Today is December 31.  The last day of 2016. 2016 seems to have been a particularly rough year for a lot of people. They are looking for a new beginning, a fresh start. And, they are hoping that 2017 will bring better things.

Sadly, I don’t share that enthusiasm about a fresh start.  Tomorrow will be January 1, but it’s just another day, like any other day. 2017 will be full of its challenges and surprises.  Nothing magical happens at midnight tonight.  My calendar reset 18 months ago. That line demarcates two segments of my life, like BC and AD divide the history of mankind.  Nothing will ever be the same as it was before that time no matter how many new years I live to see.

I’m headed out for a walk with a friend right now. Then, the Buckeyes will play in the college playoffs.  We’re having friends over to ring in 2017.  I wish anyone reading this a very happy new year and, if you seek it, a fresh start.

This morning it was hard getting going.  Normally, I’m up early and ready to go. This week I’ve been sleeping in, my version of a vacation since we don’t get a break over the holidays.  I finally got out of bed a little after 8. The wind was howling. The snow was blowing.  The actual temperature was around 32.  Who knows what the windchill was? I felt there was no way I was going to get my five miles in today.  I just didn’t have it in me.

I got dressed and got onto Facebook, procrastinating. I sat for over half an hour.  I could hear the wind whipping outside.  I hate the cold. I’m not a runner.  I absolutely did not want to do this today.  But, I put on my hat, my gloves, my jacket and I opened the door. The sidewalks were covered with ice.  With all of the hills in our neighborhood, it would be treacherous. I read this morning about an ex-NFL player on vacation with his family.  He slipped, hit his head, and died. Freak accident.    So, as I’m negotiating the icy sidewalks, I’ve got that playing in my head.

I hit my first split on my walk and my software announced my pace.  It is about as slow as I’ve gone, but I couldn’t speed up due to the ice.  Maybe once I hit the flat, I can pick up the pace a bit. But, as I hit the flat, I started noticing how my feet were sore, my calves were tight, I had tweaked my hamstring. The wind was still howling.  I was less than a mile into the walk and I wanted to turn back for home and crawl under the covers. But, I pressed on.  One mile. Then, two miles. I never picked up the pace.  Slow and steady today. Today, that is all I have.  Just get the miles in and forget about the pace.

Finally, five miles and I’m headed up the hill back to the house.  Today wasn’t a stellar day on the road, but I got it done. Sometimes, that’s the best we can hope for.

I keep hearing, from Swedenborg, and a number of other sources, that we all have at least one guardian angel. I was listening to a woman yesterday who says we have at least one primary angel who is with us from before birth to the moment we die, never taking her eyes off of us even for a second.  But, if that’s true, why don’t we feel this guardian angel? We’re told we can have a relationship with our guardian angel, that that angel will protect us from physical harm and will give us insights as to what we should do. This woman claims that she can see everyone else’s guardian angels. I heard an interview with a man who met his guardian angel. The angel appeared to him first as a homeless man, then later in other forms.  So, what’s the deal with the rest of us?

As I was watching the Netflix series OA, one of the things that struck me was the struggle.  When OA first dies, she meets a spirit woman (her guardian angel?) who offers her the opportunity to stay or to come back. OA wants to return, so the angel says “I don’t want you to have to see what’s coming, so I’m going to take your sight.”. Thanks, guardian angel.  My life is going to be so horrible, you don’t want me to have to see it?  Then, after OA is captured, the captives are trying to learn some techniques that will allow them to escape. They are given one move at a time only after an excruciating set of experiences lasting a period of years. Nothing comes easy. Why didn’t the angels in spirit just give them the moves?  Why all the suffering?  Why did it take years from the time OA got the first move until they finally figured out what they were looking for and got the fifth and final move?  I realize The OA is just fiction, but this aspect of it reflects what we experience in the real world. In this world, nothing seems to come easy, especially spiritual progress. Even with the presence of guardian angels, we struggle to make progress. We make mistakes.  Our spirit guides, even if we ask them for assistance, don’t explicitly tell us what to do and not to do. We still marry that wrong person. We take that job that is a dead end. We start that business that fails.  We have that car accident.  Are the angels asleep at the wheel?

