
aside for no one. Purely in being himself, opened up
a space for
In the past year, I have helped bury my dear friend
Mike Sampson, my ensemble member Lisi Bansen, and
Each of these is a life to be celebrated and each a
reminder that we need to live fully in the lives that
And to celebrate
ourselves as well as each other..
Thursday, Jan 12, 2006