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Films That Deal with the Death of a Loved One: A Girl's Guide to Recovery

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Guides | November 29, 2012 | Comments ()


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Warning: This post deals with a recent death, and while there's nothing graphic, it may be upsetting to those who recently lost a loved one.

My grandmother died at 3:58 p.m. on November 26th, and I know because I was there. I didn't know that was going to be the last day, I was headed for a screening when my sister called and said that Grammy was in the hospital and only had a few hours. I immediately turn around and drive the hour to Redlands, where she's in the ER. I speed on the way there. I am surprisingly calm though I know this will fade away soon. I stop only for gas because I absolutely have to, otherwise I make it there as fast as I can and walk, calmly, again, into the ER. This is a shitty, cheap hospital with a tacky giftshop but I find my way to the ER and ask for my grandmother, slip inside the crowded hallways, find the room and am halted by the sight of her tiny frame hooked up to all the tubes and wires and oxygen.

My grandmother has dementia and Alzheimer's and has been in a home for a number of years now, she lived with my parents but became a different person about six or so years ago, so entirely different that my youngest siblings almost didn't know her for who she truly was. At first it was gradual losses of memory, and then she slowly slipped away into another country where no one else could follow. Sometimes if you spoke to her for a few hours she'd come back, but mostly she was irritable, convinced that she was being held against her will, always trying to escape from home and head off into the hills that surrounded my parent's house. Eventually she was put into a home and we would visit, but not often enough. I went a few times a year but it usually made me feel so far from her that it took me weeks to recover, or I'd shut down completely.

I remember crying as a child, as I am crying now, telling her that when she died there would be no one who understood me at all, no one who really knew who I was. But this is really the second death, as we lost her some years ago to a disease that destroys every fiber of who you once were, leaving behind only sorrow.

In the hospital, two of my sisters, who are 24 and 21, have been here since 11:30 a.m., and my mother is trying to make her way here, waylaid by a long trip to pick up my uncle before heading to the hospital. I keep insisting that she must not understand how dire the situation is, but my younger sister says that she knows, that she'll be here as soon as she can. They've given my grandmother morphine, comfort care, but the instructions are not to do anything drastic to keep her alive. Her skin feels papery and ancient under my hands, and I try to be reassuring in my touch, although she is beyond recognizing any of us or our actions. I hear someone in the berth next to us say "This is just a normal day." and then a male nurse repeats it back, "This is just a normal day!" and I think about how this is and is not a normal day.

Because you can't cry forever, my sisters and I begin to talk quietly of other matters, which only makes me sick when I realize stupidly that stupid life really does go on. We even laugh a bit about dating problems, and my sister shows me a picture of her new boyfriend. We never let go of my grandmother's hands. As the minutes drag on I begin to notice on the monitor that the numbers are decreasing, all of them. I keep asking Jayne what different numbers mean, "What does that blue one say?" She doesn't know either. No one comes in to check on us, we are alone, the three of us crowded around her bed in the busy ER as people wait outside in the hallway, waiting for their turn to die. I tell Jayne to take a picture of the monitor so I can text it to a nurse friend, ask for her help in understanding as it feels somehow less awful then asking a nurse nearby. Someone far away should tell me she's really dying, so I can ignore it, turn the phone off and tuck it away. But the hospital is built of lead and all of us are having trouble getting a signal, and the text never goes through.

As her breathing slows even more we are unsure what to do, we turn to one another, not frantic, but unable to understand. I say that this is horrible, that I wish I could do something. I keep thinking that I would give a year of my life for her to add another to hers, and then imagine how far I could take that, giving year after year of a life I've not yet lived to buoy up her decline. Even as we are there, one on either side of her, holding her hands, touching her, eventually she has one last breath and I still know somehow that dying is something we do alone. And I regret how very solitary that is. We stand for a while, stuck, until a nurse comes in and quickly leaves to get a doctor who makes a great show of listening for a heartbeat with a stethoscope and then tells my sister Jayne how sorry he is, but she's passed. As if the absolute flat lines on the monitor and the fact she hasn't taken a breath in minutes wasn't clear enough. Then we are alone and we are alone together with someone who is and who is not my grandmother and it is quiet and she is gone.

The nurses and doctors were kind, far kinder than I would have expected for people who see death every day. All my nursing friends are immune, and I understand how you'd have to build up a shield around you, how you couldn't let yourself be affected by any one death. I am still moved by their skits, and make a mental note to send a sympathy card to our nurse, but I know I will forget.

