Away From Her

We just watched “Away From Her” last night.  Just as a heads up, this is not exactly a light movie.  It’s well-acted and convincingly filmed, but you might not want to make this a first date movie.  Fortunately, after nearly eight years of marriage, we’re well past the limitations of first date movies!

But this was still a hard movie to watch.

The subject matter is difficult enough.  It’s the story of an elderly couple facing the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.  But the movie does a good job of addressing the issue with some measure of dignity.  While it seems to ‘fast forward’ the progression of the disease more than is realistic (at least in some cases), it provides what – in my limited experience – is a fairly accurate portrayal of the fear and loss that accompany this loss of self.  It’s a lot to think about, let alone to watch for two hours.

But the movie is ultimately far more depressing because of the way in which the characters deal with this sorrow full situation.  It’s a movie absolutely, positively, and completely devoid of hope.  Not a shred.  Not an ounce.  Not a sliver of starlight escapes from the emotional and physical black hole that is created in this film. 

The main character, Fiona, seems to sum up the attitude of this movie – and our culture – in one line.  “I think all we can aspire to in this situation is a little bit of grace.”  And that’s what both Fiona and her husband, Grant, each attempt to do, in their own ways, as the story – and Fiona’s mind – unravels. 

A bit of grace, but no hope.

No hope beyond the bitterly painful reality that Grant has to deal with as his wife’s mind rapidly disintegrates.  No hope beyond the fear that she faces in the early stages.  No hope beyond the bleak manipulative dance that Grant and Marian engage in late in the movie trying to satisfy their divergent needs.  Nothing to do but to make the best of an awful situation, because that’s all it can ever be.

No hope that there might be something more than this, that there could be something beyond this.  No, this is the end.  The end of Fiona as a person, in many respects.  The end of the relationship she and Grant have shared for 44 years.  The end of Grant’s happiness.  The end of everything.  As one of the other Alzheimer’s patients summarizes it – a former play-by-play announcer who now speaks exclusively in that vernacular “There’s a man with a broken heart, broken in a thousand pieces.”  And there’s no hope of anyone or anything ever putting those pieces back together again.

I’m sure there’s no small irony lost that Grant used to be a college professor, and Fiona one of his students.  Nor that Grant’s area of expertise was Icelandic mythology.  Certainly, there is no room in his mind or heart for any of the hopes that his subject matter covered.

The thought of losing my wife to something like Alzheimer’s is terrifying.  The thought of descending into that loss of self myself, leaving my family behind is terrifying.  And yet, that terror only goes so deep.  It can only permeate so far. 

Because I have hope. 

I have hope that this life isn’t all there is.  I have hope that death is not the last word.  I have hope that whatever misfortunes and losses I endure in this life are not authoritative.  I have hope that regardless of what happens to me or my wife or our children, it will not be the end.

That hope changes everything for me -or at least it should.  It should permeate the way I approach grief and loss – and I believe that it does.  It should manifest itself in how I approach others who are grieving and dealing with loss.  Not in a way that minimizes the pain of that loss, or pretends that the loss and the pain aren’t real.  But in a way that says go ahead and cry and grieve and mourn, but then remember that this isn’t the end.  I have good news for you!

I have hope that my end – or the end of the people in my life – is not some random, hopeless set of circumstances.  Just as I trust that my birth and life – and the births and lives of others in my life – were equally non-coincidental.  I believe that all of this has a  plan and a purpose, and just because I can’t see what that is, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.  There is immense hope in that.

The faith of hopelessness has no more certainty to it, proof, if you will, than the faith of hope.  Both sides have have their proponents, their corpus of apologetics.  Ultimately, my hope is based in the claims of a man, and the vindication of his claims in his resurrection from death.  The basis of my faith is the one human being who claims – and who was witnessed – to have died and returned from the grave.  That’s a pretty powerful claim. It has the attestation of literally hundreds of eye-witnesses.  And that’s good enough for me – even if I wasn’t one of the eye witnesses, and even if these events transpired two thousand years ago. 

I pray that, should I be faced with being either in Grant or Fiona’s shoes, that God will give me the ability to face that situation with a bit of grace.  But grace in the deeper sense, beyond just a patina of civility and dignity, beyond a brave face and a stiff upper lip.  Grace in the sense of peace and trust that whatever the loss that I must endure, whether of self or other, that loss is not the end.  Not the last word.  Not the final verdict. 

2 Responses to “Away From Her”

  1. spicelectron Says:

    Going to the Alps for the weekend, someone with me?

  2. onhotels Says:

    Write more often

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