Jan 14, 2012

Beginners - A beautiful movie by Mike Mills

I recently watched the movie "Beginners" written as a semi auto bio piece by Mike Mills.

Ewan McGregor plays the role of a deeply effected son who witnessed the absence of affection and connection between his parents during his upbringing.

Christopher Plummer steals the show playing the part of the father who after 45 years of marriage and his wife's passing, informs his son that he is Gay. He then goes on to celebrate life, love and sensual pleasures with a younger man. A permanent smile is affixed to his face and his happiness is infectious.

In a sense, he becomes a "Beginner" living his life as a fresh start at the tender age of 75.

One of the many questions the movie asks is...

"How do you measure someone else's sorrow?"

My response (cause it's my Blog):

"You don't"

But with empathy, an open non judgmental attitude and a good hard look into someones eyes, you can at least try.

It's also a movie about doing what you have to do even if it means sacrificing your life at a time when you believe it will go on forever and then realizing that you will never be able to catch up because life does not go on forever.

There's a Jack Russel Terrier (that's a dog) named Arthur who plays a significant role almost carrying on the spirit of the father once he has gone and at some points in the movie he simultaneously becomes a muse for all of the characters.

Sadly, although the son is by his fathers side through treatments, medical appointments, pill regimes and inevitably during home hospice, his father dies in his sleep over night. The son never gets to say goodbye.

Which makes me think, do we really need to say goodbye? Or do we just need to make sure that they know we love them every day of their lives while they are still alive?

I love this movie because it's about so many things. It's about someone who never stops trying. It's about aging and losing our inhibitions and coming to terms with gray hair, aching bones, brown spots on our faces and being able to say - "You know what? Considering all I've been through, I really don't look that bad."

In one scene, the father is hosting one of many parties and although he is dying of Cancer he tells his guests he has turned a corner and is doing well. When his son confronts him:

"You aren't cured, you have Stage 4 Cancer - there is no Stage 5", to which the the father replies:

"That just means there were 3 other stages that came before."

I can tell you this, just when you think you are starting to understand where the son and father are coming from, you sit back and realize its a place you have never been.

But that's okay because in the END - we are all BEGINNERS.

Jan 12, 2012

Caring for Your Parents

Unfortunately and inevitably we find ourselves in a position of caring for our parents at the same time as we are parents ourselves. This stage of life and/or phenomena has been known as the "Sandwich Generation."

It's painful to watch your parents grow old and become less autonomous, less able to make choices and care for themselves fully. It's tragic when one of your parents dies leaving the other behind. For the first time in 30, 40, 50 years their best friend is no longer by their side. They won't be at the breakfast table in the morning discussing all the things they have to do and planning for the weekend ahead when they will babysit their grandchildren, watch a movie and go out for Brunch. They won't be jotting down the never ending doctor's appointments that they go to together and the list for the pharmacy. They won't be ordering in their favourite food and watching the Oscars.

Imagine losing the person closest in the world to you. You lose more than half of yourself easily and you have no idea how to replace it because you can't. You come face to face with the fact that you will never see them again; never hold them again; never have a conversation with them again.

It's tragedy in motion. It's dark as death.

So you become the shelter from the storm. It's not a contract or a formal agreement. It's just the way things go, the way things need to go. They bring you into the world and you see them out.

Seeing my parents age scares me more than I can say.

I guess we are all afraid - afraid of what is next - afraid of how we will deal with it and how it will deal with us.

My parents gave me all that they had to give. They never put themselves before my brothers and me. They sacrificed, forgave, forgot and gave so much love that there was a surplus left for their grandchildren.

Whether it's a silent pact or something we just don't like to talk about, my brothers and me know that when the time comes (and it will), our roles with our parents will go into reverse and we can only hope that we will go into drive.

It's a heavy load and generation after generation will be carrying it until the end of time.

Sending strength, courage and empathy to everyone out there caring for a parent.

Jan 9, 2012

Death of a Friend

My mother called last night to inform me that a dear friend of many years and many circles had passed away after a valiant battle with Cancer.

This was not the first friend she has lost nor will be it the last.

So what are the "circles" I mentioned?

Well there are certain people in our lives who just keep showing up around each corner. We meet them when we are starting out our journey and spend quality, in-depth time with them and then they move on as do we.

A month, a year may go by and then one day they appear and suddenly you are working in the same office or taking the same class and its as if you never left them. Your friendship, your bond, is so strong that it levitates eternally and then reaches down and places you side by side as if you were never apart.


They go round and round and sometimes they make our heads spin and our hearts swoon for they are sacred. They encompass and exhude all the passion, excitement and adventure that rolls on and becomes bigger and larger and better through the people who move around and surround us.

Circles end. Not like straight lines. They end with one person still moving while the other no longer can. They have no more circles.

My mother's friend whom I will not name out of respect and privacy for the family, was diagnosed with one of the many dreaded versions of Cancer 5 years ago. She fought it and she won. I have to say that "she fought it" is an understatement. She battled, she suffered, she lost hope and then found it again in her childrens eyes and she fought past the terrible pain and the fear of death and its aloneness.

Unfortunately the Cancer returned and reared its ugly head and this time it packed one too many punches and she lost the battle. She was already hospitalized when her grandson was born and she will be buried tomorrow, the day before his bris - an occasion she has hoped not to miss.

For my mother who knew and befriended this wonderful person over the course of 40 years, having worked, studied, laughed and enjoyed life together - a parallel journey in most every way - there is great pain and sorrow and a feeling of loss of control and helplessness for the help she just couldn't give to save her life.

And although my mother hasn't verbalized it, I know that she reflects on her friends death as what will one day be her final breath from the light that is life to the dark that is death. She didn't have to say so in words but it was palbable in her voice and her gestures.

She asked that for her birthday this year, my siblings and I were not give her things for presents rather her request was for us to each spend some time with her whether it be showing her how to use an Iphone or Social Media or just a quiet talk over tea and cookies at her kitchen table on a snowy afternoon.

The kitchen table where my brothers and I all at one time sat with my mother receiving empathy, advice and support in our times of need. The kitchen table where we once ate as a family, laughing, telling stories and moving as one.

Tomorrow my mother will be there as her friend is remembered in a large room filled with many people - some who knew the deceased and others who are linked in some other way.

My mother will stick with her friend through the entire process - the funeral, the burial, the Shiva. She'll bring food for the family to warm their souls that cannot be warmed. She'll listen to the eulogy as she recites her own silently yet loudly in her mind and she'll lift that shovel and fill it with earth and then release it downward to land on the coffin that may carry her friends body but does not carry her friends soul as it flows from this life to another.

Losing a friend is losing a part of yourself. It's a dialogue that becomes a monologue when there was still so much more to say and it's a telephone number that you call forgetting that there is no one on the other end to answer.

It's the last thing you said to them and the last thing they said to you and no matter what it was - it suddenly becomes spectacular and memorable.

Circles of friends going round and round and eventually, inevitably, they drop off one by one making you wonder if you should just stop and walk a straight line.

But you don't because without the circle no one new can join, evolve and develop as a friend.

The death of a friend is part of life and life is not a straight line.

Hug a friend today - because you can.

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