My grandmother was my closest confidant as a child, wonderfully creative and giving, always encouraging us to build in the woodshop, or put on plays, or bake in her kitchen, create paintings and art in the patio, and read voraciously. That my parents and grandparents valued reading so highly is likely the only reason I can string two sentences together. We sang songs and learned new skills, swam in lakes and rivers and went on many trips to far away lands. She was also an intelligent and amusing person, a librarian at a school for many years, a writer and accomplished poet who was involved in literacy work in Haiti for as long as I was alive, going there often to organize and work in the libraries in Port-Au-Prince. She was the best person I knew, and I am grateful for what was given, though it will never be enough.

I was reminded in some small way of each of these films while writing this, and I meant to write more about each of these films, but it feels cheap, tawdry to use the life and death of someone who mattered so dearly for something so transient, and so I have just written a little. At the same time, having this all down as it happened will be of use to me, though I know not how, yet. Perhaps the lesson that life has handed me these past few months is not that things will get better, but I will get better at not being destroyed by these events. Maybe, but not just yet.

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A Christmas Tale
This is one of my favorite films that almost no one has seen, a warm and interesting Christmas movie that revolves around a large French family and their various struggles and triumphs. Some of the family members are haunted by deaths, and some are struggling with the pending death of the matriarch, played by the lovely Catherine Deneuve.

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A Zed and Two Noughts
A movie obsessed with the end and beginning of life. This is one of my favorite movies, revolving around two men whose wives have died and their epic search for answers. Clever, beautiful and strange, director Peter Greenaway's work is meant to be seen on a large screen. Bonus points if you caught the Vermeer references before they were pointed out in the film.

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
It is more the quiet tone of this film, as I can barely remember what it's about. I remember non-linear plot, ghosts, beasts with red eyes, the quiet of a forest, more ghosts, the undead, the strange noises of sleep and nightfall. A feeling contained, to be sure.

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Three Colors Trilogy: Blue
Few films deal with grief as palpable as "Blue," which finds Juliette Binoche the sole survivor of a car crash which takes her husband and daughter from her. In the film, she's often swimming and the visual of rising up and then being unable to pull herself free before drowning in it again is perhaps the strongest analogy for grief. As she tries to recover, she keeps being drawn back in and down, sinking ever further into it.

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Big Fish
If ever there were a film about the passing of life, it'd be Big Fish. And the story told at the end, with all gathered at the river, is as near a perfect ending as can be had. Beautiful and moving, why doesn't Tim Burton make 'em like this anymore?

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The Royal Tenenbaums
This has one of my favorite deaths in a film, some moments of reconciliation hard won between father and son, and a very Wes Anderson tombstone.

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The Darjeeling Limited
Screw you, it's my list. I like this best of all Wes Anderson movies I think, but it played right into my India obsessions.

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Beginners
How do we deal with the end, of life, of relationships, of the lives of others. One of the strongest and most genuinely touching films I've seen about trying to deal with the passing of a loved one.

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Away from Her
I have not seen this film, though I adore the Alice Munro story it's based on, and the fact it's directed by Sarah Polley, because, well, it's about an elderly woman dealing with the devastation of Alzheimer's. Maybe someday, but not today.

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Meet Joe Black
I used to watch this every time I came home from college, no matter how late, I'd pop it in the DVD player and watch the whole thing, like a ritual. Brad Pitt is lovely, Anthony Hopkins really brings the fire, and it's an interesting meditation on the transition of life into death.

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ParaNorman
This one made me tear up this year, as Norman is able to still see his grandmother as a ghost in their home, she still offers him love and support. Memories are a kind of ghost.

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Yi Yi
This is a beautiful foreign film about a family from Taipei dealing with a host of familial drama, love, anguish, truth and beauty, but the story that I remembered most was of the young boy and his grandmother who is in a coma. (I've not done this film right, but you should see it anyway. Profoundly moving.) When I went looking for information about it today, I came across this quote where he finally speaks to her in a letter after her death.

"I'm sorry, Grandma. It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to you. I think all the stuff I could tell you... You must already know. Otherwise, you wouldn't always tell me to 'Listen!' They all say you've gone away. But you didn't tell me where you went. I guess it's someplace you think I should know. But, Grandma, I know so little. Do you know what I want to do when I grow up? I want to tell people things they don't know. Show them stuff they haven't seen. It'll be so much fun. Perhaps one day... I'll find out where you've gone. If I do, can I tell everyone, and bring them to visit you? Grandma, I miss you. Especially when I see my newborn cousin who still doesn't have a name. He reminds me that you always said you felt old. I want to tell him that I feel I am old, too."

Amanda Mae Meyncke is a granddaughter, she lives in Los Angeles.




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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • MissNev

    Amanda, I am so truly sorry for your loss. It made me miss my grandma all over again. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story and take care. I hope she comes to visit you in your dreams.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I can't reply to everyone I realized, but I wanted to say thank you for your kind words and thoughts. I appreciate such a positive response to such a private matter, one that I was nervous to write about. You all make me better, and I thank you for that.

