A posted summary of the movie Cake, recently released on Netflix: “After having visions of a member of her support group who killed herself, a woman (Jennifer Aniston) who also suffers with chronic pain, seeks out the widower (Sam Worthington) of the suicide.” Sound like a dark romantic comedy? Not quite, though another reviewer noted the “darkly funny” tone of the movie. Surprisingly, neither reviewer thought to mention the fact that Jennifer Aniston’s character Claire Bennett is suffering from pain caused by injuries she received in a car accident in which her six-year old son was killed.
And by the way, there was nothing remotely comedic about the film.
Aniston played her character straight and raw, without benefit of her usual glamour makeup. She’s completely undone by the tragic experience of losing her child and she’s conflicted about later waiving off her husband, who’s greatest flaw seemed to have been also losing a son. Yes, she had significant back pain and a subsequent (legal) drug addiction to cope with that pain, but as the movie reveals, her greatest challenge was the loss of her son. Her rage comes out sideways sometimes, and the reason she fantasizes about the woman who committed suicide is because Claire is imagining different suicide scenarios of her own as a way of coping with her child’s death.
Yet reviewers shied away from acknowledging that central plot which, by the way, is not a secret plot twist at all. Their choice to omit that fact in the promos is telling, as if acknowledging the death of a child is going too far and would keep too many people from choosing to watch the movie. The Netflix preview also failed to mention the dead child, instead focusing in on Claire’s pain-addled “obsession” with the suicidal woman of her support group, a woman she’d scorned in life and didn’t really mourn in death.
I put this before you for two reasons: (1) I think the movie’s marketers were right: the general public doesn’t want to watch a movie in which a child has died — a reaction which only makes it harder for bereaved parents to find a support network, and (2) I think you might benefit from seeing the movie yourself.
Cake actually does take off the kid gloves to take on parental grief, the ruination of existing relationships, despair, self-medication, what it means to be ambushed by unexpected reminders of your child (though they are never truly out of mind), and flirtations with suicide. Sound familiar? And I think it successfully shows what a cat-fight it is to surface through your own ocean of grief, even for brief moments (let alone to accept it as a lifetime goal).
Cake also shows the difference one empathetic, committed person can make — in this case, it was Claire’s housekeeper — toward helping navigate the white water rapids that pull us under again.
If you’re up to watching Cake, let me know your reaction. Did the movie go too far, not far enough, or was it completely off center for you? Or did it tell it like it is for some of us? And I’d also like recommendations of other movies that also help express what we sometimes cannot. This is your community — join in with comments and suggestions. Thanks.
I visited Daniel’s grave today with my grandson, Patrick Daniel, who was named in his honor. Patrick’s mother is Summer, pictured at the far left in this old photo of Summer, Brook and Daniel taken when my three oldest children were still young people full of promise. I sent her a text message with Patrick standing at Daniel’s grave, and she replied with three blue hearts. We always put blue flowers on his grave, as I did today.
Perhaps you’ll be at your child’s grave this weekend, too, whether they served in the military or whether they only lived long enough to take a couple breaths — or even none at all. We honor our dead children in general on Memorial Day, with fake flowers and real tears, regardless of their age or affiliations and regardless of the years they have been gone. It always hurts.
Though I enjoy cemeteries — I’ve put nearly 10,000 photos of tombstones on find-a-grave for families who want to see or find tombstones of their relatives, and always (always) photograph any child’s grave I see along the way — I hate visiting Daniel’s grave. I remember always the first time we were there, and the death seems so recent, though it has been years now. It never feels remote. It always feels fresh, as does the ache.
Afterwards, we returned to my home, since my grandson is mine for the entire weekend, and we planted six trees — five for the five grandchildren I love, and the sixth in honor of Daniel, who didn’t live long enough to have a child of his own. He’s my forever 16-year-old boy. It should be obvious why we selected evergreen trees, which don’t even seem to die in winter.
Regardless whether you are able to visit a grave or not (I realize that not all grieving parents have that option, and others aren’t able emotionally to do so), our thoughts will naturally return to our dead children on this holiday. I wish for you a moment of certainly that it wasn’t all in vain — that your child’s life meant so very much. Your child mattered, and your love for them is indestructible. Like their energy, their very essence, it on this plane of existence — even if they do not. Yet they are with us always, in our hearts and in our heads and in our future.
It’s hard. Talk to a friend or someone comfortable remembering your child with you, or helping you honor them in your way this weekend. We’re here for you as well, if you need an ear or want a shoulder. We are here, a collective of people who actually do understand what you are going through. We can help.
To all of our children… you mattered. You changed our lives for the best simply by entering our worlds. And we loved you then and love you always.