Sometimes you see a movie that resonates with life. I recently saw such a movie, The Savages, directed by Tamara Jenkins and starring Laura Linney as Wendy, Philip Seymour Hoffman as her brother, Jon, and Philip Bosco and their elderly father, Lenny, who is descending into the bottomless pit of dementia.
The family was never a happy one and Wendy and Jon have both gone their separate ways and have not seen their abusive father for years when they are called upon to deal with his sudden homelessness (his aged girlfriend dies). Despite their unresolved anger toward their father for his earlier treatment, they take on the burden of care, which in this case is placing him in a nursing home.
I found one scene in the film particularly poignant. It takes place in a diner where Wendy and Jon are attempting to have a conversation with Lenny about an advance directive (living will). Wendy is struggling with the conversation and is confusing Lenny as she is reluctant to ask direct questions: what do you want us to do with your body when you die and do you want to be maintained on life support? Jon has much less trouble expressing himself, and when he sees Lenny does not understand Wendy’s approach he says something like Do you want us to pull the plug?
These are real issues for real people and through our work with clinical ethicist Dianne Godkin we are trying to help people deal with these emotional topics. While the University of Alberta Press was preparing to publish her book, Living Will, Living Well: Reflections on Preparing an Advance Directive, I sat with Dianne and we talked about her motivation for writing the book.
She said that one of the most difficult aspects of her work and those of other medical professionals is dealing with family when there have not been any conversations prior to either life-support decisions or death for a cherished family member. Everyone is in a highly emotional state and it is tough to make important decisions. Often, in addition to grief, there is anger and hurt feelings just when people need each other the most. However, there is a way to mitigate the stress: Communication among family members in advance can help to ensure a person’s wishes are honoured and those left behind can feel some solace in having eased the mind of their loved one.
There is no Hollywood happy ending in The Savages; however, there is some healing and closure. I recommend the film for its complexity, humanity, and truthfulness.
Filed under: New Books | Tagged: advance directive, advance health care directive, dianne godkin, Fox, Laura Linney, living will, Philip Bosco, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Searchlight, Tamara Jenkins, The Savages | Leave a Comment »