  • michaelceratops

    So umm... I made the mistake of reading this at work a day later because yesterday I was too busy at work to check the website the past couple of days.

    My Grandpa Dick passed away shortly after midnight on the 26th as well. I'm not able to get the time down to the minute as you were because instead of being an hour away as you were, I am a thousand miles away from my home town.

    My Grandpa was an extraordinary man. My mom was the exact middle of 9 children. Shortly after my Uncle Kipper was born, her mom skipped out of town and wasn't heard from until my mom graduated from high school. Grandpa Dick raised 9 kids all by himself while working odd jobs to support them until he opened his own plant shop, which he had for 25 or so years (it burned to the ground in the late 90s). The rest of his family was in Illinois, so there were really no aunts or uncles, grandmas or grandpas to take care of the kids while he was working so he really did do it all on his own. I can't even begin to wrap my mind around everything he did. My mom's family isn't the best: my uncle Michael passed away from alcoholism in '93, my uncle David is estranged from the family, my aunt Terri is a world class sociopath, everyone else is selfish and scattered to the four winds. However, my Grandpa Dick did absolutely everything he could do in his power to keep the family together as much as he could.

    He also drank for many years, smoked when he was younger and ate whatever he wanted, as did most people of that generation (I'm sure you all watch Mad Men), so of course his health wasn't the best. He had his first quadruple bypass in the late 70s when he was 46 and his second in '03 when he was 70. His heart never recovered from that and started failing in September. Blood wasn't properly circulating to his brain (or vital organs, for that matter) and he started losing his brain capacity. He was ornery, stubborn and constantly irritated. My mom and her (completely fucked up) sister where the only two of the kids left in town, so my mom was the one that was up at the VA hospital every day, without fail, to take the brunt of his terrible nature. I mean, I don't blame him - I'd be pissed if I was faced with the idea of never being able to leave my bed again.

    I made it down in October and he just wasn't himself. I began to think these horrible thoughts about how I wished I hadn't booked the last minute trip and used the last of my vacation hours at work to visit him because I didn't want to remember him that way. I wanted to remember the man who dressed up as Santa every Christmas or would take out his dentures to make me and my cousins laugh uncontrollably, no matter how many times my mom yelled at him or even the man that let me and my mom live at his small house for three months after my mom finally decided that my dad had beat her one too many times and that we needed to leave. But then I realized that no one can ever stay perfect as you'd like in your mind; love meant taking the good with the bad. October 7 was the last time I saw him, small and weak in his hospital bed. I always remembered him as a tremendous man so seeing him like that was devastating. I left the hospital as Wheel of Fortune was starting so that he could watch it in peace. He gave me as big of a hug as he could in his frail state and told me that he loved me and that he was proud of me, something I hadn't heard from anyone else in my family. The dementia kicked in shortly after and his decline was fast. He held on for another month and a half.

    Sorry this was so long but this is the first time I've actually talked about any of this. I went to work the next day in a haze and worked a full day even though my supervisor gave me a free pass to go home. I feel helpless and small because I'm so far away from home and for what? A stupid job. I've been working through those feelings silently, calling my mom every day to see how she's doing because she's now dealing with the fallout. I've had a lot of people sending condolences through Facebook, reminding me how he's in Heaven because his Father called him home (my mom raised me Atheist and my Grandpa didn't go to church for years but thanks anyways? I never know what to say when people tell me that) but no one's really asked about my thoughts. Again, I'm selfish but I just needed to talk about it. I work through my feelings by talking them out (anyone close to me or even people who follow me on Twitter know this) and I just hadn't been given an opportunity that seemed right.

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful piece - hearing something mutual helped me feel not so small and helpless for some reason. You are much more eloquent than I am, so good on you. Also - I know it seems petty to try to put feelings like this down and equate them with silly things like movies, but there are a lot of times when I feel terrible and sad and sometimes watching and connecting with something "silly" like a movie that is trying to express the same feelings really helps. I don't know why I didn't think of it, but I'm going to go home and watch Beginners because I think I'll be able to connect with that in a positive way. I'm also going to try to watch a couple of the others that I haven't seen. Maybe I should have started this comment with this paragraph but I'm actually silently crying as I write this so I can't be expected to properly structure this in a way that my real point will get across without everyone having to read through everything else.

  • Ginny

    Thank you for this. The same thing happened with my grandfather, on November 18th, and it is similar down to the dementia/alzheimer's and the younger members of the family (in this case, a cousin) never even really knowing the man he used to be. It's rough, having them die when they've really been gone a long time. It's hard to sort through those feelings.

