Still Alice

On Friday, this movie comes out.

I have watched the trailer three times. I have also cried three times.

My husband asked, are you going to see that?

Of course I’m going to see it, I said.

And he said, Why? Why would you do that to yourself?

My mom died after a long long long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Before that, she’d talk about her mother’s early onset Alzheimer’s.

Her mother was very proper and very private.

Mom would tell how grandma would show up in the front room with curlers in her hair and a housedress on when church ladies stopped by to visit.

She would have been mortified if she’d known, Mom would tell us. Absolutely mortified.

I hope that never happens to me, Mom would say.

She did everything she knew to try to prevent it:

1. She exercised every day.

2. She tried to eat healthy foods.

3. She played Rummykub as much as she could.

4. She bought us men’s speedstick because it didn’t have aluminum in it (some say aluminum contributes to memory loss).

5. She tried to do hard mental things, things she normally would have and could have ignored.

6. She played the piano.

7. She traveled.

8. She tried to learn a new language.

9. She worked in the temple.

10. She kept up on the lives of her nine children and 35 + grandchildren.

She got Alzheimer’s.

And when she realized it, she called each of us and told us that she wanted to jump off a cliff.

I bawled after that call. Bawled and bawled. I remember it like it was yesterday. The oscars were on TV. My first baby was little. My heart was broken.

So why would I go to a movie about it? Why would I want to watch something so painful?

Many of us watch movies and read books to escape. We want to get away from the hard things and get time to relax, live in another world. Eat popcorn and watch people fall in love. Or fight space battles. Or wear iron suits.

Some of us watch movies and read books because we want to know that we aren’t alone. That other people know what it feels like to suffer. To see our loved ones suffer. We want to know that we are all different but in many ways, we are all the same. We all go through hard things, we all have our hearts broken, we all have to figure out how to keep going.

Some of us watch movies and read books so that we can experience things we’ll never have to go through, so that we can understand a small part of the lives of those who do. So that we can empathize and reach out and say, I’ve never had cancer or depression or divorce or this kind of loss, but I can imagine it and I want you to know that I’m here for you.

As writers, we have lots of different motivations for the stories we decide to tell. I think it’s wonderful to write about light and funny things. To write about dreams coming true and happy happy things. I also think it’s important to write about the other side of life. About heartache and pain. About alienation and suffering. About hope and light in the midst of all this.

I came on this quote the other day and I loved it.

“The Greeks sensed that the best art does not take us away from reality into the dreamy realms of fantasy–though some may do that. On the contrary, the best art penetrates the hard shell of habit to reimmerse us in the depths of experience, ‘refining the sense of beauty to agony,’ ‘making the stone more stony,’ creating ‘anew the universe, after it has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration.'” –from The Crucible of Doubt by Fiona and Terryl Givens.

I think it’s our responsibility to try to create the best art, art that connects us all to each other over and over again so that we will never forget, and so that we will be able to reach out and love over and over again.

What do you think?

Why do you read? Why do you write? Would you go see something that brought up hard things from your life? Or avoid it forever?


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9 responses to “Still Alice

  1. I want to see it too. For the same reasons. And that is why I like to read your books.

  2. Ann Dee–dang it. You’re deep thinker, a beautiful writer, and you made me cry. All this in part because you had a powerful mom and you are a powerful mom. And you have red hair.

  3. Oddstuffs

    I write and read to feel. Books and stories are safe places to experience fear, sadness, joy, anger, and all the mixes of emotion. The characters aren’t going to hate us or reject us or hurt us for how we feel. We can learn from them in an intimate way.
    Personally, I have trouble dealing with or feeling emotions in real life. Connecting with characters helps me to feel and deal with life.

  4. Kathryn

    I love you Dee. This is beautiful.

  5. benschwensch

    SO beautifully said, Ann Dee! I’m with Cheri — you made me cry, and so did the stories Herb choked out after I read your piece to him. It was reminding him of his dad. We ended having a nice, though tearful, chat. And I, of course, ended up knowing I love Herb more and more every day. Thank you for your gift with words and your ability to share them on SO MANY levels ! ! !


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