Archive for the ‘Production Diary’ Category

In the course of production, I met a man who very recently lost his son. He shared with me a trip he took in which he observed Sri Chinmoy meditate. In the course of his grieving, the thought of this trip and the mediation master was with him. I mentioned to him Thich Nhat Hanh. Shortly after my sister died, I had been given a copy of his book, No Fear, No Death. I couldn’t read it immediately as I was so over swept with emotion but did eventually get to it. In that vein, here’s the following video.

I suggest jumping to 20 to 22 minutes in and skipping directly to the dharma talk.

But if you want to read a short version, try peacethroughgrieving.com on the art of suffering. It’s much the same info in listicle form.

The image of the tulip growing up from stone comes from Journey Through Grief.com, also worth a visit for some thoughts on grief.

Now that shooting is underway, I am receiving more and more recommendations of books and blogs and films from those sitting for interviews. I love this sharing that comes along the way of exploring a subject. While my subject is how the living live with death, loss and the knowledge of mortality rather than how the dying live with death, I was particularly moved this morning by an online photo-doc project by Andrew George called Right, before I die. It’s basically about people who have come to some kind of reflective, waiting peace about where they are. However, in terms of regrets, quite a few people looked back on the time they had spent and noted that they had not married their soul mate or the great love of their lives. As one older man, Jack said,

My wife wasn’t the greatest love of my life.

A woman named Kim said,

A guy named Marcos, we are soul mates. …That was my true love and always will be. It doesn’t matter who I married.

Another subject, a younger woman named Sarah said,

Life is definitely not infinite. You never know what is going to come up and you really have to take risks. …I missed out on relationships.

My instinct says that it is only their approaching deaths that bring out such honesty of feeling. Sarah is most onto something when she talks about risks. We need to risk living while we are still thriving and risk honesty of emotion when it can most make a difference, when it can actually pilot our lives. I do find though that just having been touched by the deaths around me, I am more prone to fight for what for the truth of what actually is and is unchanging or unchangeable as unpleasant or uncomfortable or as inconvenient as it may be.

Shooting started this week and it was certainly good to be back behind the camera and talking to people. At this stage, the project is still taking shape and I’m on the hunt for treasure, i.e. the magical images or words that come forward that I wasn’t even expecting. Friends and acquaintances are still recommending people to me for potential subjects and many others are telling me their own story.   There are a lot of people who have grief in their life and loss they can do nothing about but learn to live with. It is very humbling to me that with just a few words of my story, they are willing to share their own.

On the tech side, I love the C100. It’s really like shooting film again with the ease of capturing audio the video way. For those in the know, I think I took the zebra settings a bit too seriously and was down by maybe one more stop than was necessary but the bokeh is still beautiful.  The Canon CN-E lenses are serious business!

This morning I came across an article What Should We do with the Online Dead?

The issue of virtual memorials struck a chord with me, although not everyone, including my sister, leaves a blog or personal website behind that forms the backbone of an online legacy. I am well aware that I am the keeper of her memorial in whatever form it takes and the film I am doing now is an aspect of that. To me, there are real issues to be explored along the lines of “How Should We Behave About Death Online?”

A friend of mine from school told me how she and her husband raced home after the death of his mother, rushing to tell their children in person before they saw an aunt’s posting on Facebook. They got home within twenty minutes and the Facebook posting had already gone up but fortunately their kids had not seen it yet.

I remember also a young girl still in high school in the hospice kitchen with her best friend. I was getting a cup of coffee and her father had just died moments before. With tears coming down her face, she was calling her friends to tell them what had happened and pleadingly asking them to stay off of Facebook until she could decide how to handle it.

In the day after my sister’s death, aunts and uncles who hadn’t seen my sister in years took to posting on Facebook, taking public sympathy laps that I found extremely vulgar and self-serving (especially for people in their 60s and 70s). The relative that started Facebooking, hadn’t seen my sister the last year and a half of her illness and had had a bad final phone call with my sister that caused my sister to ask me to cancel any wake we might plan for her. Other relatives who chimed in were ones that hadn’t seen her in even longer. One uncle, who seemed so sentimental online, never returned my sister’s last phone call to him three months before she died. (She left a couple of messages and he basically blew her off.) He and many others did not even attend her funeral. However, online they treated my sister’s death as if it was some kind of event or happening of which they did not want to be left out. But worse, it seemed that they were crafting a false relationship for the public to see that portrayed them as far more present and loving than they were.

