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Watching 'Coco' While Dealing With Grief

I blog mostly about how Disney quotes, characters and films have helped me sort through my caregiving experience and also through grief. I saw new Disney movie “Coco,” which won the Golden Globe this year for Best Animated Film. It opened Thanksgiving weekend 2017.

“Coco” highlights the Day of the Dead, which is a favorite unit of my students in my Spanish language classes, who are often surprised to learn it is not just “Mexican Halloween.” We make “calaveras,” the decorative skulls, and we talk about the concept of how the spirits of loved ones who have passed away are believed to come back to visit their families on that holiday. Their spirits live on as long as they are remembered by the living who loved them. I always tell my students that although I don’t really celebrate Day of the Dead, I am moved by the idea that the spirits of my parents and my husband, Ben, would come back to me every year, but that I often feel that they are watching over me. When Ben and I went to Walt Disney World, I did love the Mexico pavilion at Epcot, where the artisans could be seen making beautiful Day of the Dead crafts and spirit animals.

I have always looked forward to the new Disney and Pixar films. I was definitely intrigued by this movie because of the theme. As I took my seat in the theater, I thought about how one of Ben’s and my favorite traditions was going to the Thanksgiving Disney movie release on opening day or weekend. As his ALS progressed, traveling became more difficult, and eventually it became impossible. I kept our tradition and went to see “Coco” on opening weekend, but I missed Ben terribly and felt very lonely and alone. I chose to go by myself because I thought I might be upset and it did not feel right to go with anyone else. Some things — particularly Disney things — will never be the same without Ben.

“Coco” was absolutely beautiful but very emotional, given my own experiences and losses. For one thing, the character Coco is young Miguel’s great-grandma, who is delighted by her great-grandson, although her memory of him and of everyone, is fading. But Coco is loved and respected and cared for by the whole family. I was happy to see Disney tackle the issues of respect for the elderly and memory
loss in a sensitive, touching way. But, it was also poignant, since it echoes my own experience with my great-aunt who has Alzheimer’s disease, with whom I was so close. She now seems to know I am familiar but does not know who I am. Since she does smile and get animated when I visit her, I comfort myself with the belief that memories of me are somewhere in her mind. I cannot have the same relationship with her I always had, but I continue to visit her and take comfort in making her laugh and smile without dwelling on her not knowing my name or that I am her niece, the daughter of her sister, my mom, whom she also does not appear to remember.

Also integral to the plot is the profound love of and connection to music that young Miguel feels to his core. Ben would have strongly related to that. Playing music and recalling lyrics that resonated with him were key to who Ben was until the day he died. In fact, on the day that he separated from the vent, a guitarist played some of his favorite songs for him at his bedside. I took comfort in knowing that Ben would have enjoyed Coco’s emphasis on the vitality of music.

It stands to reason that the lyrics to a song from the film would resonate particularly deeply.

“Remember Me”

Written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, Performed by Miguel, featuring Natalia Lafourcade

Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

Remember me
Though I have to travel far
Remember me
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Remember me

When I saw the film, I’d been struggling with missing Ben more than usual. Fall- encompassing my October birthday and Halloween was our favorite time of year, and there are constant reminders of him that make me feel very alone. Although it unnerved me and had me in tears at various points, “Coco” was a powerful and actually, a positive reminder that Ben, my mom and dad, my grandma and all of the other people I’ve loved so deeply but lost, are always with me in my heart. I was fortunate to be able to tell my dad, my grandma and Ben that I would never forget or stop loving them. Remembering them keeps them close to me always and very significantly, it keeps their spirits alive.

Sometimes that’s not enough, like when I wanted to be sitting next to Ben and holding his hand, knowing that as soon as he would have seen Coco and Miguel together that he would have handed me a tissue and I would have started laughing through my tears because he knew exactly what tugged at my heartstrings.

In typical Disney fashion, it is a movie that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. It is vibrant and colorful and fun, yet it also carries important messages for all of us about life, aging, love and loss. Ben was Puerto Rican, and he would have loved, as I did, that there was even some Spanish language in it!

Ben at the Mexican Pavilion at Epcot, Walt Disney World
Ben at the Mexican Pavilion at Epcot, Walt Disney World

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