'Listen as your day unfolds, challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky.
Lovers they may cause you tears
Go ahead release your fears, stand up and be counted,
don't be ashamed to cry'
You Gotta Be, Desiree
Last week, I watched 'Me Before You' and I'm not ashamed to tell you that I had a heartfelt 'bogey cry'. If you don't know already, this is the new movie based on Jojo Moyes romantic novel of the same title. The movie has been described as so many things: as a love story, a family story, a carers story, an insight into assisted suicide and quadriplegia. It is all of those things, but to me, above all it's a story about bravery and the importance of truly living.
People often say to me 'I am living!' Yes, we are all breathing, waking up in the morning and going to work and doing our best to get by. Yet, I wonder how many of us are merely existing. There is a vast difference between the two. Whilst this is something I have often pondered on (especially since the sudden passing of my mother), this film really brought it home to me.
Without giving too much away for those who haven't watched this beautiful film or read the book yet, it is based around the character of Lou Clark, a young woman, who lands a job as a carer to an intelligent, handsome and wealthy 35-year-old man named Will Traynor. Will has spent the past two years as a quadriplegic after being hit by a motorbike. This, of course, is just the base of the story.
As I sat down to write this, I noticed the film has caused a stir in some of the disabled community who feel it portrays disability negatively. I can honestly say, as a mother to a disabled child, that I didn't take that away from the film at all. I don't say that to dismiss anyone's feelings, but for me, the film is centred on the fact that Lou has never fully lived. This is made so much more obvious because Will has lived his life to the fullest, but no longer can. At his peak, he had thrived on "crushing people in business deals." He had also climbed rocks at Yosemite, swam in volcanic springs of Iceland and dated beautiful women. After a horrific accident, he can no longer work, walk, feed himself, or have sex. The only power he believes he still has is the power to end his life.
This is, of course, a commentary on assisted suicide, which is an issue I believe we must endeavour to understand. For me, it is the journey that shapes the mindset.
For example, my child was born with a disability. I have done my utmost to instil in her determination, self-belief, confidence and resilience. The irony is, she has taught me the meaning of these traits. Having never known any different, she learns new ways every day to embrace her body and her many gifts.
The character in this film, however, feels he has had his gifts taken from him suddenly and not knowing how to adapt to this new version of himself, would like to be remembered as he was before the accident. The suddenness of his accident reminded me yet again of the fragility of life.
His sudden change in his own freedom and independence gives him the ability to be able to clearly see when others aren't exercising their own. In frustration for the limitations Lou has placed on her life, he says:
"You cut yourself off from all sorts of experiences because you tell yourself you are 'not that sort of person'. You've done nothing, been nowhere. How do you have the faintest idea what kind of person you are?"
It is due to these clear messages that I don't view the film as a commentary on disability. I found the focal point in this film was Lou, who is forced to realise the hard way that she must stop limiting herself. Her realisation was deeply touching. It made me feel as though I wanted to write and act on a whole new bucket list.
Dignitas figures show that Britons now make up a nearly a quarter of users of suicide clinics in Switzerland. This year, the BBC Two documentary, How to Die: Simon's Choice aired. The programme followed Simon (who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease) and his family in the months leading up to his assisted suicide in Switzerland. Viewers were given a heart rendering insight into his wife's experiences and her conversations with Simon in the months leading up to his death, begging her husband to stay and battling to stop him from taking his own life. Just as Wills parents do in 'Me Before You.'
Tomorrow is not promised. My mother was so full of vitality, life and spirit that I could never have imagined her ending up on a life support machine.
Will has learned this lesson the hardest way possible. At one point, frustrated by he demands, "Promise me you won't spend the rest of your life stuck around this bloody parody of a place mat." Those tough but true words have rang in my head for days after I left the cinema.
That evening, I visited friends and laughed with them. I told all my loved ones just how blessed I am to have them in my life and I squeezed my children even longer before bedtime.
I urge you to watch this movie. Allow it to tap into the part of you that you know isn't living life to the fullest. Accept the message of the movie as a learning, take the best from it, and start today with a new lease of life.
'Life is your greatest adventure. Embrace each challenge and never be afraid to live it authentically, lovingly, wildly and to its fullest' Diahanne Rhiney