Saturday, December 19, 2009

Love Actually

Love all around us.

This afternoon I indulged in my annual guilty pleasure of viewing the film "Love Actually." The film is a favorite of mine, and a favorite of Widow in the Middle. It is one of those romantic comedies that tug at the heart, has a great soundtrack, and includes something for everyone to identify with. It is also the kind of film that Michael just didn't always appreciate.

Michael had a bit of a snide attitude about romantic comedies, as he felt they made life look better than it was. He often commented that films that depicted families gathering for the holidays were so over the top happy, and nobody's family acted that way. I would just look over at him and say, "honey, that's what it felt like to me growing up, not necessarily how it actually was." I think for Michael life had been a bit more difficult, or perhaps disappointing. He felt like there was no truth to the fairy tales, or to the modern day romantic comedies. Yet, in time, I believe he came around to my way of thinking.

"Love Actually" came out in theatres in 2003, which was a few years before Michael and I met. For those who may not be familiar with the story line, the film is about love, both romantic and platonic, at various stages in life. There are many inter-connected characters from which each story is told. In 2003 I was been a single parent, and had been for many years. For much of that time I longed to be in a relationship, but felt that it would never truly happen for me. My day to day life was quite complicated due to the special needs of my children. I often thought that even if I did find someone, how would I incorporate him into the less than storybook life that my children and I lived.

In the film there is a very tragic character, Sarah, played by Laura Linney. Sarah has been "secretly" in love with a coworker, Karl, for over two years. On this one afternoon Sarah's boss calls her into his office to ask her when she is going to do something about her feelings for Karl. To Sarah's horror her boss confirms that not only is everyone in the office aware of her feelings, so is the equally shy Karl. What we soon learn about Sarah is that her life is complicated by the needs of her mentally ill brother. It is truly heartbreaking when Sarah and Karl find themselves in the throws of their long awaited passion, only to be disrupted by her brother's never ending phone calls. We see how difficult it is for Sarah to put her own needs before those of her brother.

Suffice to say, I deeply identified with the character of Sarah. My 16 year old son has suffered from mental illness from a very young age. From early one, my life became ruled by the need to constantly respond to one crisis after another. When I saw this film, and saw the depiction of the character of Sarah, I became quite bothered. It frustrated me that Sarah appeared victimized by her inability to set limits. I wanted so badly for her storyline to end differently, yet I only had to look in the mirror to know her truth, my truth.

Imagine my surprise a few years later, when I met a wonderful man who wasn't scared off by my having three children. For some reason, Michael was able to see me, to fall in love with me. He was also able to embrace the kids and I as a family, and choose to become part of it. Love actually did happen.

Today's viewing put me in the position to identify with a different character, the character of Daniel. Daniel, played by Liam Neeson, is a very recent widower. In fact, his character is introduced at the funeral of his wife. The irony is of course that Liam Neeson is also now a recent widower. Tragic how life can turn on a dime. Last year when I sat through my annual viewing of the DVD, I wondered if I would be a widower by the next year. By this time last year I already knew that Michael's tumor had returned, and that his chances for survival was decreasing. It was a reality, and yet it wasn't. There is a difference between actually knowing, and actually feeling.

There is a scene in the film where Daniel is in the kitchen of a friend, talking about his deceased wife, when he is hit with an unexpected wave of grief. Daniel is suddenly engulfed in tears. I'm sure that when Liam Neeson shot that scene he never imagined that he would actually one day be living it. None of us do. Even when we have a forewarning about what is to come, we can't fully know what it will feel like.

For Michael and I, we knew what the future likely held, but we tried our best not to get caught up in feeling it. When I think back over our time together as a couple, and as a family, I can see that the reality was not like it is in the movies. It was far more complicated, far more difficult. Cancer is neither romantic, nor comic. Yet what we had felt like a romantic comedy. In spite of the reality, we chose to experience each day with laughter, love and plenty of romance.

Love Actually...was all around us.


  1. what a beautiful post. We were honoured and blessed to experience real love. Many don't throughout their entire lives. I know that is small compensation for you, right here, right now ... but I just had to say it to you. xx

  2. i can only echo Boo's words. you are blessed with having Michael so that you could know the warmth of love. you deserved to have him in your life to give you all this insight into loving and being loved. and for some, maybe for most, they never know what it is. i've seen couples who go through the motions and knew how special the Dragon and i had it. as Boo and you know you have it. (had is a word i will not use since love never dies.)

    we have so much that the deep grief others see in us may just make them envious of the love we share with our spouses. and maybe they are sad for what they will never know.

  3. Dan, thank you for posting about this amazing movie. I haven't watched it yet for my annual holiday viewing and your comments about Sarah really hit home with me now. As you watch the movie you just want Sarah to not pick up that one phone call - JUST LET IT RING! It is heartbreaking. But at the same time I feel her deep sense of duty, love, responsibility , and obligation.

    I am struggling with remarrying and uprooting my boys from their home and school to move out-of-state. Part of me is still undecided and I may choose to remain in Chicagoland for the sake of my sons, in a way like Sarah sacrificed for her brother. When I watch the movie there are times I've yelled out loud at Sarah to forget her obligations and honor her own needs. And here I am, in a situation so much the same.

    What is great about the movie is its honest depection of love in all forms. We have to assume that Sarah was acting from a place within her heart and doing what she had to do despite what she would end up losing in the future. Her struggle was so vivid and evident.
    Why should any of us question the decisions she made?

    My favorite part of the movie is when Emma Thompson realizes she is not going to get the necklace her husband bought for his secretary/assistant. The look and tears in her eyes that she quickly brushes aside to put a game face on for her children is another heartbreaking moment and another depicition of real love and strength.

    You've helped me see that love is still all around us, even as we muddle through our grief and do the best to sort out our lives as we live forward. And some of that love includes the painful decisions we make putting our needs behind those of others.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts Dan. I was about to sit down to watch the movie when I remembered the irony of Liam’s recent loss. So of course, I turned to Google to see what people had said about it. I think those of us who love the movie do so because not only are we ridiculously optimistic, we identify with at least one of the characters.

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know firsthand how difficult it is to find love, and how completely surprising it is when it happens. I’ve been divorced twice. I know how Emma Thompson’s character felt after discovering her husband’s affair (my first marriage), but I also understand some of the feelings Laura Linney’s character had. My second Husband was mentally ill, and I worked so hard to be there for him, even though he wouldn’t accept my help. I had no idea that within a few years of my divorcing the second time, I would find a true soul mate. Because of my experiences in life, I’m better able to understand and cherish this new love. But of course, as the movie points out, love actually is all around.

    Life can be nearly unbearable at times, and the older I get, the more I see how painful it can be. I think the only way we can survive is to keep close to the good stuff and the good people. Hang in there.