From time to time, I like to critique movies. After all, they are a vivid, living-color representation of our culture… all the glory and gore is contained there. And that’s what this blog is about: The content or lack of content in American traditions…
I have major frustrations with American culture. Abstract traditions and social patterns dictate our lives so concretely at times, and it is often infuriating. The one thought that brings me comfort is that each person has a personal will and can make concrete choices that supersede culture. But I have already written about all of this many times in various posts. You can read some thoughts in the “bloviate” section at the top of my home page.
Back to the movie. I saw it yesterday with my family; and even though it was a true tear jerker, downer, and sad, I liked it. I thought it was one of the more honest expressions of our culture–in all its frailty and strength.
Grief, dying, and death are not easy subjects for Americans. Part of the reason is that we are a nation of “can-doers.” That is part of the pioneering American spirit. It is what sets us apart from most countries. There is just no such thing as “no” to a true American. This outstanding trait has made us successful in many of life’s venues. It put us on the moon and made us gigantic mass producers, and consumers… I could go on and on of the good and bad that run on parallel tracks in our brief history.
“Can-do” spirit has also caused us to pass over certain areas of life like death and dying. And this is what the movie essentially stated. It was about a mother whose daughter had leukemia. The mother turned the world upside to save her daughter’s life, because she would not take “no” for an answer. She wanted to beat the odds and actually came close. The trouble began and ended when the mother did not recognize when death was appropriate. The whole family sensed and embraced it, but not the mother. She was a fighter.
There is so much truth in King Solomon’s words that there is a season for all things: to live, to die. We must be wise to recognize the time for death and embrace it just like we yearn for life. That means talking about death as a family, dealing with it emotionally, and then releasing the person ultimately when they stand at death’s door.
Americans are just so poor at this, and the movie showed our weakness.
Other cultures deal with death much better than we do. For instance, the Jewish people have certain traditions that determine periods of grief. They are markers that help you get through the first year at least after a loved one dies. There are the first seven days of not leaving the house, sitting with family alone, not speaking, just mourning. Then there is the slow entry back into life at a week, then a month, three months, and finally a year… activities and prayers are prescribed, which softens get the process. I think the Jewish culture is one of the best at dealing with death and the aftermath of loss.
I like what Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her poems, “Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me…” We just can’t stop for death… when it happens we want to press on to routine or life before pain… There is just so much life to live, and we miss the preparation for saying good-bye, also the sweetness that is intertwined with the bitter.
When my father-in-law had a massive stroke over a year ago, there came a time when we all knew we should “let him go.” We all went to him individually and talked to him, although he was in a coma. We knew it was time to say good-bye.
The nurses told us at the time that it was so very rare to see families “let go.” They extend life on and on and on… partly because of guilt or just being unprepared to “let go.”
I certainly know that the sting of death disappears when there is deep assurance that the loved one will go to heaven. We had this with Dad, and that is why we could “let him go.” We knew he would be in a better place.
That element was missing in the movie. That assurance would have made the living and the dying much sweeter. But this was Hollywood.
Anyway, hats off to the producers. If you are up to an emotional tear-jerker that is a real-life glimpse of the American death process, then you will find the story line compelling. It will probably prepare you for the next time you face death… to be more honest about the process… to stop for it… if you do or don’t, it will “kindly stop for you.”