  • growler

    My dad died the night Sandy hit. The power wen out in the hospital, generators kicked in, and he left.

    I think one that needs to be added to this list is The Sweet Hereafter,, one of the most heartrending depictions of grief on film.

  • greenblue

    Thank you for devastating my day :(

    My husband and I took care of his 91 year old grandmother with Alzheimer's for the better part of last year before being making the heartbreaking decision to put her into a facility. While I never loved her the way he did I love him and it kills me to see him have to watch her fade away. Most visits she doesn't remember his name despite always being happy to see him. We don't visit her as often as we should because it's just too hard on him. He's worried that he'll remember the vacant looks, repeated stories, and general confusion more than he'll remember the hot tea at breakfast, the nights they played dominoes, or how much she loved him. At times I think it will be a bit of a relief when she passes and then I feel like shit for it. I do not look forward to the day when she leaves us for good and reading this just reminds me how hard it will be.

    Like you, I've always wanted to watch Away From Her because I've heard amazing things. Sadly I can't because it will just remind me how horrible that damn disease is.

  • thenchonto

    First off, I'm so sorry for your loss.Second, thank you for sharing this, so much. All your articles thus far have been like cinnamon tea and fuzzy blankets on a cold day for me as I struggle through this shitty, shitty year, but this blows the rest away. You have no idea how much your articles mean to me.

    My grandmother passed away in August and my first in-home care client finally transitioned to assisted living this year (due to advancing dementia).

    Grandma lived through a decade of every imaginable illness - diabetes, congestive heart failure, lung and breast cancers, all of it, miraculously - but stayed mentally clear throughout her tumultuous decline. It was a rough road for all of us. She taught me how to be a country girl, to be tough as nails yet endlessly compassionate toward all living things, to grow anything in any weather (she kept cacti alive in the Midwest for decades), and to be self-reliant. Since she's passed, I catch more and more glimpses of her in all my relatives, in little turns of phrase or moments of frank honesty. Since her death, my grandpa's returned to the traveling he used to love, in his new car with his old-timey driving hat, criss-crossing the U.S. visiting distant family most of us had kind of forgotten about. It's like he's finally free from the hellishness of the past few years, in a beautiful way. My aunts worry about him constantly while he's out wandering, but I think he needs this. Introspective travel is the best.

    As for my care client, I'll never forget the first day she forgot me. She thought I was her tenant, referred to me by that name, and told me to just take the shopping expenses out of my rent. It was such a casual, quiet little moment, but all the more devastating for that fact. I went out to my car and cried for awhile before actually going to the grocery store. I'd tried to prepare myself for that first big slip, but it's impossible. I'd tell myself "it only makes since that you'd be the first to go since you're the newest addition", but when you're spending 35 hours a week with someone, that's no consolation, and it's even harder to let the loved ones know of the development, like radioing into the folks downriver that the flood's coming and it's inescapable. I love what I do, though. I love making things a little less awful at such an awful time for everyone, providing a little peace of mind, creating comfort through routine. I'm so grateful to my first client for sparking my passion in this line of work, wherever it takes me. She's on hospice now, and again I'm bracing myself for the impossibility of being ready for the inevitable.

    It's not about the final, "second" death, but I'd add Robot and Frank to this list. I stayed past the credits in the little art theater down the street, sobbing quietly in the back. Devastating and sweet. Maybe wait awhile before watching this one, though.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Yes! This was lovely, thank you so much for sharing. Yes, my review of Robot and Frank for Pajiba touches on this very issue and I speak of how devastating it is. I cried too. The mental image of radioing downstream is precisely correct.

  • thenchonto

    Oh! I think I mentally skated by that review in a haze of too many emotions. The added fear of being replaced by a robot in the one job where I thought I'd be safe from robotic replacement did not help matters. My boyfriend came back from the bathroom after the movie to find me still in the theater, a total mess, rambling about being replaced AND forgotten. He looked just so, so confused.

  • hippyherb

    Thank you for sharing this with us Amanda. My heart goes out to you and yours.
    When my mother passed 18 months ago, My daughter and I were with her. She died at 3 minutes past midnight. She had slipped into a deep sleep/coma? in the hours before her death. After my siblings and son had gone to have a few hours sleep, it was just me and my daughter. Luckily I had a open relationship with Mum about death and we both had said all the things that needed to be said. We both new how loved and appreciated we each were in the others eyes.

    While my family was still in the room with her, we joked around, told stories, mocked (lovingly) mum for the funny things she had said and done over the years. It was our last family 'do' with mum there and we made the most of it. She would have appreciated it.

