I was flying home from New York and decided to watch a movie. I was tired. I wanted something that wouldn’t make me think too hard, so I went with the surfing movie. No, not the one with the shark (though that made me cry too, come to think of it), another one, Chasing Mavericks. I don’t know what it is about Gerard Butler always playing the widower, but I wasn’t expecting it this time (P.S., I Love You, which there was no way I was going to go and see and The Boys are Back, with, oh wait, that’s Clive Owen. Well, you get the idea).
It was kind of hokey, but by the end, tears were rolling down my cheeks. The movie producer guy sitting next to me glanced at me and I did an embarrassed little laugh and said by way of apology, “I’m a weeper. It was a sad movie.” “Oh,” he replied. “The Impossible?” (the movie about the family lost in the Tsunami, another one I would never watch). “Uh. No. It was a surfing movie.” He just sort of smirked and left me to wipe my tears on a very inadequate cocktail napkin.
So yes, there was a wife who died, and then we learn at the end of the movie that it was based on the life of a real guy who came from a crap childhood and befriended this neighbor (Gerard) who taught him how to surf the gigantic waves, called Mavericks. They have a sweet video of the real-life guy who married his childhood sweetheart and then they drop the bomb that he died in a diving accident at the age of 22. The movie ends with a big funeral held on the water, everyone on surfboards. Slam. The classic widow gotcha. Death and funerals and sad widow-type people who movies manage to portray so vividly.
But oddly, it wasn’t the dying wife andÂ funeral that got me. It was the optimism of the main character. He trusted life and took huge risks to ride the giant waves. It’s been a lesson I’ve been trying to impart on my kids a lot lately in this era of graduations, and I was flying home on O’s 18th birthday. My baby suddenly isn’t such a baby anymore.
The irony is that with her knee surgery recovery she’s been more of my baby than ever. I was reluctant to go on this trip, leaving her still so vulnerable, but I was hoping my absence might spur a recovery of her independence. But it didn’t happen. I received daily texts telling me how sad she was, how much pain, etc. and I just wanted to get back and take care of her. But I also wanted her to snap out of it, and take her surgery in stride as a setback, but one that she would recover from.
A birthday dinner was rushed at the end due to her pain. The next day she came home from school and unleashed everything that she’d been holding back in my absence. I took her to a PT appointment and the despair continued. I was getting frustrated. I thought of that kid and his maverick wave and wanted my kid to feel strong enough to conquer her knee. On the drive home, I asked her if she was really in a lot of pain, or if perhaps all her tears were just her having a pity party meltdown and that she had waited for me to party with since I was safe to cry with. “Could that be it?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yeah,” she said. I think it’s because you’re safe.”
When we got home she re-did the exercises from PT, helped me chop rhubarb for a pie, whipped off the two papers she had been moaning all afternoon about not being able to focus on enough to do, had me help her with a presentation and then went off to a friend’s house to finish another assignment.
Somehow the acknowledgement that she was safe to pity party (is that a verb?) with meÂ was enough.
I will continue in my Gerard Butler role and cheer her on as she conquers her mavericks, watching from the cliff’s edge with a mixture of fear and pride.
Next up, graduation. A doozy of all widow experiences. Stay tuned…