In the end, I realized their Facebook postings were mostly for themselves, serving as a construct of a family and love and loyalty that they did not actually possess and a very weird way for them to publicly grieve amongst themselves and with other Facebook friends unrelated.

So much of social media is driven simply by our efforts to construct reality and ourselves, to get others to see us as we want to be seen, to accumulate numbers of friends and connections that in many cases do not at all signify real relationships, and to build a look of a life that may never ever have existed at all.

I’ve spent a long time deciding on what to do with my sister’s things – her physical remains, her clothes, her journals, everything she had. I closed the credit cards and bank accounts and paid the debts that could be paid. But for now, I’ve let her social media and email accounts be. They are certainly not Michelle, not even close to who she was. But every once in a while someone posts something on her pages. It’s really something about themselves, something aspirational, something myth-building about a relationship that they do not have and most likely never had at all. It’s fantasy and like all fantasies some of their postings are beautiful and some are ugly.

David Eagleman expresses…beautifully in his collection of short stories, SUM: “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” So on the one hand, we get to carry our loved ones with us much longer than perhaps we thought. But on the other hand, Eagleman also says, “Since we live in the heads of those who remember us, we lose control of our lives and become who they want us to be.” So it’s a double-edged sword. But it’s our double-edged sword; it’s just the nature of our impermanence. The situation isn’t much different as when we’re alive; even in living we are what people think we are.

I still do wish that people would be more humble and modest and delicate and would refrain from jumping on social media the moment they hear someone they know has died. I may be the keeper of my sister’s memorial but the thing I spend the most time thinking about how to respect the mystery that was my sister, the life inside her that only she knew. No amount of digital portraiture can do that justice for any of us.

Shooting starts next week and I’m drafting a post to wrap up how pre-production has concluded.   However, in the meantime, I came across a posting on the Dish that appealed to me because it combined the subjects of my last film and my current film by addressing how women, who provide the majority of end-of-life care, are particularly impacted:

The burden of unpaid care work that women continue to shoulder plays a major role in women’s persistent economic inequality. Directly, there is the opportunity cost that comes when women cut back hours or drop out of the paid labor force to provide care; economist Nancy Folbre has referred to this cost as the “care penalty.” Indirectly, unpaid care work affects women’s compensation in the paid labor market. Research has shown that a portion of the gender pay gap is attributable to the fact that women with children are, on average, paid less than their otherwise identical counterparts. Another study found that working in a caregiving occupation is associated with a 5 to 10 percent wage penalty, even when skill levels, education, industry, and other observable factors are controlled for.

But…

As writer Jane Glenn Haas pointed out, eldercare isn’t sexy enough to be a feminist issue. It lacks the naughty allure of reproductive rights, the seductive appeal of body image. It doesn’t even have a sassy Lean In-like catchphrase. But it should be a feminist issue, since the numbers show that women are most likely to shoulder the responsibility of looking after parents in their twilight years, and the most likely to live well into those twilight years. A lot of them have missed out on career and educational opportunities. A lot of them—like my mother and her friends—are doing this by the skin of their teeth, with scant to nonexistent resources. A lot of them will outlive their spouses (if they have them), exhaust their pensions (if they have them), and die alone.

The fuller article on the Baffler is here.   The blog post that started it all, a personal essay really, called Eldercare:  The Forgotten Feminist Issue and quoted above is here.   And I include the lovely picture of the mother of the writer, Jamie Nesbitt Golden,  as this post’s featured image because all of us caregivers can relate.

Research goes on. Just finished the poignant Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff. Besides being a very quick read, which when you are doing research is much appreciated, it is indeed a deep lament. Even though I have not lost a son, I easily recognize the states of feeling and mind filling the pages.

Let me try again. All these things I recognize. I remember delighting in them. Trees, art, house, music, pink morning sky, work well done, flowers, books. I still delight in them. I am still grateful. But the zest is gone. The passion is cooled, the striving quieted, the longing stilled. My attachment is loosened. No longer do I set my heart on them. I can do without them. They don’t matter. Instead of rowing, I float… I’ve become an alien in the world, shyly touching it as if it’s not mine. I don’t belong anymore. When someone loved leaves home, home becomes mere house.

