Friday, February 24, 2023



We don’t go to the movies much anymore. The last one we saw was, “Where the Crawdads Sing.” That movie was well worth the time and cost, even without popcorn. But increasingly, the only ones I seem to be attracted to are so called “children’s’ films; you know, the animated kind.  Nevertheless, we decided to go see “A Man Called Otto,” playing now at a local theatre. We had read the book it was based on, “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman, a long time ago, and were curious what the filmmakers would do to the novel.

Tom Hanks plays the main character and he presents us with probably the grumpiest old man you will find on film or in real life. He put me to shame, and I can be grumpy. The story line eventually lets us know why he’s the way he is and the healing dimensions of relationships with caring people. I came away believing you never know who we might help heal with a kind word or a loving deed, or who might heal us. Although the movie can cause a lot of teary eyes, you can’t miss the best medicine for grumpiness and grief.

My body can make me grumpy! I mentioned to a 96 year old friend that she gets out of a chair better than I, her several years junior. She shrugged my compliment off, saying how often she works out every week. That’s enough to make a person even grumpier. The body is not working right, so you have to work and sweat to make it function better; a double whammy!

I have in front of me a book from 1977 with mobility exercises for the “older” person. (We decided a few weeks ago with friends, that for us, from now on an “older” person was anyone over 100). The book is called “Be Alive as Long as You Live.”  There are pictures of lots of exercises; even those you could do in bed; and those to prepare you to be ambulatory after lengthy bedrest. If I can begin to discipline myself to do some of them, it may help my disposition and screeching joints.

But an aging body is not what makes Otto grumpy. I would probably name his problem unresolved grief. That’s all I’m going to say about Otto or the movie, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. But I do want to say a bit more about unresolved grief.

There are a good many things in Lakota culture that are worth investigating and even integrating into mainstream society, should there be Lakota permission and oversight. One is their treatment of, and reverence for, the deceased. I once had a Lakota woman say to me with frustration, “I wish you white folks would take better care of your dead,” after a sleepless night where her family struggled with an unsettled spirit of a white man.  And then there is the Lakota “Wiping of the Tears” ceremony. I was able to observe one once on the Rosebud Reservation in the context of a Wacipi.


The idea is that when a loved one dies, you have the permission of the tribe to withdraw from normal social life for a year to remember and grieve the loved one. When that period of time is concluded, you are welcomed back into the larger society with ceremony. In the one I witnessed, the leader of the ceremony symbolically wiped the eyes of the one who grieved, which was followed by a long line of community members who shook hands with the person, welcoming them back into normal social life. There is no sense of “get over it and get back to business.” Grief work can take time; and it can be “work.”
Just ask a friend of mine who does grief work counseling. How long does it take a person to “get over” an automobile accident that takes the life of a thirteen year old daughter? What is the process for coping with and accepting the suicide of a parent or spouse? Where do you go and what do you do when the four year old shoots his six year old brother with your gun? How many tears should be shed when losing a loved one to fentanyl? How should you best remember your mother who died of cancer, after long months in your care? How do you rectify a broken relationship when the other person is dead?

Grief can be just as painful, or more, than the aging joints of the body, and there is no healthy over-the-counter medication; though people will try to use the drug and liquor stores to blanket their grief. Grief needs both attention and intention. Just as I won’t reduce joint pain by ignoring it, neither will we reduce the pain of grief without attending to it. And with attention can come a new intention to change; to live life more fully; to incorporate the love for the lost into our love for life.  

See the movie, even without popcorn!

Carl Kline

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