Learning About Departures From a Film and a Book
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about departures. Part of this is due to my Netflix choices, and part due to my reading list.
First, let me tell you about “Departures”, which was the Academy Award winner for best foreign language film in 2008. The movie follows the life of lead character, Daigo Kobayashi, who is left without a job when the symphony orchestra that he works for disbands. Daigo moves back to his hometown and looks for a job. He ends up answering a classified ad for “departures,” thinking that he can find a career in the travel industry. Instead, he finds that the job focuses on the Japanese ceremonial rituals that prepare corpses for cremation. Overcoming his initial queasiness, Kobayashi learns the proper way of respectfully preparing the dead body. This film does a great job of capturing the varied responses of families and friends who have lost someone to this ritual. And as the film continues, you see Daigo develop a deep respect for the traditions that bond the living and the dead. Watching him tenderly “dress” a dead person in preparation for cremation really makes you realize how these traditions impart a sense of grace and appreciation for the human experience, both in life and death, which many in our modern society try hard to avoid. It’s definitely a thought-provoking movie that is well worth seeing.
The second chance to think about “departures” was while reading the book, Welcome to the Departure Lounge: Adventures in Mothering Mother, by Meg Federico. This book follows the challenges Federico faced in caring for her mother, Addie, during the last few years of her life. I really could relate to the book early-on when Addie suffered an accident which causes Meg and her family to take stock of Addie’s condition. The scrambling to find out what was wrong, to identify caregivers and doctors, and to make sense of how you are now becoming the parent of your parent all resonated with my own experiences.
One challenge that Federico faced was developing a care plan for Addie, who lived independently with her elderly husband Walter (who had dementia) in another city. Another complication was that Walter, who was Addie’s second husband, also had a daughter who lived nearby who coordinated his care. At times, it seemed like the two families couldn’t come to an agreement on a mutually acceptable care plan, and instead opted to hire different sets of caregivers and making conflicting choices. I found it interesting (and somewhat surprising) that Walter’s and Addie’s adult children chose not to regularly communicate about the couple’s health and life issues in order to better coordinate care and to contain costs. This situation made me wonder what happens in other families that have parents who marry later in life.
I envied that Federico had enough financial resources (and time) to have prolonged visits with Addie prior to “departure”. Most caregivers I know aren’t able to share this experience, especially in the current economy and especially if their parents live at a distance.
Federico’s tale, while periodically read for those who have gone through the caregiving experience, gives an honest portrayal that at times is heart-breaking and at other times heart-warming. Combine it with the Japanese movie, “Departures,” and you’ll get some great lessons about life.