I’m working hard to make spiritual progress.  Meditation, reading, exercise, lectures.  And it’s frustrating, long hard work, just like OA and her band stuck in captivity in that basement.  I was listening to this angel seeing woman yesterday talk about the power of prayer.  She said we should pray even if it’s just as simple as “Help me.” Hell, I pray that prayer every single day, multiple times a day. I’m still waiting for a response.

Are guardian angels real?  Yes. I believe they are. What are their jobs exactly?  I don’t know.  It’s not to give us all of the answers.  It’s not to keep us from ever stubbing our toes.  It’s still a tough world to navigate and there are going to be bumps and bruises along the way.

Just two days before Christmas, Carrie Fisher had a massive heart attack.  Then, two days after Christmas, we got the news she had passed. Suddenly gone, at age 60.  The only good news for her fans is she had finished her parts for the next Star Wars coming out next year.  Then, just as we wrapped our heads around another person in her 60s suddenly making her transition, the very next day, her mother, Debbie Reynolds, suffers a stroke and dies.  Many are calling this a tragedy. Whether it’s a tragedy or not depends on your perspective.

For Debbie Reynolds’ son and her granddaughter, Carrie Fisher’s daughter, this is a tragedy.  They were a tight-knit family.  And the passings were sudden for both of them. Todd Fisher will have to plan two funerals at the same time.  No one should have to go through that.  But, for Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, this is far from a tragedy.  Carrie lived next door to her mother. They have a special bond that seems to go beyond even the normal mother/daughter bond.  They got to make their exit together. Carrie never had to mourn her mother. Debbie only had to mourn Carrie for a few days. I don’t think there has ever been a parent who lost a child, at any age, who didn’t long to go with that child. Debbie got to go with Carrie.  Debbie didn’t have to suffer trying to figure out how to go on without her baby. She didn’t have to figure out what else was worth living for.

Prayers for Todd and for Carrie’s daughter. It’s going to be hard living without those two women in their lives. But, for Carrie and Debbie, that’s the way to go out- together.

Today is the day after Christmas.  I’ve survived another Christmas.  Two without Shayna. Yesterday wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was able to get into the right mindset early in the day to get through it. Yesterday evening I found out George Michael had passed on Christmas day. He was only 53, two years younger than I am now. 2016 has not been good to the people my generation grew up listening to and watching. Now, even the ones younger than I am are going.  I sometimes wonder if I’m growing callous about death because these celebrity deaths are not as shocking to me as they seem to be to my peers.  I know all too well that none of us are promised 70 or 80 years.  53 is a decent run. And, more importantly, more and more I realize death is not the end, it’s just a new beginning.  I’m sad for George’s family and friends. I imagine a hella party with him meeting up with Prince and Michael Jackson though.

Naturally, George Michael is the soundtrack for my run this morning.  Today I’m facing the trip to Columbus to do Christmas with my family there.  This is going to be tough. Maybe tougher than Christmas day.  As we drive up, I feel the emptiness of the seat behind me where Shayna would have sat, poking me in the back with her long legs, through my seat.  I can’t say I miss her conversation as Shayna would always fall asleep immediately upon entering the car.  And, in the rare moments she was awake, she was listening to her own music or playing games. We’re headed to my brother’s house. He has four kids.  My other brother has three.  We only have Kayla with us now.

As I do my walk/run and reminiscence to George Michael, I review yesterday in my head. I think about missing Shayna for another year and I make the mistake of letting the years stretch out ahead of me.  How many more Christmases will I have to endure? Or, will I simply get used to her not being here?  I don’t want to get used to her not being here. I repeat to myself aloud, as I’m running, “It’s not forever.  It’s not forever.”  This brings me comfort.  Maybe I will get used to it. Certainly, I will endure it, but it’s not forever. There will be an end, just as there is an end to all things. The tears come, I let them flow. There’s no one out here, so I not only cry silently as I usually do. I sob aloud. I moan. I let it all come through me. I have to get this out. Melissa Manchester said “Don’t cry out loud.” Somes it’s best to cry out loud. Don’t keep it inside and learn how to hide those feelings. Just let them go.

