The difference in the last 4-5 years of living with loss is that my husband has gone from being rocked by movies dealing with grief similar to his own, and now he can appreciate the beauty of the story. The most recent movie we watched that dealt with grief and loss was Broken Circle Breakdown, a movie that jumps around in time but focuses on the beginning and end of one particular couple who conceive and eventually lose their child to cancer.
The beauty of the movie, for me, was in how the breakdown was illustrated, obviously written by someone who’s experienced such a loss. There were three aspects to the story that also stuck with me: The metaphor of the broken circle and the appearance that the circle could be mended, how the love of America mirrors the experience of dreams meeting reality, and the role the rest of nature can have in helping us cope or in helping us find the words to express what we’re experiencing.
Near the end of the movie the father tells the mother that the circle is broken, their daughter is dead and not coming back. What I realized also towards the end of the movie was that, in a performance with their bluegrass band, the father in his pain was reaching out to the mother, his wife. In her grief the mother continued to reach for the daughter they lost. This illustrates the broken circle, yet at the same time if the mother could have found the strength to reach back toward the father, there would have been a chance the circle could have been mended through adjustment.
The parents were content as a couple when the pregnancy was discovered, but once there was a baby the couple would never be the same which is why there is an argument that you can’t go home again. When you return you see with new eyes, expanded by your experience so nothing will or could be as it was before.
The father loved America so this foreign film had parts that were in English, including the musical performances. There were also seemingly random clips of American media coverage of 9/11 and President George W. Bush’s veto of the stem cell research bill. This randomness makes sense when you consider that the father loved America because he saw us as a land of dreamers, and once he accepted the pregnancy he was living the dream. The dream turned into a dark reality with his daughter’s illness and death. The vetoing of the stem cell bill was such a deeply personal wound for him, not only because it came from America, but because he felt science, the science that could have saved his daughter’s life, was being unnecessarily held back in the name of morality.
Another interesting point of the story and my reaction to it had to do with the rest of nature. I never considered the father an atheist even though he didn’t believe in life after death and railed against God with a nod toward evolution. I don’t know why that didn’t hit me, but maybe it was because he still had faith in something even if it didn’t match that of his wife or daughter.
It was the daughter who witnessed a crow flying into a pane of glass and dying. She picked it up and wouldn’t let it go. The father tried to take it to throw it away, calling it ‘dirty.’ The daughter, I felt, knew she was dying or at least at Death’s door and was struggling to come to terms with it. I felt there was a connection in how he was handling the death of the crow and how the daughter thought he would handle her death. The father eventually had a talk with his daughter. She told him she believed the crow was now a star and he let her believe that.
While in the hospital for treatment the father was encouraged by the daughter to tell the story of the stars. He talked about how by the time we saw the light of the stars they were already gone; but the light didn’t stop with us. It kept going, shining on forever. I thought this was a brilliant way to see his child’s life, whether or not he recognized it, and could also be a fabulous way to think about the people we have lost.
Lost and Found
On a few occasions while writing this I realize that as an alternative to saying someone’s died I want to say that they are lost. This is not in the literal sense, but that they are lost to us as we have known them. Or, perhaps, we are lost as we deal with this change in relationship. My idea with Living With Loss is that those who have died are still with us, just in a new way. The daughter lost the crow but found it in the stars. The father stayed grounded but could have found his daughter in the light of the star. The mother lost the daughter but seemed to find her in a crow sitting outside the window. If everyone let the other believe as they felt inclined, as the father had with the daughter, the circle could also have been born again as the mother seeing her daughter in the crow, the daughter seeing the crow (herself) as the star, and the father seeing the light of the star as living forever…
What made the father strong, what he found as he reached for the mother who kept pulling away, I cannot say. What I do realize now is that there is amazing grace in experiencing loss and finding something new to hold onto.
In your experience with grief and loss, what have you found? How has it changed over time?