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Manchester by the Sea

By Deborah Colbert, 12/13/2016

The new movie “Manchester by the Sea” is one of the most realistic portrayals of grief and loss captured on film. At the start of the movie janitor Lee Chandler learns he has been named the guardian of his nephew Patrick after the death of his brother Joe. Unlike many films, which use cinematic devices such as benevolent ghosts or letters sent to love, time and death to provide relief after a loved one dies, Manchester by the Sea understands the day to day details involved in the aftermath of a death, that closure can be elusive and the after effects of loss can still be felt years later.

The movie uses words in a specific and subtle way. In one of the most emotional moments in the film, Lee has a strained conversation with his ex-wife Randi in the street.  The two speak over each other as they struggle to reconnect. Dark humor is used to diffuse tension, as people often do in life. When Lee tells Patrick about his father’s death, we don’t hear the words he says. Instead an entire rink of ice lies between us and their conversation. There are times when just being present is enough, as when Lee comforts Patrick by just sitting silently in his room with him.

Yet the movie’s most powerful conversation is the one that never took place. Although he planned every other detail, Joe didn’t tell Lee he wanted him to be his son Patrick’s guardian after his death. Lee tells the lawyer Joe didn’t ask because he knew Lee would say no, but Lee should have had the opportunity to think it through without Patrick sitting right outside the door.  Joe’s unexpressed wish leaves Lee emotionally stranded in a battle between his sincere wish to do the right thing for the nephew he clearly loves and the personal demons that are having such a negative impact on his life.

We at The Conversation Project understand how reluctant many people are to have end-of-life conversations with their loved ones. While 90 percent of Americans say it’s important to discuss their own and their loved ones’ wishes for end-of-life care, only 30 percent actually do. However we have created tools that can help.  The Conversation Starter Kit, is a free downloadable step-by-step guide that helps individuals and families talk about their preferences for end-of-life care. Studies show that when there is a meaningful conversation about end-of-life choices, survivors report feeling less guilt, less depression, and an easier process of grieving.

Just like in Manchester by the Sea, there are no easy answers and no right way to cope with loss. But the words spoken before it’s too late can have a major impact.

What did you think of the movie? Let us know in the comments below.

2 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    There are no easy answers; when you parent children you want the best possible outcome for them in the event you won’t be around to provide it. You also know what you don’t want.
    We had relatives we didn’t want near our kids without us. People with whom we kept a perfunctory, arms length relationship without animosity. We also had relatives who we knew would step up to the plate and provide good life examples. We chose the latter and asked if they would take over the care and upbringing of our precious children should life take one of those unexpected turns. Thankfully they agreed. And more thankfully, the unexpected never happened. Sometimes you must be judgemental and discerning; our children represented the most important stewardship we ever had and tough love requires looking at tough issues.

  2. Nora Hall says:

    This is an important conversation we all should have with our loved ones and presumed survivors. thanks to the Conversation Project for mentioning it.

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