The weather is strange today.  It’s already 53º headed to above 60º, the day after Christmas.  I’m running in shorts, a t-shirt and a windbreaker. The wind is blowing and it’s raining steadily. It feels like a tropical storm.  I’m soaked all the way through, but I don’t care.  The rain matches my tears.  I’ve got to these five miles in. I’ve got to get my head right before I get in the car and head up for a day with the family.

We make the trip to Columbus. It’s uneventful. We have the usual insane amount of food.  My cousin’s wife is Japanese and we were supposed to have Chinese food, so they brought sushi as an appetizer. But, Dad has decided he wants pizza. So, we have sushi and pizza.  For the second day in a row, I eat insane amounts of food.  I miss Shayna every moment. I imagine what she would be doing if she were here. Off with Briana, up to something I’m sure.  I talk to her.  I know her name will hardly be mentioned, if at all. But, I know she knows I am thinking about her, missing her and I keep an internal dialog going with her.

So, Christmas is now officially over. Two down.

Last night was Christmas night. After not nearly as bad a day as it had started out to be, I went to bed feeling not so bad.  I had a dream that wasn’t anything deeply spiritual and wasn’t a visit from Shayna, but it said something about the way I am beginning to understand consciousness.

In my dream, there was Tywana and me. We were in this giant shower, but these were three high school aged guys in the shower with us.  I found this to be really odd, and knowing that I was in a dream, I remember thinking “I know I’m dreaming and I know I didn’t bring them in here, so Tywana must have brought them. I need for them to go.” Being in a shower isn’t unusual in my dream.  We were watching a television show last night and in one of the characters dreams it showed overflowing urinals. “Aha, so it’s not just me.”  My dreams are often centered around showers and toilets. So, many times when I find myself in those situations, I will recognize I’m dreaming.

I tried to make these guys disappear with my mind and I believed they would.  When they didn’t immediately just vanish, I thought that this must be because they were a product of our collective consciousness, not just my own.  I couldn’t make them leave on my own because I hadn’t created them.  Instead, they spoke amongst themselves and decided to leave.  It was as if they could not sense we were even there.

I turned my attention to Tywana, but she was distracted. She said she saw someone running through the hallway, then he laid down in a trap.  I asked her what that even meant and tried to get her to ignore what was going on around us, but she was clearly scared. We left the shower and, through the magic physics of my dream world, were dressed and standing in an office environment.  People were panicked.  There was a criminal on the lam and he was running towards us.  I could sense that from the way the people were scrambling. Then, an announcement came on saying “Beware.  Bank specialist Mike (something or other) is on the scene.”  I saw a guy come running towards us who must have been the one chasing the bad guy.  I thought “This is exciting.”   Here was a chance to explore an environment where nothing could hurt us.  It was like we were in West World.  No one was real except us.

I could tell Tywana was still scared. So, I asked her: “Do you want to stay here and explore or do you want to get out of here.”  She took “…get out of here.” as in to run away. So, I repeated “We’re in a dream. We can stay here and look around or we can get out of here.”  She said: “I want to run.”, still not catching my meaning.  So, I put my arms around her and pulled her close and said: “Wake up.”  As I did that, I found myself back in our bed.  I sensed that she was awake too.  So I asked her if she had just had a dream. She rarely remembers her dreams.  In fact, for a very long time, she thought she did not dream.  She said that she had just had a dream. I was a little bit excited. Was it possible we had shared the dream?  I asked her what she had dreamt. She could not remember. But, it did seem that we woke up at at the same moment.

It’s here. Christmas.  As much as I wanted to deny its coming, it comes- just like every other day whether it’s a day we greet with great anticipation or a day we dread.  They call come eventually.

Christmas Eve I spent the day binge watching Netflix.  After doing my five-mile loop, Tywana and I did last minute grocery shopping.  Kayla made her first appearance downstairs around 3:15 when she announced she was going out to do some last minute shopping.  So, I spent the day couch surfing and catching up on my Netflix queue.  We had sushi from Jungle Jim’s for dinner. Tywana spent the rest of the evening cooking while Kayla and I kept her company and watched more Netflix.  I caught a bit of the midnight mass from St. Peter’s square before we headed to bed just after midnight.

