Friday, April 5, 2013

On mortality and Roger Ebert

Film Critic, author and brand, Roger Ebert
 "Quick it's almost on" my Mom shouted from the living room. We were playing nearby after changing into our pajamas. "Hurry!" We ran as fast as we could, the slick bottoms of our onesie jim jams sliding on the carpet. We could hear the music, signifying the start of the show. It was 1985 and we were watching what we called Siskel and Ebert though it wouldn't be official for another year.

The film was The Goonies, an 80s classic that my sister and I were too young to watch but due to excellent marketing, were obsessed with. We knew that Siskel and Ebert were about to review it and they always showed clips. Pirates! Treasure! The notorious Fratelli gang! This was the closest we would get to watching the PG rated film at our age. I remember sitting there listening to the two critics, hanging on every word. "A bunch of kids go looking for pirate treasure..." - MIND BLOWN. My Mom would often sit with us after At the Movies and discuss words we didn't know or concepts we couldn't grasp yet. If we didn't like what they thought, my Mom would help us to articulate why and then gently guide us to our own opinions about the film. When I was six, I knew that Stephen Spielberg was a director and I knew that he had made The Goonies, a scary shark movie that I wasn't allowed to watch and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, my favourite film of all time. My Mom never discouraged us when we wanted to know about something grown-up. She'd protect us from the loads that were too heavy for us to bear, but she wouldn't lie to us either. My Mom was born in 1942, the same year as Roger Ebert who passed away Thursday 4 April breaking my heart and the hearts of many others.

Days before, I had said goodbye to my cousin Tracy who died far away back home in the US. I wanted so badly to be there with my family, to hold them, to do things for them, to cook, to clean, to share a memory over photos. Unfortunately, I am too far away and circumstances at this time do not allow me to make the journey. Tracy lived a troubled life but she was loved so deeply by her parents and brother. This is something she may never have been able to understand herself for if she did, I'm positive she would be with us now. Tracy was a caring person who used to help my Granny look after us during holidays when she'd visit. Even though she was only five years older than me, she was happy to help me and my little sister get ready for bed. She would put a band-aid on our cuts or fix us a sandwich if we were hungry. Tracy's hugs were warm and her smile was beautiful. Her eventual career was nursing and I had always hoped she'd marry and have kids of her own because she was motherly, even as a child. Her blonde locks, tan skin and collegiate looks were so all-American she was the prom queen, homecoming game and apple pie rolled into one. She was baseball, warm summer nights, cold ice tea and the 90s perm that actually looked good. Tracy was light and life and a million things that she didn't, or couldn't, realise she was. I have so many treasured memories of her that they easily choke out the later years where beliefs and distance separated us. Despite this, when I saw her last she was cheery, her embrace just as loving and her smile contagious. So one more hole in my heart has been created to sit aside those of my Great Aunts and Uncles, my Nan, my Aunt Bobbie, my Granny and my Dad. Tracy was too young, too beautiful and had way too much left to do but she followed her mother, her true kindred, into the beyond.

My sis Rach, Tracy and I

It's funny how the void created in your life by death can be painful whether you knew the person or not. I can't possibly compare losing my cousin, something I have avoided thinking about in order not to completely shut down, with losing a famous film critic from my life. But grief is grief and for both I mourn. I thought that Tracy would just always be there when I would go back to Texas just like I just assumed Roger Ebert would go on reviewing films for the rest of my life. I mean, he's been there for all of it so far! When Gene Siskel died, I felt this way too. Void. Something is missing. Something that can never be put back the way it was. Each human being, whether a nurse in Texas not known to many or a film critic known to millions, fills a space and when you go it is left empty and the people around the spot where you were will reach out to try and find you. Though you may not realise your importance while you live, your absence creates a rift, a nothingness that never seems to go away. It stays inside the people who loved you, forever, and the memories of you revolve around it until those people themselves create empty spaces of their own in someone else. 

Death is a part of life and the older I get, the more it seems to happen. Today I said to someone 'All this death is making me tougher' but it isn't. It never gets easier to deal with. The pain that the void creates does dull with time, but the more holes in your heart, the weaker it gets though the parts in between may be cast in iron.

When I think about people who have died, the absence they left in my life is noticeable when I dare to imagine all they may have created had they lived. Tracy may have one day yet had a family. She may have, as a nurse, saved the life of the person to one day cure cancer. She could have started a free clinic, discovered a new method of treating patients or written a book that would inspire future care-givers. She could have done any number of things. But then again, she did a lot. She did care for people as a nurse. She helped her mother during her four year battle with cancer taking immense pressure off of her father. She was a valued and loved member of our family whose passing is notable to us and will affect all of us for the rest of our lives.

Roger Ebert wrote hundreds of film reviews, had several top rated TV shows, wrote multiple books, a blog, created a film festival, had countless friends and devoted family plus a career that anyone could envy with an employer as loyal to him as he was to movies. He was in our homes and as synonymous, to me, with movies as popcorn. Roger Ebert is to blame in part for this blog, my eight years as a film critic, my obsession with movies in general and my ability to wonder why. He left a big legacy and shoes no one could fill. As they are saying all over the internet, the balcony is closed.

My cousin and Roger Ebert were equally important human beings. They will both be missed for what they were and what they could have been. 

If there is a heaven, Ebert is most certainly sharing popcorn with Siskel and giggling over all the films they've been apart for. Maybe Tracy is there too, smiling with Aunt Bobbie in another row.

Don't worry, they saved us a seat.

If you are suffering from depression, have anxiety or bad thoughts, you can speak to someone. Please get help. Please stay. In Australia call 13 11 14. People will miss you when you are gone.

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