    My mum helped raise my children, so I knew that when she passed, that my kids would grieve for her like they would a parent.
    Sarah sat on one side holding her had, and I sat on the other.
    We told her how loved and safe she was, and that my brother and her friends were on the other side for her, ready to have a cuppa tea.
    We consider it an honour that we were with her when she passed. She brought me into this world, and I loved her as she went out.

    There is no easy way to get through grief, because grief is a bitch. It is hard and relentless and it hurts. But I welcomed every horrible minute, because my mum deserved to be grieved for.
    Take care Amanda, we are thinking of you.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    Thank you for your kindness, I appreciate your words.

  • Annie B

    Thank you for writing this. It's a beautiful and honest and speaks so perfectly to what loss is like. I do wish I'd waited until my office hours were over to read it though... a student just walked in on me sobbing. ....woops :)

  • BierceAmbrose

    Such brave, strong, decent people, the bunch of you.

  • OK, you cannot watch 'Away From Her', based on your recent experience. You are right to avoid it. It is a great movie.

  • ZestyItalian2

    Great list- and hats off to your bravery (in the face of internet tut-tutting) in including two Wes Anderson movies on the list.

    Darjeeling is a solid second favorite for me behind Tenenbaums, which I doubt will be eclipsed by the director in his career. The Royal Tenenbaums is one of the best movies of the past 15 years.

    Moreover, ALL of Anderson's movies share that quality of being crossed somehow by the shadow of death, whether death enters into the plotline directly (though it almost always does) or not. As Don Draper taught us, nostalgia is literally pain from an old wound, and Anderson's characters' wounds are mortal.

  • John W

    Condolences on your loss.

  • Chris

    Thank you for sharing your story, though I'm sorry for your loss. My mother passed away in February 2010 of early onset dementia and Alzheimer's, just three days after my birthday. She was 63. It's true that it's a second death, because we lose them long before they pass away. Before my mother lost the ability to speak, she lost the ability to communicate. In the beginning she would repeat herself over and over, forgetting what was said, so much so that you couldn't even have a real conversation lasting more than 5 minutes. Then she stopped making sense. She was speaking as if she was having a conversation with you, but her words were jumbled and it was all nonsense. My husband (who I married in 2001) never really knew who her, my children don't remember her, and my youngest never met her at all. She was the most amazing person and my best friend and I will never stop missing her. I still have moments that catch me off guard and I sob as if it happened yesterday. But, yes, life goes on, and she would have wanted it that way. She wouldn't want me to spend my days crying, but laughing, because she loved me and wanted me to be happy, to have a wonderful life and live it fully!

    Oh, and the quote from YiYi is perfect and beautiful, thank you for sharing it!

  • Amanda Meyncke

    That quote broke my heart when I found it again. I'm so sorry for your loss too. It's hard when others don't remember the way we do.

  • Miss Kate

    I'm very sorry for your loss. As someone else said, you were there for your grandmother, and that was enough! Death is a singular experience - the only thing we can do for our loved ones is be there for them.

    There are some movies that I can't watch without thinking of my mother, who passed 5 years ago. (Weirdly enough, she LOVED the Rush Hour movies so every time I see Chris Tucker I get squishy.) I confess that I speed-read through this beautifully written article to keep from crying at work.

  • Carrie/Teabelly

    My grandmother died in February, all of 25 days after being diagnosed with cancer. I don't know if other people would call that sudden, but it felt incredibly sudden to me. Up until that point she had been healthy and always busy, she was never home her life was so full. It was hard to see. I wasn't there when she died but I was lucky enough to get home and see her the week before, when she was still up and around, and we talked and looked over old photos and I am very happy to have had that time with her. She died in her own home surrounded by her children. I would be lucky to go the same way.

    Nov 11 would have been her 81st birthday, and that's when we scattered her ashes. I expected her to be around for many more years, so that's the hardest thing to come to terms with. Her first great-grandchild was born this week, and my brother gave his daughter my grandmother's name as a middle name, which is lovely.

    I am sorry for your loss. Your article definitely made me well up, and I probably shouldn't have written this comment at my desk. Oh well.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    I'm sorry for your loss too, I expected more time but nobody can really know, which is the worst thing. We operate out of necessity as if we are immortal.

  • Bodhi

    All I can say is that I am sorry for your loss. All of my grandparents have passed & while I was terribly upset at the time, I was sure that time would heal things. It did, until I moved into the home that my grandfather built, with his bare hands, for my grandmother, father, & his siblings. The year & a half my husband I lived there was the happiest time of my life. We made our life and our child there &, even though there were major inconveniences involved in living there, it was our home. It was a joy & a privilege to live in the home that my grandpa built & I sobbed like I did at his funeral when it finally sold & we had to move out (it may have been the preggo hormones, but thats neither here nor there)

  • Shonda

    Alzheimer's is a selfish fucking fucker. I'm sorry for the swears but I lost my beautiful, beloved Granny to it, years before she actually passed away, and.... I have to stop there.