When I got into bed is when it really hit me. Here we are, another Christmas without Shayna.  The emotions started to flood up within me.  This time it was anger. White hot anger.  But, it was anger not toward any person or even a thing, just the situation.  I wanted to destroy something. But, there was nothing there to be the object of my anger. So, I focused on it, felt it, acknowledged it. And, then I let it go. The only outlet was sleep.  I had made it through another day. It was time to shut it down.

Sleep was blissful. Darkness, warmth in the middle of a cold winter, and no concerns- that is what sleep is. During our sleep, our spirits leave our bodies, visit the spirit world, talk with our guides, and even visit loved ones.  Sadly, we normally don’t remember any of this. The last few days I have been sleeping in. Waking up and finding myself back here has been difficult to face.  Normally, I pop out of bed. I’ve been reluctantly rolling out lately. When I opened my eyes and it was almost 8 o’clock, I was surprised, but I was still not ready to face the day. I cursed being back in this body.  I had to remind myself of the reason I am here, for others. If it were up to me, I’d just stay wherever it is I go when I’m asleep. But, I had to get up, get the prime rib on and get ready for our guests who are coming this afternoon.

The Christmas that Tywana was pregnant with Shayna was the first Christmas we spent in our own house. We started the tradition of having Christmas here with Kayla and the next year with both girls. That carried on until last Christmas when Shayna wasn’t with us. The year before we had gone to the movies with both girls on Christmas day. So, we decided to see a movie last year.  Around ten years ago we had Cornish game hens for Christmas dinner. Shayna ate a whole one. It was all she ate for dinner. She called it “bird”.  That became a tradition.  Cornish game hens have been on the menu ever since.

A couple of days ago I was reading about how we sometimes have to start new traditions.  This year, we decided to have a different Christmas dinner.  We’re having prime rib instead of “bird”.  I was thinking maybe since it’s just the three of us now, we should consider doing something different on Christmas day. I guess Tywana’s brother had a similar thought.  He called a couple of days ago and said they’d like to come up for Christmas day to be with Tywana’s mother.  Since she’ll be here, that means they’re coming here.  So, for the first time ever, we will have guests for Christmas day.

Christmas was Shayna’s favorite day of the year. I will never forget the joy on her face, the sparkle in her eyes on Christmas morning.  Of course, as a teenager, the last couple of Christmas’ it wasn’t exactly the same. They had both started sleeping in. The toys were gone, replaced by clothes and electronics.  Christmas had lost its magic for me. Kayla and Shayna brought it back. But, what I have discovered, even in the year or two before Shayna’s passing, is you can’t go back. The reason for the extreme depression of Christmas day and other holidays is that we have this high expectation of what an ideal Christmas should be like. We try to recapture that magic.  What I realized on Christmas morning was that I had to let that go. I had to look at this as just a day.  Another day to be endured. Another day to spend with the people who I do have here and make the best of what I’ve got.

So, we were off to see “Passengers” on Christmas day. It was a good movie.  Coincidentally, the main theme of it was for one of the characters to learn to make the best of the situation she found herself in instead of always running off to the next thing seeking adventure.

After the movie, we came home, Tywana finished preparing everything else and I finished the prime rib and an appetizer. Then, the guests showed up, including a surprise guest from Tywana’s mother’s retirement community.  I had told Tywana to get the smallest rib roast they had since there were only four of us and I knew her mother wouldn’t eat it medium rare-rare. I was a bit panicked when I found out three extra people were coming.  Now, there were four here.  But, we just made some oven baked chicken and there was plenty of everything for everybody.

As the day came to a close, we realized we had survived another one. And, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I went to bed feeling a lot better than I did when I woke up on Christmas day.

I guess this is one of those throwaway lines we all say when we have nothing else to say. It’s like “Is it cold enough for you?” (which I got just two days ago).

The answer, in case you really want to know, is “No. I am not ready for Christmas.” The question itself reminds me of just how burdensome Christmas is in today’s society. Why should I have to get “ready” for a holiday? Why is this holiday so difficult to get ready for that the standard question is “Have you done all the crap you need to do?”.