I can testify that this is mood or state that that blows through one during the first year after death. As a person who has been bereaved and is still sorting it out, I find the personal accounts – my story, your story – to be where the comfort is. I’ve noticed this both in the bereavement group I’ve attended and in the variety of books I’ve read. When I am in group and it’s being run ineptly, the facilitator is droning on about some statistical or anecdotal fact of grieving. It’s not comforting. It’s a display. When the group speaks and stories are told, there is resonance.

When I consider Fatherloss, my last piece of reading research. I cannot say it was not informative. But it wasn’t moving or comforting. The author came between me and the stories of his subjects by focusing more on his interpretation of them than letting them speak for themselves. And percentages of this type of loss and that type of response are valuable but not for those who’ve actually had the loss and are looking for consolation.

Something I need to bear in mind as I start shooting. Bereaving is like filmmaking: It’s more important to follow the river of feeling than the trail of facts.

Finished up Widower and am now a quarter of the way through Fatherloss.   I enjoyed Widower so much…or at least can say I found it moving and informative.  I think this is because the interviews in the book preserved the voices of the men as they relayed their stories and experiences.   The author let them tell their own stories straight from their own mouths.   All the different voices and personalities came through.  (For me, it was just like going to bereavement group!)

Fatherloss, however, draws on the interviews of 376 different men and Neil Chetchik, the author, paraphrases all the interview.   The first-hand words of the subjects are only referenced in pull quotes here and there.   (Chetchik bills himself as an “Expert on Men” which seems like a mighty inflated claim.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t let his subjects talk!)

What is nice about Fatherloss so far is the sprinkling of stories of public figures dealing with father loss as a way to introduce new segments.  For example, JFK Jr. who lost his father before he had any memory of him experienced one kind of grief.   Someone like Michael Jordan, whose father died when he was thirty had a very different kind of grief.  (e.g.  He instantly lost all interest in basketball and took up baseball to fulfill what he thought was his father’s wish.)   These narratives are ones with which we are all vaguely familiar but they take on a new dimension when viewed through the loss of their fathers.

I’m still hoping to find some good research material on men’s grief in relation to the loss of a mother.   No one has written a book about this it seems.  Some kind of taboo maybe?  If it’s still considered awkward and/or verboten for a man to experience prolonged grief at all, I guess it’s even more forbidden for a man to be grieving his “mommy” in any on-going way.

Also, still looking for some meaningful material on sibling loss for men.  As one blogger I came across noted:

I have actually found more support for people who are grieving the loss of a pet, than I have for people who have lost a brother or a sister.

In my experience, sibling loss definitely gets low ratings on the empathy and attention meter.  What would have been my sister’s 51st birthday passed recently.   Even though I was my sister’s caretaker, health care proxy, power of attorney, etc. etc., even though I’m the one who planned the funeral and cleaned up her business, all the calls of remembrance, every single one, went to my mother.

Brain Pickings has a post about Umberto Eco’s the Book of Legendary Lands. It’s an interesting little post that touches on the maps that psyche creates rather than observes and their importance.

Legendary lands and places are of various kinds and have only one characteristic in common: whether they depend on ancient legends whose origins are lost in the mists of time or whether they are an effect of a modern invention, they have created flows of belief.

I’ve just read through a small book on men and grief by Golden and Miller. It’s actually two books in one. One side of the book is “When a Man Faces Grief” and contains about 30 pages of 12 notions to give you a general idea of what you may go through and how normal it is. If you flip to the back cover and turn the book upside-down there is a whole other short book called “A Man You Know is Grieving” which again gives you a brief overview of what to expect, what to do and what not to do. It’s a slim read but immediately after a loss, no one is up for a big, deep read anyway.

The portion of the book which is directed at men, “When a Man Faces Grief” was extremely straight-forward and very much a listicle with explanations. (But, hey, everyone loves lists or there would be no Buzzfeed!) Most of the material, about eighty-plus percent, could easily be applied to women as well (i.e. #8 Take Good Care of Yourself). However, the language used is clearly men-friendly. A passage on the challenges of losing your identity and needing to rebuild it is worded nicely:

Call on your courage to stand outside the circle. When you allow yourself to grieve, you may act differently than you have in the past. You may appear to be outside the norm of what people have to expect from men.