    Amanda, I am so very sorry.

  • chanohack

    I'm sorry, Amanda. I'm scared to death of getting that same call about my Gran. I love her so, so much.

    I don't know if it'll help you, but I first watched The Time Traveler's Wife after a friend of mine died, and it helped me a lot. It's flawed, yes, but I think it's a lovely way to look at an entire life, and an entire relationship, not just the end or the beginning. And I like the way the film deals with "fate"--that things aren't "meant to be," that people don't have a "time to go," but things just happen the way they happen, and no one can change it.

    I don't know if that makes any sense, but I hope it helps. I'm sorry for your loss.

  • portlandmermaid

    You were fortunate to have had such a wonderful relationship with such a wonderful woman. You helped her leave and I hope she was comforted by the warm presence of you and your sisters.

  • mona_sterling

    My dad died two years ago. You totally captured my feelings of futility, guilt, fear, and gratitude that I didn't turn away and hide when the end came (Oh, how I wanted to). It's always hard to say goodbye, for so many reasons, but your grandmother was far less alone than you believe--you and your sisters were there to bear witness to her life and her passing, and that's a hell of a testament. I'm sorry for your loss and wish you peace in the upcoming weeks and months.

    ETA--Big Fish was on HBO tonight & I watched the river scene for you, your grandma, me, and my dad. May we all leave this world with someone who loves and understands us holding our hands.

  • Thank goodness i read this at home, not at work. Wouldn't do to start sobbing at my desk.

    My grandmother is slipping away from my family, cursed with dementia. It scares me, to see her becoming someone else, to know that one day I might follow in her path.

    This was a lovely way to honor your grandmother. And I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • KZoeT

    I am sorry for your loss. Truly.

  • MissAmynae

    I'm so sorry for your loss, Amanda. **hugs**

    Thank you for the gift of your words. My Granny's time is coming, and I will be coming back to this for comfort. Take care, much love,
    Amy

  • Adrienne Marie

    I'm so sorry for your loss. I, too, had a grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer's. In some ways, it's worse than cancer... it robs you of everything, from memories to eventual body function. When she finally passed, though, I didn't feel sadness like I thought I would. I felt relief that she was no longer suffering, and hopefully, wherever she was, would regain those memories of us she lost. Hold on to that. Somewhere, she's remembering you and smiling.

  • CurlieQt

    This article is amazing. I work in a nursing home and cover 3 40-bed units, including one on which almost all but 3 or so residents have Dementia. It's really very difficult to watch, and it takes a strong person or group of people to stay strong and uphold the memories of who their loved one once was while watching them shrink into a shell of themselves. My deepest condolences on the loss of your amazing-sounding grandmother, and my you always remember her as she was when she touched your life. She's lucky you all were there, not just at the second end, but throughout the first as well.

  • Pajiba Article of the Year.

    Close down the website. This is it. Dear God, I've never cried harder over anything on the Internet like this article. I know exactly where you're coming from in terms of the dementia, because I'm afraid I'm about to go through it with my dad. I'm the one who's the most patient with him, as my sister and mom have written his repeated jokes and questions of the time and date as frustrating / debilitating. He's even admitted that he might be slipping into dementia.

    Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. I've described emotional scenes from shows (Doctor Who, Downton Abbey,etc.) as "gross sobbing," but this. is. gross. sobbing. I seriously can't breathe because my throat's completely closed up and I'm sitting here half-berating myself for crying about the Internet and half-wanting to reach through to give you a hug.

    Death is a loss to those left behind, but the fact that you have so many great memories of your Grammy is the greatest gift.

  • Amanda Meyncke

    It's not the Internet though, it's real life, and it's your life, which is why it's so sad to you. Be patient, because it's going to be a long road with your dad. My advice would be to record an interview with him now, asking him all the things you want to know, because it'll slip away fast and you'll wish you had. Thank you for your kind words, and be well.

  • I'm lucky that he's a storyteller in that he's enjoyed sharing his life with his family, so I've heard many stories more than once. I may start paying even closer attention and writing them down in a journal. Details change in the stories, but nothing that's a mark for concern. Sometimes, there are long pauses as he tries to remember a name, but in all honesty, I almost think it's half-overreaction on my mom and sister's parts and half-something to be concerned about.

    Oh man, I'm tearing up all over again.

  • BWeaves

    "I say that this is horrible, that I wish I could do something."

    You already did! You were there! Not just holding her hand at her death, but you were there in life with her and appreciated her company when it counted. Have no regrets, Amanda. You did something wonderful!