This year I am pretty sure I have bought the fewest number of presents ever.  It’s Friday, two days before Christmas, and I just placed an order on Amazon Prime Now for the last present I am buying.  The other two presents I bought were also on Amazon.  And I am done.  Tywana and I shopped together for Kayla.  We have agreed, like we do every year, not to buy anything for each other. We got Fitbit bands on a Black Friday deal. Those are our gifts to each other.  Usually, we end up buying something for each other anyway.  This year we’re sticking to it, though.

Christmas is a time when we spend money we don’t have on junk other people don’t need.  With kids, it’s worth it to see the joy on their faces and  Buying those unexpected gifts for people is great, except then they feel guilty that they didn’t get anything for you because we don’t actually give gifts on Christmas.  We exchange crap.  We even set dollar limits on what we’re going to buy for each other in many cases.  Then, there’s the gift card. “I couldn’t decide what to get you, so, go get it yourself. Oh, from this place.”

If I could, I’d totally opt out of Christmas this year and probably every year from now on in.  Buying for Tywana is nearly impossible. When she sees something she wants, she gets it.  I still enjoy buying for Kayla.   But, in general.  Christmas. Bah humbug.

While I slammed the movie Collateral Beauty pretty badly, it wasn’t all bad.  The movie did a good job of discussing some universal themes of our lives and of exploring the unfathomable grief of the loss of a child.  In the very beginning of the movie, Will Smith’s character makes an uplifting speech about Time, Love, and Death. He notes these connect all human beings long for love, wish they had more time and fear death.  Notably, he makes this observation during the halcyon days when his daughter is alive, his marriage is intact, and his business is thriving.  During these days, Love is flowing freely to and from his daughter and wife. Time is a precious gift because Time is giving us the opportunity to enjoy the Love that we share.  And, Death is an enemy that we try not to think about.  We are in love with Love. We are grateful for Time. And we keep Death at bay by any means necessary.  We expect those relationships with Time, Love, and Death to always stay the same. But, they do not.

What we don’t realize during these times is that it can all be turned on its head. When the one we love is no longer there for us, we realize how vulnerable Love has made us. We know that Love can not only bring great joy; Love can bring unspeakable and seemingly unbearable pain.  We might even begin to question was the Love worth it? If we could erase those memories, the pain would go away. Love forces us to hold onto the memories no matter how painful they are.  Time, that thing that was once a precious gift, is now our enemy. Time becomes a prison sentence.  Time separates us from the one we love.  We know that if we could just fast forward Time, we could be where we know we are going- reunited. The Time that we once tried to slow down, the Time that we once savored and sipped at like a fine wine, the Time that we would have saved in a bottle- we now gulp in.  Time cannot pass fast enough. The gray hair and wrinkles that mark the passage of Time and we hated so see come are now reminders that Time cannot keep us trapped forever.  Then, there is Death.  Once we thought Death was the end. Death was the ultimate thing to be feared. Now, we see Death for what is is. Death is simply a transition. Death is the next step. Death is passing through a veil.  When we are children, we lack the capability of knowing the permanence of objects and people.  For a child under a certain age, when her mother leaves the room, her mother isn’t in the next room, she no longer exists. At some point in her development, that child realizes that just because she cannot see or hear her mother that doesn’t mean she is no more. We realize now that Death, which we once thought took us away forever, is actually like stepping into the next room.  And, we know that in Time, we will experience Death, and Love will bring us back together.

A couple of months ago a friend sent a link to me. It was the trailer for Collateral Beauty. The trailer is beautifully done.  In the trailer we learn that Will Smith has lost a daughter at a young age, has given up on life and has raged at the cosmos for answers. We are led to believe that he gets answers from the three things he says connect all human beings. As he says “We long for love. We wish we had more time.  And, we fear death.” What could be more profound?  We know about the damage that death causes.  The movie title is a play on “collateral damage”, a term we are all too familiar with. The movie promises we will find out about the “collateral beauty”, presumably of his daughter’s death.  As a grieving parent, I could not wait to see the movie. I try to go to movies with low expectations. The higher my expectations, the more chance I will be disappointed. I also try to go knowing as little as possible about the movie.  I won’t read reviews. After watching the one trailer, I even avoided all other trailers.  The movie boasts an all-star cast.  Not only Will Smith, who has turned into an excellent actor, we also have Helen Mirren, Kate Winslett, Edward Norton and Keira Knightley.  When I was looking up movie times I stumbled across the reviews from Rotten Tomatoes (damn you Google) and saw the headlines of some blogs about the movie. It seemed there was a lot of disappointment around the movie and some of the plot twists.  I’ll say up front, if you’re a grieving parent planning to see this movie looking for some answers, looking for how to see the transcendence in the world, looking for hope, just rewatch What Dreams May Come and skip this one.

