I had a revelation last week in thinking about GOLD STAR and who will be most impacted by it after its release into the world. As a filmmaker, you need to know who your audience is and how you will reach them. It’s difficult to step back from your film, especially being that mine is incredibly personal, in order to think about who will care.
GOLD STAR is about many things. It is about a young woman’s journey towards acceptance, and her realization that she does not have to be and can not be perfect for her parents. It is about a young woman’s struggle to be the caretaker for her elderly father after he suffers a debilitating stroke. She is neither perfect caretaker nor perfect person.
There were many incarnations of GOLD STAR. Writing the film began way back in 2009, but then it was about a character journeying across the country to bring her elderly father to his 70th high school reunion. I put the script away because I wasn’t emotionally compelled to follow through with it. In September 2011, my father suffered a massive stroke, and up until his death the following year in November 2012, I was one of his main characters alongside my mother, older sister and younger brother. It was at this point I felt compelled to pick up the script and write something much more personal.
There is no such thing as a perfect caregiver. My mother led the charge, passing nursing tests so that my father could live at home comfortably for his last year, coming home on her lunch breaks at school to put him into bed to nap. I learned how to suction a trache. I learned how to operate the crane to lower my father into bed. My dad could not speak, so we painstakingly worked with him to develop a system to speak by moving letter magnets on a magnet board. An iPad or similar system was too difficult given his Parkinson’s.
GOLD STAR is an honest film about the private moments in caring for somebody who can not help themselves. I was 25 when my father suffered his stroke. Nobody wants to be a caregiver. It’s something you do because you love the person and want what’s best for them. It requires extreme sacrifices and is exhausting.
I want to share a story from my experiences in helping care for my father, something honest that will hopefully inspire other people to join in on the conversation. (I also basically took this scene from my life and put it in GOLD STAR, so take this as a preview, if you will). When I was home in Connecticut hanging out with my dad while working from home, most days I would watch TV with him (cowboy movies especially) and I’d spend time with him until my mom came home around 3:30 or 4. Usually, my mom made it home during her lunch hour to quickly put him into bed for a mid-afternoon nap, and then zip back out the door for work. Sometimes, she couldn’t make it back home in time, though.
One afternoon around 1pm, when I told my father my mom wouldn’t make it back in time, his head started bobbing. He was going to fall asleep in his wheelchair. I kept trying to keep him awake with every tactic in my playbook -- talking to him, putting on loud action movies, whatever it took. I decided maybe a change of scenery would work, so I wheeled him down the hall to bring him on the back deck adjoining my parent’s bedroom. I remember it was a beautiful day, so maybe some cool fresh air would wake him up. We started to wheel past his bed and he started grunting angrily, pointing at the bed. I tried to reason with him. By this point, more exhausted than he was, I relented, telling him I would put him into bed.
The machine I had to operate to lift him into bed looked like a Medieval torture device. It was essentially a crane that you use a lever to pump him up as he dangles from the top of it in a hammock contraption. You swing the person over the bed and lower the device. I was terrified. I successfully completed the task, almost crushing him with the metal bar that lowers him into the bed at the end, but he was safely in the bed, shoes off, tucked in, ready for a nap. A job well done, or so I thought. As I started to give him a “have a good nap kiss on the cheek,” he started grunting again. Louder and more panicked this time. I thought he was hurt. The more panicked he became, I became, and it was a vicious cycle of two exhausted people, essentially screaming at each other, not knowing what the other was thinking.
I kept asking, “Are you hurt? Are you in pain?” Nothing appeared to be wrong. I broke down and started crying, “Please, just be okay. I shouldn’t have even put you in bed. I could’ve hurt you. It’s too much for me.” With seemingly no options for what my father, I looked down at the bottom of the bed, as he started kicking. I noticed a fleece Yankees blanket. “Oh, do you want the blanket?” The face he made, I will never forget. He looked at me as if I was a 13 year old teenager having a tantrum, his eyes rolled sarcastically, as if to say, “Yes, of course. How could you not have known that?” I will never forget this moment.
Being a caregiver is oftentimes a lonely experience. You spend your days completely dedicated to somebody else, and then have to continue your job, try to have a social life, and take care of yourself in the process. I’d love to hear your stories in caregiving.
Please share your experiences in the comments and remember to #ShareYourStar on social media and include @GoldStarFilm.
This is the beginning of a much larger conversation in caregiving surrounding this film.
Stay tuned for more!