Everybody’s Fine . . .

When everybody’s fine, nobody’s fine. In my experience, Everybody’s fine is a throwaway phrase that means:  I don’t want to talk about it! or Don’t anyone make a fuss over me!

My 85 year old mother is a lifelong practitioner of the everybody’s fine dogma. Questions about her well-being get the same answer:  I’m fine, frequently followed by a second I’m fine for emphasis.

[I’ve talked of my mother in previous posts, here and here and here. Her strong character and self-reliance help explain why I’m fine is a mindset she stubbornly maintains.]

Mom had eye surgery earlier this year. She lives with the Factor V Leiden blood disorder, so before surgery, she suspended taking warfarin, a drug that helps prevent thrombosis. After the surgery, she had to remain face-down (inactive) for five days. I stayed with her, and even though she seemed totally undone by a simple eye surgery, she insisted I’m fine. Instead of trusting my instincts, I accepted her assessment.

A 2009 film entitled Everybody’s Fine, starring Robert DeNiro, explores family interactions and the myths we maintain. In my last blog post, I referenced my experience dealing with estrangement. One might suppose this film would resonate with me.

There are similarities. DeNiro’s character (Frank Goode) is father of four, two boys, two girls; I’m a mother of four (2 and 2). Frank lives in the home he shared with his deceased wife, the home in which his children grew up. His children now live in distant places; small difference — only my daughters live out of state. Frank’s relationship with his offspring is strained; thankfully, three of my four not only speak to me but seem to enjoy and appreciate my (and their father’s) company.

Certainly, the title of the film drew me in and DeNiro usually offers an admirable performance. So I was ready. Give me a movie with a good story line, compelling characters and heart-stirring music; ask my kids — I’m likely to shed tears while watching.

Unlike some Amazon reviewers, I didn’t bawl through this one. In fact, I couldn’t dredge much empathy for Frank — our situations have similarities, so shouldn’t I have connected? My prevailing emotion was pity — in my view, Frank wasn’t a likeable character. His connection to his children came secondhand — via his wife, now dead.

I felt more empathy for Frank’s children. They were all spinning webs of deceit, but had forged a temporary bond, in large part to save their father’s feelings. Strikingly, it’s from their father they’ve learned this “necessity” for deceit.

As an exploration of family dynamics, the film concedes relational fragility while seemingly content to declare everybody’s fine; in truth, they’re all suffering! Pain can sometimes draw people together, but it doesn’t happen here.

We discovered quickly my mom wasn’t fine either. Her respite from the warfarin caused a second occurrence of DVT. Happily, she’s recovering now. She hasn’t completely abandoned the I’m fine attestation — no surprise. But when the words pass her lips, we both laugh. I consider that progress.

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