I rarely have any idea what movies are out. It’s been so long since I’ve been a regular movie-goer.
Matt loved the movies. He typically went at least once a week, for a matinee. We’d been known to hit the midnight premier of something more than once. Movies were a very regular part of our lives.
I don’t really remember the first movies I went to in the first weeks after he died. I know I saw one of the Harry Potter movies, but I couldn’t tell you which one. In it, there is an underwater scene, with lots of thrashing and bubbles. The friend I was with was concerned: is this too much?
“Is what too much?” I asked.
She looked at me kind of confused. “Uh, the whole water thing?”
Oh. Drowning. Water thing.
“No. This isn’t what happened, it wasn’t like this at all. Movies are fine.”
Movies are fine.
I must have been out of my mind.
A short while later, or maybe it was months, I went to my third or fourth or fifth movie as a widow. It was Mr. Somebody’s Imaginarium. Of course that’s not the title, but it was something like that. This is the first movie I recall seeing, early in my grief, that overwhelmed me with too much. There’s a brief drowning scene. It’s pretend, the character didn’t really drown, but there it was anyway. The whole movie had little pain points, little places the grief knife slid in and moved, jabbing under my ribs. The next movie I saw, with my step-son, opened with a man gasping for air on the beach.
I don’t think there’s been a good one since.
There have been surprise drownings, sudden death, main characters who are widowed or lost or bereaved in a way the previews didn’t warn you about. And that was when I avoided movies with outright grief storylines. I could not get away from grief, even when I sought an escape.
The few movies I’ve seen that were strictly romantic comedy, no death whatsoever involved, were heartbreaking in other way. I remember the first time I forgot he was dead. The first time I sat in a movie theater and laughed – really, truly laughed. And then, right there, in the middle of the funny parts, I realized it. Remembered again, knew again, that he was dead. I wouldn’t call him when the movie let out, telling him how cute it was. I wouldn’t sit through it again a few days from now, with him by my side, not really loving it enough to see it again, but loving Matt enough to go again so he could see it too.
I sat in the car and cried.
It’s been hard to get myself to the movies. I was pretty hard to please before this happened, before I became so wary of hidden landmines of grief. Now, I am relentlessly suspect.
In my earlier writing, I even made a movie rating system: the tombstone system for the recently bereaved. It was great fun, and if I do say so myself, a useful service: warning people of grief triggers inside movies you wouldn’t think would have them. That meant I had to watch a lot more of them. It shoved me out into the entertainment world. When grief or pain showed up, I told myself I was taking one for the team. I could turn it around and make it useful, this two and half hours of pain.
Pain work is hard work. And as much as I love what I do, what I am privileged and honored to do, sometimes I need to step away from the computer. Force myself to go be entertained. You know where this is heading, don’t you?
I went to see the beautifully done movie, Saving Mr. Banks. I did not research. Well, not any more than to read the synopsis on the cinema website: the backstory to the making of Mary Poppins.
I did not know it would be full of grief. Based on grief. Written with the central concern of grief: how it happens, how it stays, what comes out of it, how we live.
So much for my break.
It was beautiful, and I am very glad I saw it. I am very glad I went. And yet, I am still tired. It was not a break from grief. Sometimes, there just is no break.
But I’m not writing just to warn you about a movie. If you’re trying to support a grieving friend, this post is really for you.
I want to help you understand how hard it is for the one you love to be “entertained.” How hard it is to find a true break from their grief. Grief is everywhere. Happy movie, sad movie, action, drama, children’s – none of that matters. We are surprised by grief, even angered by it, when it shows up unannounced, when we’ve made the effort to show up and have fun. To step away from it all.
There is no away.
It doesn’t mean we won’t have fun, or can’t. Not at all. Honestly, widowed people are some of the funniest, most fun people, you could meet. It’s just that there is always another side.
Especially in the early days of grief, the effort to join the world again is Herculean and monumental. Those densely scattered grief landmines are hard to face.
You might feel like you’ve tried and tried to help your loved one forget, or relax, if even for a moment. You want to see them laugh. You want them, even need them, to have fun. You want that light back in their lives. Back in your own life.
We’re trying. The one you love is trying. As best they can. As best as they are able.
So when they turn down your thousandth request to join them at the movies, or they wander off halfway through, please try to remember it isn’t you: it’s grief.
Sometimes, it’s everywhere. And we just can’t catch a break.
How about you? Do you find that your attempts at taking a “break from grief” often backfire? How often are you invited out somewhere and feel like you have to explain, again, why you aren’t interested? Let us know in the comments, or send me a message. I’d love to hear from you.