Death, Everyday Life, Grief, House Painting, Moonstruck, Truth
Is truth told by the light of the moon?
Does it unfold as our dreams play out before our inner eye each night, while we lie powerless to change its outcome? Or as art emulates life, can it get buried in bits of dialogue spoken on the screen, by one featuring the light of full moons and acting by Cher, Nicholas Cage and Olympia Dukakis?
As I breathe in the shrinking December daylight, I cannot shake off certain scenes from Moonstruck, that dark comedy released in the late eighties, that I viewed for the second time while lying in bed last month. It haunts me. And I think that maybe I need to watch it again. Then I think — no — what’s the need? Already, the lines of the screenplay, weighted by their heavy subject matter — that fish for truth about our living and our dying – live within me.
Rose: Why do men chase women?
Johnny: Well, there’s a Bible story… God… God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Now maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a big hole there, where there used to be something. And the women have that. Now maybe, just maybe, a man isn’t complete as a man without a woman.
Rose: [frustrated] But why would a man need more than one woman?
Johnny: I don’t know. Maybe because he fears death.
[Rose looks up, eyes wide, suspicions confirmed]
Rose: That’s it! That’s the reason!
No, my husband of twenty-five years is not chasing another woman, unless one counts his dying mother. But if Johnny and Rose are right that men chase women out of fear of death, it makes me wonder whether “chasing women” is another way of saying, “chasing life.” That is, as long as we’re on the move, as long as we don’t become too settled, too set in our ways and likings, that as long as we make whatever changes we can to keep life from going stale — all will be well. Because we will be.
And when the time comes when we’re not, as for my mother-in-law, Janice, then what? Perhaps then, we answer the question in our own ways, maybe we feel for the answer in the dark until we know its rightness. Because unwell and far too settled, last week Janice was unhappy at being home and wished to return to the hospice center — and after arriving at hospice, she wanted to know when she could go home. And lying in a physical state of in-between — not well enough for one yet too well for the other, Janice now lives in a nightmare; it began Monday, with her move to a nice nursing home — if such a thing exists. And yesterday, she looked at my husband, her son, and wished to know what in the world she’d done to deserve THIS? And after uttering her line, and listening to his too rational reply, she asked to be put into a wheel chair so she could move about — and not done with her asking, she requested a chance to stand upon her own two legs — maybe to prove once for all that she was strong enough to return home for Christ’s sake — in spite of not having done so since the sun shone last September.
Loretta Castorini: [after seeing La Boheme] That was so awful.
Ronny Cammareri: Awful?
Loretta Castorini: Beautiful… sad. She died!
Ronny Cammareri: Yes.
Loretta Castorini: I was surprised… You know, I didn’t really think she was gonna die. I knew she was sick.
Ronny Cammareri: She had TB.
Loretta Castorini: I know! I mean, she was coughing her brains out, and still she had to keep singing!
We live a life of do or die, even while dying, I suppose. We keep busy, we keep changing, we keep pushing the physical and mental boundaries of what’s possible, because to do so signifies life. We move on — if not to a new woman or man of our dreams — then maybe to a new house or to a new garden — or even, a new shade of paint, as I’m doing in my dining room this week. In the months leading up to our move, I painted this room three different shades of blue. Had our moving date allowed, I would have painted a fourth time — because I knew then number three didn’t suit either me or the house.
So what does painting have to do with Janice or thoughts on life and dying? Oh, who but God knows, except that for some reason, painting and mourning have gone together in my life ever since I lost Mother four years ago. And as it continues to be my chosen form of grief therapy — this time around the dining room — I’ve settled upon a dark shade of paint to compliment the antique china Mother gave me long ago — a midnight, bluish gray complemented by a soft white trim– and tomorrow, when I finish the room, my husband and I will fill our china cabinet for the first time since moving in last June. And to do so will make me feel as anyone unburdened by thoughts of life and death would feel — as long as the distraction lasts. And the room will be finished.
Ronny Cammareri: This was painted by Marc Chagall. And, as you can see, he was a very great artist.
Loretta Castorini: It’s kind of little gaudy, don’t you think?
Ronny Cammareri: Well, he was havin’ some fun.
Yes, it’s about having fun, all this changing and fussing with paint shades and moving into new houses and growing up as an artist or growing up as a person — it keeps one young, it keeps one from growing old in spirit. It keeps life vital — and not just on the surface, I think — and it works until it doesn’t, until reality rips away our protective bubble-wraps of doing.
Rose: I just want you to know no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.
Cosmo: Thank you, Rose.
Though Rose is right, who wishes to hear it. Who wants to talk of death while living it up? Or even living horizontal. Watching the scene play out, it doesn’t take a mystic to discern Cosmo isn’t grateful to hear Rose’s truth. Nor was Dad, as I think about it, when he first heard the idea of dying linked to himself — a few days before he passed. Are you kidding me, his eyes seemed to shout, growing big in his sunken face. Perhaps the closer we get to death, the less desire we have to talk of it.
So about painting — did you know that where one wishes to be spot on and true, it’s best never to paint by the light of the moon?
