Last night, I watched the documentary “Still: A Michael J. Fox movie.” It tells Fox’s story in his own words – the tale of an undersized kid from a Canadian army base who rose to the heights of stardom in 1980’s Hollywood. The account of Fox’s public life, full of nostalgic thrills and cinematic gloss, unspools alongside his never-before-seen private journey, including the years that followed his diagnosis, at 29, with Parkinson’s Disease. Intimate and honest, it explores what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease.
Okay, so I stole that above description of the film from the AppleTV synopsis. (thats where you can find this film.) Anyway, I have always loved Michael J. Fox. Always. I fell in love with him when I discovered the sitcom “Family Ties” as a kid in the 80’s. It was one of my favorite shows, and his creation of Alex P. Keaton, the lovable Republican teenage son of the Keaton family, was simply brilliant and hilarious. His comic timing is on point, his expressions stole the camera, and his phrasing of words and language was over the top unique, yet still somehow subtle. When I saw him in “The Secret of my Success”, and then “Back to the Future”, it was all over for me. My teenage crush on him had become more of an obsession. I went from thinking he was cute, to wanting him to be my best friend. In later years, “Spin City” continued the comedy wave. Then, after he came out publicly with his diagnosis of Parkinsons, he kept making me laugh time and time again when he would guest on Letterman and other talk shows, and poke fun at himself – or when he was on a classic episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, making Larry David’s life miserable with some well-timed shaking and dropping of things, and then using “Parkinsons” as his excuse for doing it. Then I bought his book: “Lucky Me”, and his writing is so brutally honest, which I have always appreciated in people who tell their stories. It’s a fantastic book, and a fantastic movie. You should read and watch them – if you want to be inspired and humbled and all of those things.
What does any of this have to do with being widowed and why Im writing about it in this blog for widowed people? Well, as my friend and the Founder of Soaring Spirits often says about those who are widowed, we tend to see everything “through our widowed lens.” I mean, anything and everything that takes place on earth, we can somehow circle it back to our widowed experience, right? And with this movie, of course HOW you were widowed is huge here. If you are a person widowed by Parkinson’s Disease, I would imagine that watching this movie could be very upsetting and triggering and even traumatic. Because he shows so much of his daily life with his wife and caregiver Tracey, and his speech coach and trainer, this could cause a lot of feelings. Feelings of remembering what your own experience was like, plus maybe also feelings of anger or resentment that “of COURSE he can be optimistic – he has the money to hire coaches and trainers and pay all his medical bills and not worry!” And so, because of that, I did worry about sharing this blog on Facebook today, because I never want to upset fellow widowed people. But the I thought more about it, and it occured to me that ANY movie about anything real out there is going to be triggering and upsetting for SOMEONE in our widowed community. There are a lot of ways to die, and a lot of ways to get sick, and a lot of ways to die suddenly – and if anyone tells anny of those stories about their own life publicly, it will be hard for someone to watch.
Yes, I sit around thinking about this kind of stuff. Im weird that way.
The point is, Fox could have chosen to take the reality of his diagnosis and hide away, drink himself to death, fall into a deep depression, and call it a day and a life. And thats exactly what he did for the first few years after the diagnosis – the years before he went public with it. Nobody knew, except his wife. But then, he made a decision, and what he decided was that he was going to live his life WITH Parkinsons, as fully and purposefully as possible, for as long as possible. He created the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has raised billions of dollars for Parkinson’s Research, and he has gone up against those in Congress to advocate for more money being put into research of this disease. He was done so many things with this diagnosis, and to me, and to many, that is both inspiring and humbling.
Watching him , even when he is talking about this disease and doing it in the most real way possible, still makes me feel good all over. He is a person who has taken his circumstances, and turned them into something that will help change the world. Incredible.