Tag Archives: grief

Odd Reactions: "The King and I"

What an odd reaction!

I’ve just watched a new version of “The King and I”, this one subtitled “From the Palladium”. It’s a televised version of the 2018 London stage production, and it aired Friday on PBS’s Great Performances. I found it unexpectedly marvelous as it was never one of my favourite musicals. However, I sat riveted to my sofa for the whole two hours, revelling in the freshness of the production, the music, the cultural sensitivity, the costumes, the humour, the wonderful acting, singing and dancing. There’s nothing like the London or Broadway stage to breathe new life into “old chestnut” musicals from the 40s and 50s.

However, a strange thing happened to me while watching this performance. During a song I hadn’t even remembered, I suddenly began to cry volubly, startling myself. What on earth was going on? The song was “Something Wonderful”, sung by the King’s “head wife”, Lady Thiang, to Anna, exhorting her to love the irascible King despite his many faults and revealing her own love for him in the process. It’s a profound moment.

I suppose the song triggered my tears on several levels. First of all, Ruthie Ann Miles’ passionate rendition set off goosebumps. Her voice is strong, clear and measured, the lyric even more poignant given that Miles had lost a loved one – her daughter – in a car crash only the year before. Did she think of her daughter as she sang about unconditional love? After all, the word “man” is easily replaced:

This is a man who thinks with his heart
His heart is not always wise
This is a man who stumbles and falls
But this is a man who tries

This is a man you’ll forgive and forgive,
And help protect, as long as you live…
He will not always say
What you would have him say,
But now and then he’ll do
Something
Wonderful.

iM

A second reason for my tears was the strong reminder of my father it triggered. He died in 1992, but for various reasons, I didn’t grieve him properly at the time. Dad loved musicals, his favourite being “Brigadoon”. I remember sitting in a high school audience with him as a teenager, surrounded by my whole family, watching him delight in such songs as “Waitin’ for my Dearie” and “Go Home With Bonnie Jean”. His happiness fueled my own, as I adored him, looked up to him. At that time, Burnaby South Secondary School was noted for its music program, and it was Dad’s friend and colleague, Laurie Lynes, who had been responsible for building it. Dad would have been happy about his friend’s success. I know because he bought the official Broadway album soon after and played it often around the house. Today’s musical brought on an overdue grief.

And finally, of course, I cried out of my present grief, the loss of my wonderful husband eight months ago. His unconditional love for me was the stuff of legend and a constant source of my gratitude.

So I sniffled and wept throughout most of today’s TV performance. Given such a strong and unexpected reaction, I wonder if I could remain composed through any version of “Brigadoon” should it reappear on TV

ADAPTATION

chimps laughing 2

My husband and I watch BBC’s Planet Earth on his small flat-screen. It’s about primates, some of whose names I’ve never heard. Names like Tarsier, Aye-aye, and Diademed Sifaka. David Attenborough wanders the planet, showing where the various apes live, how they survive.

We sit close on my husband’s single bed or, when my bent knee aches,we stretch out side-by-side, squeezing in as best we can. I miss this cuddling, this physicality. Following his two major surgeries and the slow onset of his dementia, I can no longer look after him at home. Luckily, his facility is a good one, clean, friendly and close by. His room is warm, but we huddle together regardless.

Attenborough shows us the Aye-Aye of Madagascar, In captivity, several types of olfactory clues were observed, including buccal (cheek) marking in which the aye-aye’s cheek is rubbed on an object.”

I smile, noting how often I stroke Don’s cheek with the back of my hand, especially in the car when hugging won’t work.

The camera moves on to the Snow Monkeys of Honshu, Japan. Don laughs at their antics, a full-on whoop, disproportionate to the occasion, but I don’t mind. As long as he’s happy. He doesn’t hear well, often talking over Attenborough’s commentary, but as I listen, I’m impressed with the way these northern-dwelling primates snuggle together in lanky treetops, huddling for warmth during the sub-zero nights.

“Twenty below!” I exclaim loudly, giving Don the short version.

“Wow!” he responds. “Now that’s cold!”

They have old-man faces, these Snow Monkeys, and double-thick fur for insulation. Watching them amidst the falling snow, we feel even cozier in our warm room.

Don seems engrossed throughout the program. His laughter is my tonic, but I know he’s a skilled pretender, ready to applaud anything he thinks may like. Chimps can deceive and empathize too. But what we watch isn’t the point anyway. It’s what we share. We can still be together, physically and emotionally. We can still laugh; we can still bond.

Attenborough wanders among the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar.They also huddle together for warmth, adorable in their white faces and kohl-dark eyes. The commentary says they’re female-dominant and active only during the day. They have long snouts and wet noses.

“Like you!” I say, wiping his own beak with a Kleenex. He laughs, aware that it tends to drip.

At the moment, he sits on his bed while I gently stroke his back and shoulders, communicating love while receiving it back through his trust. He drinks the Starbucks coffee I brought while continuing his delighted comments about the program. His happiness comforts me.

We survive – he and I – as the apes do, by adaptation. We may not forage for food, but we do scrounge for affection. That never changes. Together forty-five years, we’re well-attuned to the other’s emotional climate and have learned to trust in the other’s regard. Of course, there have been difficulties, serious ones. But in these final years, only the love matters. All else has fallen away, eclipsed by our need to see one another to the end, to guard jealously our time together. I can’t help but wonder how long we’ll have even this limited contact. At the same time, I thank all the stars that I recognize its value.

Attenborough moves on. In a wildlife orphanage in Zambia, chimps mourn the death of a friend. Don and I watch in silence as the apes sit for fourteen minutes with Thomas, the dead chimp, alternately sniffing and touching him. They neglect even fresh food, so caught up are they by grief and the great mystery of death.

We humans struggle to prepare for death, to achieve peace of mind as we age. Sitting with Don, I realize we have it now, at least in part. Peace comes with full commitment; it’s impossible to love this deeply and still wonder about life’s meaning.

Love is why we’re here.