So back in 2014, a friend and I decided to go and see the premier of “Wish I Was Here”, a comedy/drama written and directed by Zach Braff and his brother Adam Braff. We were HUGE…well still are HUGE “Scrub” fans. I’ve watched the show as many times as I’ve been able to. It’s sort of my comfort show now…I’ll put on if I can’t sleep or I’m just looking for stuff in the background. But ever since getting into that show, I’ve become a big Zach Braff fan…and it’s mainly because of his off screen interactions with fans via Twitter or in interviews: he’s a very emotionally driven person. And it definitely shows in his writing.
I watched Garden State back in high school with one of my Aunts and I remember being immediately entrenched in this loser character he created for himself to play. Also, he dealt with the passing of his mother…I’m hooked already.
But, sadly I fell asleep and never got a chance to watch it further following that night. But, years later I did and it hit me harder then than it did when I initially experienced it. The main reason? Because I faced a similar issue in my own self assessments…in that I felt lost on that path of life. Like Zach Braff’s character, I felt like I was spinning my wheels, just looking for something I didn’t know I would find anywhere. Then of course came the death of his mother and his estranged relationship with his father.
After my mother died my father and I became really close. We did a lot together, and I understood his depression just like he understood mine. But he started dating really soon following my mom’s passing and I don’t think I was prepared for it. I knew it wasn’t my place to be ready for him to move on, because it’s his way of grieving, but I still resented him for it. He searched for pieces of my mother in other women…dating a few here and there, mentioning how they reminded him of her. How they shared personality traits with a ghost…
And that seems insensitive to say, and trust me I know…it’s my own mother I’m talking about. But, in a sense, what dad was doing was just that: he was ghost hunting. Mom wasn’t here anymore, and no matter what he looked for, he would never find her again. But I understood it…because I wanted it too. Not from someone else mind you, but from her…however that had to look. I wanted my mother back. But the thing was, his search put a strain on us because his desperation to fill that void meant that he wouldn’t listen to me or my concerns. Fast forward 5 years and I’m 18/19 dealing with his long term girlfriend who just entered my life at the wrong time. And my dad and I were OK, but in the back of my mind I always felt like I was forced to grieve on my own…and I resented it. My dad wasn’t always my target, but sometimes it was his eventual wife…sometimes it was the people she brought into my life. It took me some years to be truly OK with everything.
I always refused to talk about my dad and I’s relationship, but I think it was something that I always needed to address, because it wasn’t always puppies and rainbows. We became friends eventually, because I couldn’t live at home anymore and I because of the resentment I carried in my heart, couldn’t always be around my stepmother. So…I moved out and visited occasionally.
Which brings me to “Wish I Was Here.” This movie speaks to me in ways that a lot of grief focused movies don’t. It takes my inability to deal with confrontation, my fear of being a disappointment, and my fear of grief and balls them into two separate but equally relatable characters. Zach Braff and Josh Gadd play Aidan and Noah Bloom respectively; two brothers who lost their mother earlier in life and now have to deal with losing their father, both while trying to figure out what kind of people they actually are. Aidan is a failed actor, and Noah runs a blog…
But I watch this movie and I constantly think: yeah, that’s about right. Noah refuses to go see his father. At first it’s because of his resentment towards him…his last conversation with him was about how much of a lost cause he was. Aidan’s relationship with him is more business like: the father pays for his grandkids private Jewish schooling, and Aidan keeps in contact only to ensure it.
Now, this is counter to my relationship with my dad, I know that. He wasn’t unsupportive in the least: in fact he constantly saw greatness in me, no matter what I did. A lot of the issues with us came from me, and my hidden resentment of how my childhood went. But, the other forces that kept me from him added to it as well. I was afraid to get into fights with my stepmother about this or that…and especially about dad in general. When he got really sick, after his brain surgery and subsequent chemo treatments, it got really bad. I felt pushed away and I kind of just…accepted it. I felt like I was a burden to them and just let them handle things however they wanted.
In hindsight…I regret all of it.
Obviously that’s the issue with hindsight…we know the end of the story and know what could’ve changed the outcome. Regret eats away at me in those quiet moments…where I wish I had been there for my father more when he needed me around and not sitting in a room afraid to confront the situation.
Fear is a funny thing. There’s a reoccurring daydream that Zach Braff’s character has throughout the movie – a space adventurer on a foreign planet, running from a cloaked figure. He treks across the entire planet and he never loses the cloaked figure…it’s just always right behind him. He’s afraid of confronting the issue at hand: forgiving his father and himself. He knows his father is dying, and he knows he let his life get away from him – he’s mourning the loss of two things: his dad and his dream. He knows and realizes that in order to be the father he needs to be to his own kids…he needs to find his way and forget the things he’s chased. It’s not a death per se though, more of a compromise.
I know I read off that speech I gave that one time about not compromising our dreams, and fighting for them. And you still should…while finding a sustainable living. I have only ever wanted to be a writer for a living, no matter the way I’d have to go about it, that’s the only thing I thought of for myself. But, life comes at you in multiple ways. When my dad died, I knew it was my time to reevaluate what I saw as being an adult. That’s the kicker with loss, it leads to revelations about life. Out of death springs found livelihood I guess. It’s like the sprouting of a tree through the use of compost fertilizer…kind of.
But fear of these revelations, and of course fear of loss and of pain…it can prevent us from beginning to heal. There’s a scene towards the end of the movie that absolutely WRECKS me every time I see it. Aidan (Zach Braff) calls Noah (Josh Gadd) and tells him that his father might pass any minute and that he wants to make amends with Noah before he goes. Noah says no, obviously…until Aidan’s daughter gets on the phone. She asks him to come and Noah admits to being scared. “Losing my mom was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through…I don’t know if I can take it again.”
Man it hits me where I live…it kills me.
But then this little girl Grace (played by Joey King) says “I know you’re sad…but we’re sad too. And we should all be together.” And that right there…man that’s the key to this whole thing. Collective sadness…collective grieving is a powerful thing. I would have been absolutely lost if I didn’t have my family to be sad with after my mom died. My dad helped me, my aunts and uncles and grandparents…cousins. All were there for me, and I’ll never be able to thank them enough.
There’s a sad aspect of life for a lot of people when it comes to familial issues, and that is often they don’t feel they can rely on family members for comfort because of those strained relationships. In the case of Noah, he felt like a disappointment to his father, but he felt hopeful because of his mother. When he lost her, he didn’t feel support from his father, making the grieving process his burden alone.
That scene kills me so much because I hear the pain in his voice and it’s the same pain that came across my mind with my situation.
I got the call my dad was declining fast and only had two weeks when I was headed to work on a Monday after a music theory class. I’ve only ever been too anxious to eat twice in my life: when I got back from a trip with my aunt and went to go see my mother in the hospital just before she passed, and when I had to look my dad in the face after hearing the news he had a short amount of time left. The kicker is though…I didn’t spend all two weeks with him, and instead let my relationship with my stepmother get in the way of spending what little time I did have left with him. I’ve forgiven my father for the way the relationship went…and I’ve forgiven my stepmother because that isn’t something I want to continue to carry with me. But I never really forgave myself for letting it all happen. I make excuses for myself…but I avoid taking the responsibility of letting those moments with him slip away. And this isn’t going to be a post about me forgiving myself…it’s just an acknowledgement.
This movie, “Wish I Was Here”, is such an honest portrayal of losing somebody…and it’s so painfully beautiful to watch. If you ever get some free time, I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a film that captures the true moments of sadness, and how absolutely lost it makes you feel.
I might make this an ongoing series…grief fueled movie reviews. Or something like that. I don’t know, we’ll see.