Minor spoiler- one of the things the trailer leaves out is how Time, Love and Death come to call on Howard. That should have been in there.  We are led to believe that they come in response to his letters.  In actuality, we find out quickly in the movie that his business partners are concerned that the business is floundering because Howard has checked out from the business.  He is the majority owner and he had all of the client relationships in the advertising agency they run.  One by one, they are losing all of their clients because Howard does absolutely no work. He comes to work, spends days setting up elaborate domino towers only to knock them down and return home to his small apartment.  He doesn’t speak to anyone. They can’t even talk to him about selling the business, because he won’t speak.  So, they decide to hire a group of actors they find rehearsing a play in an abandoned theater. These three play the roles of Time, Love,  and Death in order to make Howard act out so a private eye can catch him on film acting crazy and they can have him declared mentally incompetent. Yes.  The plot of the movie is his founding partner and two people he has mentored plot to steal his business by having him declared mentally incompetent.  At this point, we are questioning whether Time, Love and Death are actually who they say they are or if they are simply actors in need of funding for their play.

The movie does an excellent job of showing the collateral damage caused by the death of Olivia, Howard’s daughter.  Howard is losing his business.  Howard has no social life.  Howard has no desire to eat.  He sleeps 6-7 hours, a week.  Howard has gotten divorced. The movie makes sure we know that 79% of couples who lose a child end up getting divorced.  Howard is a wreck. His life is in shambles.  (Note to Will Smith- you should have asked Christian Bale how to play a man in this state- see The Machinist.  Had Howard spent the last two years riding that bike the way he did in the movie, not sleeping and not eating, he would have looked more like this).

SPOILERS

Read no further if you intend to see the film. Here’s where the real spoilers begin.

OK.  So, now we know that Howard’s life sucks. Enter Time, Love, and Death. Again, not with the motivation to make Howard realize the beauty in his life, with the motivation of getting him to sell his business so his friends can go on with their lives.  Each, in turn, makes their pitch to Howard for why he should snap out of it.  They give some decent speeches, but nothing that really moves Howard out of the funk he is in. Love tells Howard she is the fabric of the universe (Howard already know this. He says it right in the opening of the movie). Time tells Howard he is a gift.  Yeah. Right. Time is a gift when you are living a life you enjoy.  Time is a prison when you are living a life separated by what you hold most dear.  Death- well I can’t even remember Death’s pitch other than she’s annoyed that Howard called her basically middle management with no authority to make decisions.  Howard offered Death a trade. He would die if his daughter could live.  Howard tells Time he doesn’t want his gift since Time took that gift from his daughter.  Howard tells Love that she betrayed him.  Howard destroys all of the platitudes religion and science give us to make us feel better about Death and Time stealing all we Love.  And they have no satisfactory answers. IMO, Howard won every argument he had with those three.

What we realize though is the actors are each having an impact on the co-conspirators.  Time is there for Kate Winslett’s character. She has poured her entire life into the firm and has delayed having a family of her own. Her biological clock is going off. Time gives her the Einstein “Time is a persistent illusion” speech.  Death is there for the partner dying of cancer who has told no one. Death convinces him to tell his family he is dying. Love is there for Edward Norton who is estranged from his 10-year-old daughter. She refuses to have anything to do with him because he cheated on her mother and caused the end of the marriage.  Each of the three is touched by the actors (who seem to have little influence on Howard).  The guy who is dying tells his family.  Kate Winslett gives up on having a baby (maybe she’s going to adopt). Edward Norton insists on a relationship with his daughter and makes some progress.

