After a more-than-twenty-year hiatus, I put on the movie My Girl this week, and I wasn’t prepared for how moved I would be by the end. My memories of the clips I’ve seen throughout my life promised a cheesy film about a cheeky young girl, a coming of age story about loss that happened to be set in a funeral home.
I let the deeply touching story pass over my head as a child and never appreciated the beauty of it. This time, I cried, probably as every other adult did the first time they saw it.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, I absolutely recommend getting to your local video store (alright, Amazon) or dusting off your old VHS and taking the time to watch My Girl, if only for your interest in end-of-life themes that brings you to this blog.
The story is rife with death, at times crass, at others humorous, heart-wrenching, enlightening and deeply moving. A lifetime of lessons in life and death are packed into the 102 minutes that tells the story of Vada (Anna Chlumsky), an 11-year-old tomboy raised by her quiet father Harry (Dan Aykroyd) after the death of her mother due to complications in childbirth. Her father runs a funeral parlor from their home, and cares for Vada’s aging grandmother.
Surrounded by death her whole life and deeply aware of but confused by the loss of her mother, Vada displays a bizarre hypochondria: She rushes to her family doctor frequently, complaining of ailments related to the most recent cause of death she’s witnessed. Juxtaposed with her age, Vada’s multi-tiered relationship with death is fascinating. The story reminds us just how confusing and frightening death can be when we try to hide from it.
Much of Vada’s confusion stems from her father’s unwillingness to communicate with his daughter about his own feelings over the loss of his wife, or about the depth of the work he does. Surrounded by death as they are, the family’s life is filled with opportunities to explore common fears about the end of life and the pain of loss. But the times (set in 1972) don’t call for that kind of conversation, and the single father doesn’t know where to begin anyway.
As is often the reality, it takes a shocking loss to bring Harry to his senses and open up to his daughter about the lessons he’s learned. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it completely! Watch the trailer, and set a movie date for yourself (and bring tissues).
Don’t see the video? Watch it at YouTube.
Do you remember the first time you saw the movie My Girl? What lessons did you learn about death and loss?