Challenges and changes in one’s notion of identity affect women also but perhaps not in the same way. I do not know any women who feel that open grieving undermines their femininity for example.

Another thing I am fond of in this little book is that, just like my film, it uses making a map and knowing your new terrain as metaphors. I am also working in the same area in my Heading West Again book. Grief is extremely difficult to externalize and the only way to get at is by mapping the psyche’s journey.

The second book-in-the-book, “A Man You Know is Grieving” is directed at those in the company of a grief-stricken man. The first third of this side of the book seems to focus on outlining the physical and cultural differences in men that cause them to be less able than women to cry and speak about their grief. This ranges from differences in the male brain in regards to areas that process emotion and control the interaction of the hemispheres to how men value their aloneness in grief. Although, if the phrase “man cave” means anything, it means that men value their aloneness even out of grief. In both men and women, it seems all emotional needs become more intense and acute and, well, desperate (in the sense of rising from despair.) In any case, it probably is very accurate to conclude that trespassing on a man’s alone time when he is grieving is probably more egregious than any other.

The best takeaway from this side of the book is:

Our culture discourages men from opening emoting. At the same time men have been judged for not emoting [after a loss] and therefore may find themselves in a double bind.

Good thing to know! We should have some extra empathy for those caught in the double-bind.

Lastly, one of the big themes of Thomas Golden’s work is the idea that men move forward through grief through action compared to women who use interaction to heal. I’ll see if this holds up as I start filming and working with men and I find out what they have to say about it.

More on author James E. Miller at Willowgreen and on his blog, Grief Helps.

More on author Thomas Golden at his website, webhealing.com.

96-year-old Widower Writes Song About His Late Wife

I’ve got a book sitting in my research pile that I already know talks a great deal about men’s need to memorialize in some way the person they have lost.  This darling video is proof of how some men live out that need.   And you really feel what a loving man Fred is.

Still in pre-production and research. I’m very much enjoying, if that’s the right word, Widower, by Scott Campbell and Phyllis R. Silverman.  It’s a great book for research for a film in that documents in interviews (just like a doc!) the experience of over twenty widowers in different phases of the grief.  Some of the book’s subjects are speaking only months after their loss, others more than a decade afterwards.   In the ten months that I’ve been working with my own bereavement group, I’ve had no clue what goes on with straight men when they lose a loved one. Widowers don’t come to group to sit around and talk with us ladies!  My big takeaways so far:

Men deal with many of the same bugaboos that drive women crazy after loss: The feeling that everything sets everything else off (especially early on) Useless advice, platitudes and indifference/impatience from family and friends  (One widower in the book, Bill, specifically identifies his need to “re-people” his life with new acquaintances after being treated roughly by those upon whom he thought he could rely.  As he says, “I know them for they are now.  I call them friends but I know they are not.  I forgive them for what went on but I don’t forget.”) Social isolation (Although men seem to experience this more in the physical sense as being untouchable) Some of the ways that men’s grief experience differs from women: They are more like to face the expectation from others that they will rise above their feelings in some regard Widowers are surprised that they are impotent for a period after their wife dies.  …This one was kind of peculiar to me for a variety of reasons.  The first being that pretty much ALL of the men who have lost their wives experience impotence but they are ALL a bit surprised when it happens to them.  This points perhaps to how little they talk amongst themselves about these major life events and how slim the shared knowledge.  (Hopefully, making a film and getting more men’s bereavement groups going can address this.) The other aspect that is interesting to me as a woman is that this is a thing at all.  Death and the shock and grief of it kills a person’s sex drive.  Period.  Man or woman.  Women who lose their husbands have no desire for another man when grieving either.

The sex-drive-in-grief thing was one of my complaints about Silver Linings Playbook.   It was so right-on with so much of the depiction of bi-polarity that the fact that the Tiffany character became wildly promiscuous in her grief and slept with everyone in her office was a giveaway to me that the film was scripted by a man (even if it was simply a plot device needed to give her a “problem”.)  I don’t know ANY women – and I now personally knows tens of women who have lost a spouse – who have turned to sex for comfort or acted out sexually in their grief.    I’m not saying a widow who uses sex for comfort and/or distraction is like a unicorn but its very uncommon to turn to sex indiscriminately if you weren’t already a person who comforted yourself that way beforehand.

Anyway, still have about a third of Widower left.   And a continually growing pile of other research.