Howard is confronted in the Board Room with the results of their con.  They have filmed him arguing with Time, Love and Death and they have edited the characters out of the films. (I’m no movie expert. But, there is reason why they use green screen when they want to remove characters from a scene or they have the actor wear green suits. I think the editing they did would have been nearly impossible without a studio, but I digress).

So, in the videos, it looks like Howard is arguing with people who aren’t there. Here is where I am thinking they are going to come clean. Or, Howard is going to have his eyes opened that he owes these people his presence and he’s going to promise to come back to the company. I’m thinking this is the big reveal. Howard is going to go back to being the old Howard for his friends and his firm.  He’s going to realize they need him.  But, no. Howard signs the papers, sells the company and they take the money they are going to get from the sale. They’ve all just gotten rich convincing him he’s crazy.

A subplot that develops is Howard starts going to a grief counseling group. There is an attractive woman leading the group. One night, after he finally goes in (after creeping outside of the window for several nights) they strike up a conversation.  That’s where we learn he’s divorced and she’s divorced. They are part of the 79%.  She shows him a card her ex-husband gave her that says something like “I wish we could be strangers again”. When people lose a child, sometimes the other person is a reminder of that child every single day and it’s too much to bear. People deal with grief differently. Apparently, Howard wouldn’t even say Olivia’s name. When asked in the group to say her name and how she died, he refuses. Others lean into their grief. If you get one person who wants to lean into it and another who does not, that is a combination that probably won’t work.

At the end of the movie, we find out this woman is actually Howard’s ex.  WTF?!  Apparently, they were both play acting the whole time.  When he finally made his way to her group (two years after Olivia had passed). She pretended not to know him and he pretended not to know her so they could start all over again. This is the plot twist that I think upset some people.  I still haven’t read any reviews, but I saw a headline “Here’s every single thing that’s wrong with Collateral Beauty”).

In the end, Howard and Olivia’s mother start all over. That’s great. The dying guy tells his family he’s dying.  Apparently, he still dies.  Kate Winslett decides to adopt. She admits Time has defeated her. And Time, who has said “Time is a persistent illusion” admits maybe that was just bullshit.  Edward Norton does rekindle the relationship with his daughter.  We learn that Helen Mirren was the woman sitting with Howard’s wife the day they turned off the machines and let Olivia go.  I’m not sure where Howard was at that moment- maybe I missed it. It’s ambiguous whether Time, Love and Death were just actors or were Light Beings.  We know that Keira Knightley (Love) intentionally led Edward Norton to the theater in the beginning and we know that Helen Mirren (Death) was there with Howard’s wife when Olivia passed telling her to look for the Collateral Beauty. The problem is, once the movie was over, I failed to find the Collateral Beauty myself.

 

p.s.- How would I have made it better?

Someone asked how would I have made the movie better?  Great question.

First, in a movie where Time, Love, and Death can be personified, it’s not too much to ask to go into the transcendence of the human spirit. There was no mention of the afterlife.  At one point, Time says “If Love is the creator of all things and Death is the destroyer of all things, I am what you experience in between. I am a gift.” or something like that.  So, are we to assume that Death is the end? Death is only destruction? OTOH, Death makes the comment that, if you look at it correctly, nothing ever really dies. But, this is not expounded upon.

Also, I would have had the conspirators come clean. I thought that perhaps Howard was playing a role along with Time, Love and Death to teach them a lesson. I would have had them confess that they had set Howard up. Maybe, then Howard would have revealed the three were working with him to teach the conspirators a lesson.  Howard could have announced that he had learned that he was needed by others in this world and it wasn’t his time to give up on life yet.  He could have come back to the firm for the sake of his partners.  He could have played a role in helping the one partner to find a peaceful death and helping out his family.

They could have developed each of the three conspirators’ characters more.  Time needed to do more with Kate Winslett. Death needed to do more with the guy who was dying. Those story lines just kind of fizzled.

And, at the end, what was the deal with Will Smith not knowing his wife? Did he have selective amnesia? Did they agree to play these roles for each other in an effort to start over?

As a grieving father, I was excited to see that Time, Love, and Death had been personified.  I was hoping for a transcendental message where Death is there to help us appreciate the Time we have, but Love transcends even Death.  That would have made the movie complete for me.