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7/23/06
Phillip Coffield
Wake Cold Cuts, Yellow Purse Catheter Bag (Mouse Over)

Dear Kim,

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 doing.

(Kim: My 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 am 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.

I've gone to a number of funerals and wakes in the past year. It was interesting to see 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.

Death seems to belong to religion...and our house and my upbringing was generally anti-religion. So grieving was not really acceptable. My mom would say, "life is for the living.")

So, 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. And my 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 cry. When Philip’s friend 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 house.

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 be accessorized.

His was a fierce humor that made no apologies, stepped aside for no one. Purely in being himself, opened up a space for expression by those more timid.

In the past year, I have helped bury my dear friend Mike Sampson, my ensemble member Lisi Bansen, and now Phillip Coffield.

Each of these is a life to be celebrated and each a reminder that we need to live fully in the lives that we have. And to celebrate ourselves as well as each other..

Later,

Joan

Thursday, Jan 12, 2006

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