When I think of Goofy, I can’t help but remember all of the fun times that Ben and I had with him. Of course, he’s always a lot of fun- he’s Goofy! But, after Ben’s ALS diagnosis, we learned that there is a whole lot more to his Disney magic than silliness. Goofy was a big dose of comfort to Ben during our last visit to Walt Disney World.
Meeting our Disney buddies was always fun, especially for me, but after Ben’s ALS diagnosis, seeing them, especially Mickey Mouse, became very emotional. Although Ben traveled around the parks in a scooter and then an electric wheelchair, while he still had strength in his legs, he stood up for photos with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and Buzz Lightyear. As his legs weakened, he still tried to stand for Mickey and Minnie. A couple of times, Mickey even helped me to help Ben out of the chair and he escorted Ben to the photo spot. During our last trip, in 2014, when Ben would not stand at all, I knew he had truly weakened. Living with him, you might think that it would be more obvious to me that he had deteriorated, and of course you would be correct. However, Ben admitting that he could not stand to meet Mickey was symbolic of his surrendering to ALS and that our life was never going to be the same. Ben became overwhelmed and he began to cry. It was a sad and emotional meet and greet. Mickey had hugs for both of us and I asked him for some magic. With a diagnosis like ALS, you just want to believe in that magic.
It was actually Goofy who picked up our emotional pieces. He saw me trying to comfort Ben and he knelt down next to Ben, being his Goofy self, and soon enough, Ben was laughing. He hugged Ben, he danced around, and simply didn’t stop “goofing around” until Ben was back in the magic. Goofy knew just what to do and there was nothing Goofy about that! That’s Disney magic.
Thank you and Happy Birthday, Goofy! You are 91 years young, and a forever friend.
Today is Mother’s Day. My grandmother believed that every day should be Mother’s Day. The truth is that when my mom was alive, every day WAS Mother’s Day. We were so close that we did not need an actual holiday to celebrate that fact. After I lost her, and then my grandma, I can’t say that this holiday was like other milestones in terms of evoking debilitating sadness. Still, there is always a feeling of not belonging, the sting of realizing that I didn’t have their close and unconditional love anymore and the knowledge that my celebrations with them will have to live in my memories. I will spend the day at the theater, which is something I enjoyed with my mom, but something that always brings me joy and peace. Living in a house with Grandma, in many ways I grew up with two mothers, and I honor both of them today.
I think about the importance of mothers in Disney films. In many of the animated films, mothers are not present, having died at some point in the childhood of our favorite characters. I have been moved by more recent live action Disney films, where adults and children show emotions and vulnerability as they deal with loss and grief. The films show us that it is okay to be sad and help us to see that people we love and lose stay close in our hearts. This touches me deeply, and it is such an important message for children who are grieving. I previously shared this clip from the live action Cinderella, where Cinderella’s father advises her that they must always cherish their home because her mom was the heart of it, and they must honor her. Cinderella was my first favorite princess and she remains dear to my heart. I especially love that in the live action film from 2012, we meet Cinderella’s mother, who imparts the important advice, “have courage and be kind.” But we see how Cinderella and her father work through their grief and how Cinderella must then cope with the loss of her father. I keenly relate to how she acknowledges the ways in which she her parents with her and honors them in her actions. The way that she chooses her mother’s dress and asks her Fairy Godmother to keep the butterflies because of her mother validate my own gestures. They are also good ideas to share with children who are grieving.
In Mary Poppins Returns, Michael Banks (yes, all grown up and with his own children) must cope with the loss of his wife and help his children. He lets them know that their mother lives in their hearts and memories. He explains, “Your mother’s not gone. She’s in your smile, and your walk, John, and Annabel’s eyes. She’ll always be with us wherever we go.”
I love when people tell me that they see my mom and dad in me. To this day, I have a hard time when I see that restaurants and shops that I visited with my mom or Ben have closed. It feels like I have lost tangible evidence of our memories, taking them further and further away. I sometimes need to remind myself that I carry all of those memories and the relationships within them in my heart, and by sharing them, I pass them along.
Mary Poppins sings a wonderful song, The Place Where Lost Things Go, in which she suggests:
Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you So when you need her touch and loving gaze Gone but not forgotten is the perfect phrase Smiling from a star that she makes glow Trust she’s always there Watching as you grow Find her in the place where the lost things go.
(Composer: Marc Shaiman; Lyrics: Scott Wittman)
As time has passed, I think mostly of the wonderful memories of my mom and Grandma and our time together. I cherish my memories to keep my mom’s and grandma’s spirits alive and honor them. So much who I am and what I do reminds me of them. I get my Peter Pan-like inner child spirit and love of Disney from my mom. You won’t be surprised that one of my favorite memories is when my mom called me from Walt Disney World exclaiming, “Abby, I met Mickey!” My mom was the only truly selfless person I have ever known and I hope that in some small way I have followed her example. Every time I bake, I feel Grandma with me, and she is a part of all my creative and artistic endeavors, as well as my fashion choices. I believe natural caregiving skills, which even extend to my students, were instilled by both of them.
Now, I am a devoted mom to my cat, Tinker Bell, as I was to Disney and Tiffany. My mom- well, my whole family- loved our pets, so their influence was present even as I cared for Disney and Tiffany as they coped with several illnesses. Tinker Bell. Today, as on most days, she is curled up next to me, napping and then waking up to chat and, I imagine, say “Happy Mother’s Day!” This is last year’s Mother’s Day selfie. I am hoping that I can coax her once again to pose with me.
I do know that my mom and grandma are always with me. There is not a day that I don’t think of my them and I so frequently speak of them that sometimes people are surprised that they have been gone for more than 25 years. I am proud to honor them on Mother’s Day, though in truth, I celebrate, treasure and miss them always.
Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of humans and all creatures, great and small. If you’re missing your mother on this day, I hope that you will take some time to try to feel her presence and the ways that she may live through you.
I am pleased to say that I found Peter Pan and Wendy, now on Disney+, to be an excellent and thought-provoking live action adaptation of Disney’s beloved animated story. This film tells the story of how the relationship evolved (or disintegrated) between Peter Pan and Captain Hook. I found myself thinking of my caregiving days, relationships, responsibilities and how they have affected my perspectives and who I am today. This film helped me to reflect on what brings us to where we are in our lives. Please note that there are spoilers in this post.
We learn that Peter Pan and Captain Hook- whose name actually is James- were once best childhood friends. However, Peter banished James from Neverland because James said that he missed his mother, a sentiment that was forbidden by Peter. When Hook eventually returns, they are enemies. Peter says that he survived on his own not with faith, trust, and pixie dust, but rather, with the help of his friends. We know this is not true, because these were exactly the ingredients he used to teach Wendy, John and Michael to fly. The lie did achieve Peter’s goal of hurting James, who became embittered and evil because of the anger he harbored against Peter for abandoning him. Hook expresses that the hard part of getting old is seeing that, “Your friend can look you in the eyes and not recognize you.” This quote resonated with me. Caregiving changed me. I know that. It affected some of my relationships. Importantly, I think about the way my relationships with my dad and Ben shifted to one of caree and caregiver. It was hard to reconcile that I was becoming the parent to my dad and it was hard to feel the shift of Ben’s and my relationship. There were times that we lost who we were to each other. There were times that we lost our own identities and did not recognize ourselves. Some friends got to know me better, others drifted away. Friends who were truly there for me saw and understood me at times that I had a difficult time recognizing myself. I did recognize and acknowledge my friends and the love and support they offered. Other people disappointed me with their distance, disinterest or even dismissal. Though I had enough happy thoughts and memories to keep from becoming bitter, I sometimes still fret that some of these relationships became so superficial. I felt that these people did not even try to see me and I also struggled with the fact that I barely recognized these people as the friends they once were.
As in the original story, Peter Pan teaches Wendy, John and Michael to fly by directing them to fill their heads with happy thoughts. Tinker Bell is there to add the pixie dust. Wendy’s mind floods with lovely memories that quickly take her into the air. Memories have been a focal point of my own life, particularly as I have coped with grief. Although the sad memories of illness and loss continue to occupy space I my head, I have found that more and more, my mind seems to gravitate to the more joyful memories. I like to surround myself with photos and other memorabilia that make me smile. I let myself have setbacks but don’t dwell on resentments and negative memories. At times, I write about them to try to sort them out and give them their say. I want to be clear that I have not rewritten my past in a way that has omitted the difficult times and people, especially when I want to honestly address the challenging aspects of caregiving and grief. Still, I tend to conjure the better times. While I never literally left the ground, that perspective has served to lift my spirits and let me rise from depths of grief.
Unfortunately, Hook feels that he has no joy or good memories to propel him in a better direction, now defined only by his hook. On the contrary, Wendy is bolstered by positive, loving childhood memories and she provides the mothering that soothes the Lost Boys. Unlike Hook, Wendy can save herself with her happy thoughts. This is also something that I can relate to. I have said that caregiving was my most difficult, frustrating and devastating experience but also the most loving, meaningful and rewarding experience. The positive and loving memories have carried me forward.
In the original and in this film, Peter Pan says that “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” I find this statement particularly unsettling, particularly in light of caregiving for my dad and Ben. I can attest that neither Daddy nor Ben ever referred to their fates in that manner. But, Peter is a boy who is not allowing himself to grow up and mature. Wendy, on the other hand, declares that to live would be an awfully big adventure and that “to grow up might be the biggest adventure of all.” There is great appeal in a Neverland kind of existence, free of responsibility and rules. I am someone whose inner child shines brightly. However, I have also pointed out that my whimsical nature does not mean that I am not grounded in reality. Experience has taught me that there is tremendous satisfaction in taking intimidating leaps ahead to cultivate positive actions and loving, deep relationships, even if the growing pains include uncomfortable changes.
Tinker Bell has always been a favorite character of mine, so much so that I named my cat Tinker Bell because she was small and, in my Disney mind, fairy-sized. In this film, Tinker Bell still possesses her feisty, clever, and adorable manner. Though she does not speak, Tinker Bell is expressive, and Wendy takes the time to understand, communicate with and value her. When they part, Tinker Bell does utter a most profound and valuable expression of gratitude to Wendy, saying, “Thank you for hearing me.” To me, that was the heart of the film. Being truly heard and seen for who we are at our core is something that we all want. Feeling validated is something that we need. I saw that in my dad as he grappled with being older, weaker, and more vulnerable. I saw it in Ben as ALS took away his ability to physically care and speak for himself. They wanted to be heard and seen, to know that they mattered. During caregiving and then as I have moved through grief, I, too, wanted to be heard as I worked through how and when to delve into the world of the living and reshape my life. I also recognize this in the caregivers and grievers I support. It is something that we must all practice because it does not always come easily when we see things through our own lenses.
I am still discovering what happens when I head “to the second star to the right and then straight on till morning.” I witnessed and felt the power of thinking positive thoughts, intensively listening and hearing, and being recognized for who we are. I am grateful for those who heard and saw me and who continue to support me. The experiences- as well as my firm belief in faith, trust and pixie dust- brought me to this point in my life and compelled me to want to give back and work in support of caregivers and those in grief.
I encourage anyone reading this to document your own experiences of feeling heard and seen, and of doing the same for others. These will become your happy thoughts. Feel free to share in the comments.