  • thebeardedlady

    I'm very sorry for your loss, honestly. I never really said that to anybody before my Mom died last February. I used to feel like a stranger's words didn't matter but when people said it to me, I felt...something. Like, for just a second someone who didn't have a chance to meet my Mom would think of her and maybe get a glimpse of what she meant to us.

    My Mom and didn't always have the greatest relationship, same as a lot of people really. I even used to say that I had Mom and Ma. Mom was loving and fun and crazy. Ma was not. About 4 1/2 years ago she told us on New Years Day that she had breast cancer and needed surgery, chemo, etc. The day she started chemo, the following March, I was 2 weeks away from my due date of our fourth child and had been told an hour before that my 10 year old son had type 1 diabetes. It was a rough time. My daughter was born a week later.

    I handled the practical things, like driving her to the hospital, medications, and such and my drama loving sister went to the chemo appts and the cancer support meetings. I just couldn't and I didn't know how to say it. I refused to talk about her dying and if it came up I would just say that the doctors hadn't mentioned anything about being terminal so let's not think about it. Totally selfish, I know. But that was always my role in the family-to do what had to be done and cry about it later.

    Luckily, they were able to remove the cancer and the treatments seemed to be successful. Fast forward to October 2011 and my Mom tells me to bring my sister and meet her at Time Hortons and in the parking lot tells us her cancer came back, they missed it with the mammogram, it had spread to her bones and it was terminal. We immediately made a plan for the 3 of us to go back down east to see her family and that we would take care of her.

    After a very eventful trip, we thought we were being mature and loving, determined not to fight about anything and be a great family. Well, there's a reason all of our family is cursed (a gypsy curse brought on by my great grandfather actually). Ma came back and without details, we didn't speak for a few weeks or at Christmas.
    I finally go see her on January 4, and she's crying asking why I don't love her. Why doesn't my husband love her? I just said I did and I was sorry and told her to come to my house, we missed her. A couple of weeks later it was decided she couldn't live alone in that stupid little town with no help and she would live with me (my Dad also lived with me). I remember January 30 I got her groceries and drove her home to start packing and she was going to drive to my place tomorrow after her dr's appt. The next my dad said she called and that she'd be here the day after. I said I was tired from work and didn't feel like calling her and listening to her go on about trivial stuff, I'd just see her tomorrow.

    Well, tomorrow came and I was on the train home from work when my husband called me and told me she had gone off the road, the car rolled and she was ejected from it, probably killed instantly.
    So instead of taking care of her and going shopping we were taking what could be salvaged out of her twisted and broken little Ford Focus and drying her things by her fireplace, as they had gotten wet and frozen when he car landed in water and snow. Oh, we also looked around at night trying to find the accident scene on the side of the highway just in case some of her stuff fell out of her car and it was hers and we couldn't just leave it there she'd be mad. And there was so much stuff.
    Sorry for the hijack post, but I figure total strangers on a site I've read for years would be a way for me to talk about it.
    I was also there when my grandmother died and you want to talk about family depravity. For another day.

  • Bert_McGurt

    It's been almost two years since my Amma passed, and while she didn't have Alzheimers, a succession of strokes meant that she wasn't really there for the last few months. I still miss her often (as well as my Afi), and even more, especially around this time of year. They had 10 kids, and I have about 25 first cousins many with kids of their own. Since her passing, two more of her kids (my mom's sister and brother) have moved out of province, joining the two that had left years before. More of my cousins have left as well. One of my mom's other sisters has gone even more batty than she was during my Amma's convalescence. The big, boisterous, tight-knit family that was there has been replaced by people who see each other once or twice a year for a wedding or a few hours at Christmas.

    I expected her passing, and was relatively prepared for it. I hadn't expected to lose parts of my family along with her. On the plus side, it's making some of us more determined not to lose touch, and it's making me appreciate my time with my dad's mom and family while Grandma's still around. The best thing I can tell you is to do whatever you can to keep the fam together, during this incredibly tough time but even more importantly afterwards.

  • BobbFrapples

    I'm sorry for your loss. You are never ready when the time comes.

  • Natallica

    I'm sorry and deeply moved by your words, Amanda. And I think the river scene in Big Fish is, indeed, one of the most beautiful ones ever put to film

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Condolences on your loss. My grandfather passed away at this time of year - just shy of his birthday - around 13 years ago. I missed my last chance to say goodbye out of stupidness, and it's something I regret. I also regret not fully understanding just how difficult it was going to be for my mom, as my grandmother (who had Alzheimers also) had died only 4 months earlier.

    You mention Sarah Polley's Away From Her - of course her other beautiful meditation on death is as an actor in My Life Without Me

  • Nieve 'the Threadkiller Queen'

    Im so sorry Amanda. The words you wrote were beautiful and true.

