Coco: What It Means for The Living

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I’ve been kind of sad since watching Coco this morning. It’s a nice idea, that somehow we can still be connected with a deceased loved one. I just don’t believe in it.

Ethan said, “Maybe we should try celebrating Day of the Dead. If it’s real, maybe we can see Daddy. I mean, maybe. If it’s real.”

I could see him in my rear-view mirror, looking at me hopefully.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I lied, forcing myself to nod with fake enthusiasm.

Even if it were true, it still wouldn’t help the void that exists right now, here. After the theater I told the kids we were going to the grocery store. They complained loudly. I reminded them that there wasn’t another parent around to do it for us, like Daddy used to do, so we had no choice. They nodded sadly.

The tear-jerker part of the movie for me was when the old lady remembered her father, who left when she was young. It’s a sore subject because it’s a scenario I often contemplate, wondering how much my own children will remember of their father. I want them to have real memories, not just the re-told ones, but I can’t ignore the reality of our situation. And it hurts me, because I know it will hurt them. 

Taking our kids to the movie theater for the first time was always a big deal. Our family loves movies because of Kenneth, who was a movie addict. I remember when we took Eloise for the first time. It was Minions at the Downtown Disney theater. Coco was the first movie Peter saw at the theater, and Kenneth wasn’t there to experience it with him. I guess that’s not as bad as the fact that Kenneth will also miss Peter’s high school graduation, but you know. It all adds up.

And then, during the movie previews, there was a commercial for Incredibles 2. Kenneth kept waiting for the next Incredibles movie. I had that feeling you get when you want to share something with somebody.

But…they aren’t here.

They aren’t part of this world anymore. This world keeps changing, but they are frozen in the past. Left behind. I feel like a part of me was left with Kenneth, but the rest of me got dragged into the present with everyone else, whether I liked it or not.

Oh–the part in the movie about the deceased who are forgotten.

Gut punch.

Because we are all going to be that person someday. Our memories of Kenneth are the only thing that keeps him somehow real in a world that often feels like he was maybe not real. He is more advanced in the journey toward being forgotten, and it’s a sobering reality. For me. For him. For all of us. 

Whenever I’m feeling down about “our situation”, it seems the kids aren’t too far behind. We’re all somehow plugged in to the same circuit. Peter was carrying around his dad’s framed picture that I thought he had forgotten on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in his bedroom. Ethan was going through a drawer that we’ve procrastinated about clearing–a drawer with Kenneth’s junk inside.

You expect your grandparents to die after long lives. Sure, it’s sad. Your animals only have a certain life span. They’re going to die too. This is the logical order of things. But you don’t expect to lose your father at the age of 13 months, 3 years old, and 6 years old. I didn’t expect to be a single mother sitting at Ethan’s kindergarten graduation after all of the hopes and dreams Kenneth and me invested in our little family. Even as it gets easier over time, we’ve never been able to do anything about the big gaping hole–all we can do is learn to live with it.

If you think it’s easy to sit at a school event and watch your second grader receive an award, but there is no father to share the joy with–well, I hope you never have to experience it. It’s a special kind of torture without a cure. It is my death sentence to bear, for reasons I will probably never understand, but mine nevertheless. 

I’m sitting here, listening to Clair de Lune (the song played at Kenneth’s funeral), and feeling all different shades of sad about it. Feeling sorry for yourself is the perfect way to get teary-eyed at Starbucks in front of a bunch of strangers.

Why did I think this movie was a good idea?

It was a beautiful movie, really. It’s so nice to imagine these things and to have traditions that keep your loved ones alive in your heart. I guess it can’t hurt. The alternative is too brutal.

I went home after the theater and decided it was a good day to clear out files. It’s the good old fashion purge method of coping. Sometimes the best way to deal with the void is to throw away your husband’s old hernia surgery paperwork, the giant stack of Ethan’s NICU bills, the refinance paperwork from the first house that you bought together, and lots of other stupid memories from the past that you just don’t want to remember anymore because WHAT’S THE POINT.

I even found Kenneth’s Social Security card, the one he accused me of losing for all of those years. It was in a file that had to be the doing of a disorganized person –Kenneth. But it doesn’t matter. I can’t even make him eat his words for falsely accusing me. Nobody is looking for the dead person’s inactive card. Nobody cares.

Slowly, I’m erasing it all. I’ve organized the bits and pieces that I want to remember, neatly tucking them into memory boxes, but more and more of these reminders are getting chucked into the garbage can as I find it easier to part with them.

I can never decide if I want to remember or forget. Forgetting seems easier. The less painful of the two options.

But I guess loving someone is never easy or painless.

So here we are, the carriers of memories, the witnesses to a life that meant something profound to those of us who knew him. 

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