I’ve been a little handicapped in reading this post, because every time I get to the word “moonstruck”, I’m transported immediately to the Moonstruck Chocolatiers in Oregon – purveyors of the finest chocolate I’ve ever consumed. A customer gave me a box years ago, and every year I struggle against the temptation to buy out the store! Take a peek!
As for the rest – they called Mom “Houdini” at the hospital and in the skilled nursing facility, and even in the acute care hospital that was the last stop on her journey. She wanted to go home, by God, and she was going to go – even to the point, in ICU, of carefully taking out every IV and taking off every monitor, grabbing her bag of Werther’s butterscotch and heading for the door. Only the catheter slowed her down enough for the nurses to get to her. 😉
Maybe, in the end, the impulse to “buy out the store” is my version of your painting. After all, one day the store’s going to close – and who would want to miss out?
As for the moon – it’s a big reason I’ll struggle to stay in this apartment. At this time of year, it floods my bedroom with light, setting where I can watch it without moving when it wakes me with its light. I love it. It’s like a friend. “Hello, moon!”, I say, and drift off again to sleep.
I checked out Moonstruck — the candy store — and liked what I saw — enough to order some chocolates for a few of dad’s relatives for Christmas. But wait — that sounds like I did order chocolates when all I’ve done is think about ordering some — I don’t know what’s wrong with me — but these last few days, especially, I can’t seem to get myself out of ‘park.’
Grief. I guess.
I liked your not quite ‘great escape’ story about your Mom — it sort of fit where Janice was a week ago — but not, unfortunately, since Friday. No conversation now. Deep sleep. Hard to disturb her, to wake her.
My sister-in-law, who lives in PA, woke us up from a deep sleep, when she called late Friday night; She was scared by a dream she’d had about Janice and wanted to talk to my husband about it. She had felt an urge to come see her Mom, sooner rather than later. But as so often happens, in the light of the next morning, the trip grew less urgent, so that now, it looks like she won’t arrive until next Sunday.
Moonlight is so soft and gentle on the eyes — and everything it touches. And who knows that maybe it does help us see truth more clearly?
I did not. That movie also haunts me. I love it dearly, and I watch it whenever it comes on. The raw feelings onstage make me laugh and weep. I’m so sorry about your husband’s mother. It is so hard. I love that you’re painting your dining room a darker shade to complement the china from your mother.
Another thing which has haunted me lately is The Orchard, by Theresa Weir. Have you read it?
No, I haven’t. There are many books on my to-be-read list — at times, I feel I may never get through the list. But shall it break the library shelf to add one more?
This winter, with fresh hope, I plan to read — and not only to read, but to finish what I begin. And if I do, this will somewhat compensate for all the false starts experienced this past year — which has proved inconducive to reading — the fault of abortive reading lies with me, rather than the books I selected.
What is it, do you think, which causes certain books and movies to strike a chord within us? For you and Moonstruck, it appears to be an always and forever arrangement — while for me, it was only this particular viewing. I recall enjoying the film the first time too — yet without long-lasting effect.
And speaking of long-lasting effect, I love my freshly painted dining room — the china cabinet is full — and to my eye, at least, the china against walls of similar shade appears like fine art.
Hard to say whether Mother would have approved. It’s all a bit dramatic for her taste. But my husband surprised me with his hearty endorsement of it — once it was finished. Perhaps I’ll post before and after photos. Someday.
Thank you for your kind words about Janice. Soon, our joint life here will be at an end. And we’ll pick up the pieces of life to begin anew.
A poignant piece, Janell. Actually I’ve been here reading and rereading it several times, and you’re right, I don’t want to dwell on the idea of death. You see, I have to take care of two elderly parents, although they are under ‘professional’ care now, I still have to be on top of things and drive them around for appts. etc. They are 94 and 92. No kidding, and that’s why I dread to even think about the issue. Anyway, I love to talk about movies though, by chance, I haven’t seen Moonstruck. But I recently saw a wonderful movie dealing with exactly my situation, the caring for an elderly parent, and the issues it entails. The film is Marvin’s Room, fantastic acting from Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep as sisters, and Leo DiCaprio as Streep’s son. Excellent Christmas movie I think… not your light-hearted and funny flick, but, heart-warming just the same. You see, after I’ve read Diane Keaton’s memoir Then Again, I like her even more. And I came upon this film serendipitously… a pleasant surprise.
Well, I just purchased your latest movie ‘tip’ — Diane Keaton. Meryl Streep. “Excellent Christmas movie, I think” — well, it all adds up to what sounds like a good prescription for my present state. And whether or not I’m ‘naughty or nice’, I’m pretty sure Mr. Postman will deliver it by Christmas.
Now, if only I can swipe off this sticky lassitude long enough to visit Linda’s favorite candy store. For there are a few candy boxes I’d like to purchase for Daddy’s relatives — and had I ‘one-click’ shopping there, as I have at Amazon — they’d already be on their way. Telling, isn’t it — how filling out a simple digital form should become a hurdle between me and those I love.
And as for what you told of your life with elderly parents, I didn’t know. Or maybe I did but I’d forgotten. But, Arti, even if you chose to talk of it everyday in your blog — rather than the art and beauty that fills you with joy — even then, I could never know.
But this I do: With you in their life, dear Arti, they are blessed.