    We lost my Grandma 8 years ago around this time. I miss her every day. She was my best friend.

  • Melina

    The book Big Fish got me through my dad's death, but the movie blew me away. When Jessica Lange says that she'll never dry up I weep such ugly, ugly tears.

  • RDubs

    What about Lars and the REal Girl?

  • BierceAmbrose

    It sucks, and you'll be OK, but different. If you do right through the bad, you'll be OK even if it leaves you broken.

    Here's a story of sorts...

    Your story reminds me of my grandmother, who's death I wasn't there for. We talked a bit about it a few months before, the last time I saw her. Her mind was all there, while her body quit a bit at a time. Mirror images, yours and mine. Same picture, I think.

    My grandmother was the only one I really liked, & who really liked me. She was so responsible - that's the word. All she wanted to hear was that I was taking care of things. Complete faith that I was choosing right. That last time I told her I'd visit again when I could. That I'd come see her whenever that was the most important thing. Also, that if she wanted to stay, I'd like that, but if she wanted to go, if it was time, that would be OK. We got each other.

    It's good that we did that, because there was Kabuki when she died, crowding out the real stuff. That's something you do, I think - make the time when you can, to do the real stuff. Post "goodbye" in a conversation you've already had, because the world doesn't always let you have the Hallmark moment on schedule. She got stuff like that.

    You are reminding me, though, of the next one. My father's gone a couple years past, now. He was a difficult, damaged man & his passing was hard. My mom has since blossomed, and we get time together, she and my sister and I, in the closest thing to a family I've known. Mom laughs, now that dad is gone.

    I don't know how much not enough time I will have with my mom. There was never room, before. We're so good now - hugs that help. That's new. ("Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad...")

    I'm a little afraid, knowing it's coming and not knowing how I'll put the pieces of me back together once she's gone. I hope I'm strong enough to do right, to enjoy now, and ease her then, for however long I have a mom. If after that I stay broken, that's OK. You do right & don't count the cost. I learned that from my grandmother - the one who liked me, some.

  • hindulovegod

    My best friend died five years ago, and I remember only feeling okay when I was swimming. So, the imagery in Bleu resonated for me. Later, when it was less raw, I appreciated another Juliette Binoche film, L'heure d'ete, which follows three siblings before and after their mother's death.

  • baxlala

    Amanda, I'm so sorry for your loss. My grandma died two years ago, in a similar way, slipping away from us, slowly, year after year, from the dementia. And then she was really gone. I've never heard the "second death" described as such, but it really is the most fitting description.

    Take care.

  • Amanda, I write obituaries for a family-owned newspaper for a living and this puts almost everything I've ever written to shame. Reading this reminds me that everyone I write about is someone's loved one, more than words on a page, and deserves to be treated as such. Thank you for this.

  • damnitjanet

    I am so sorry, Amanda. Today would have been my father's 94th birthday. We lost him in 2001 and I still reach for the phone to call him to tell him about some movie coming on that he loved and wanted me to record for him. I watched him go, much as you did. I can't watch "On Golden Pond" without losing it, because that was my relationship with my dad...Henry Fonda even looks like Pop. Love and hugs, and know that the best parts of your grandmother will always be with you.

  • This was lovely. I lost my grandmom at the end of October and am of course sobbing at my desk. You were lucky to have those final moments with her, she sounded wonderful.

  • henry

    My grandfather passed away only recently. You made me cry like a baby again.

  • catagisreading

    My Grandmother died last year in similar circumstances. It's been a tough year but you get through.

  • deadnotsleeping

    My great-grandmother died about two hours ago. She was 105, so we have as much to celebrate as to mourn. Anyway, thanks for this.

  • Drake

    So sorry about your grandmother, Amanda, and her double death. She sounds much like my grandmother that I lost when I was in college, who also really wasn't there for her own death. Thanks for writing about it so beautifully, and for causing me to spend several minutes in the bathroom getting all the dust out of my eyes.

  • Pinky McLadybits

    "She was the best person I knew, and I am grateful for what was given, though it will never be enough." This. This describes my Memaw. She was the glue that held us all together and we have all drifted far from each other since she left us. Memaw and I were close and would giggle together while watching hunting shows with Pepaw and my Uncle. Double entendres were more than we could take and my Uncle would try to shush us as we bent over, gasping for air between guffaws. When she learned she was in the advanced stages of lung cancer she said, "How is J going to take this?" I love her and miss her everyday. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing.

  • Missy

    Today is the anniversary of my own grandmothers death, 12 years ago. I just got home from the cemetery and saw this article. As an avid Pajiba reader, thank you for this coincidentally prefect read to get me through a tough day. :)

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