Last month, members of the HOPE community were invited to a screening of the short film, Eve, followed by a discussion with filmmaker Susan Bay Nimoy and HOPE Connection’s Executive Director, Dr. Jo Christner. The film was especially relevant to the HOPE community because the filmmaker found inspiration to create the film following the death of her husband, renowned actor Leonard Nimoy.
The event turned out to be a remarkable success. About 100 people attended, and both the film and the discussion that followed were touching and intimate.
This month, we present an interview with Dr. Jo regarding both the film and the followup discussion, to give you a glimpse into the power of the creative process in grieving and the role of group support following the death of a loved one.
(Click here for a short video by Nimoy as she discusses the motivation and process of creating Eve.)
Question: Susan worked through her grief in part by writing Eve. What’s the lesson there for anyone who is grieving?
Dr. Jo: “Before Susan began to write the screenplay for Eve, she started to record her thoughts and feelings in a journal. For anyone grieving, keeping a diary is a valuable way to express feelings, especially when you’re struggling with feelings that are painful and unfamiliar. It’s important to know that grief resides in the body – it is literally and physically in you. To release your grief and heal through the grieving process, it’s helpful to find ways to express — release — those feelings. Expressing your feelings through creative activity — whether it is writing, painting, sculpture — is an effective way to help you to heal.”
Q: What was the most striking aspect of Eve?
Dr. Jo: “Many people were surprised that there was nudity in the film. It seemed like such a metaphor for how naked and vulnerable you feel in grieving. When someone you love dies, all you’re left with is yourself — you, stripped of a relationship that seemed to be truly much or all your identity”.
“In the film, the total aloneness and despair that is a part of grief is shown in all its heartache. In an opening scene, Eve is sleeping with a stuffed animal, a dog. Susan shared that Eve’s dog had also died. The stuffed animal brought her comfort in her loneliness of grief.
“For anyone grieving a spouse, Eve’s journey strikingly models the actual grief process — you can watch and see how grief actually feels. It can be despairing, confusing and lonely.
“Then, as the process continues, you see life coming back into Eve. Not to give away too much of the plot, but sexuality returning is also a part of life returning. Her rediscovery of her feelings of sexuality were an important issue in the film. She didn’t know how to handle it, and it highlights the mistakes that can be made by acting quickly as you grieve.
“The lesson is that it’s best to be aware and go slowly. It takes some thought and reflection to make the best choices when grieving. Healing takes time, and it’s something you can’t rush.” At the same time, it feels wonderful to feel alive again.
Q: In the discussion after the showing of the film, what was the audience’s general reaction?
Dr. Jo: “It was really quite lovely. We had a full audience for the screening, I’m guessing about 100 people. The first questions were to Susan about the making and creation of the film. Then, the questions got more intimate.
“I asked the audience how many of them had lost a spouse or someone close in the last five years. Over three-quarters raised their hands. I asked how many had a loved one die in the last two years, and it was almost as many. So this was an audience familiar with grieving. Which is why their next questions to Susan focused on her as a person. Someone politely asked if they could ask a personal question. And she was great — ‘You just saw me naked on screen,’ she said, ‘I think it’s ok to ask me something personal.’ So people started asking her many personal issues, including dating.
“That in turn led to a great discussion. She said she was going to spend time paying attention to herself now. She has found a new life… and girlfriends. She said that now she wants to spend time discovering her own life. She said she misses Leonard but she carries him inside. She talks to him every day and feels as though he is still with her. They meant everything to each other and at this point, she doesn’t really desire to seek another intimate relationship. She desires to find a good relationship with herself, her friends and her life.
“It was important to realize that we were involved right now in a large but intimate group, much like our support groups. This was an opportunity for educating and normalizing. It was important to remind everyone that Susan’s comments might apply to some of them — and not to others. Grief is such a unique experience for every individual.
“That led naturally to someone asking about the men in the audience. So far, Susan and I had talked mostly about grief from a woman’s perspective. Grief is complicated for men for many reasons including cultural and societal beliefs and taboos. For example, men are often taught that they are supposed to be the ‘protectors’… and they couldn’t protect or ‘fix’ the one they loved. It’s rough and lonely to live with that sense of guilt and pain.
“We also discussed that there are male and female ways of grieving. Women and men can fall into either category based on their own individual traits and resilience. Although women might generally grieve in a typically ‘female’ way (intuitive and feeling) and men in a typically ‘male’ way (physical, cognitive, behavioral), gender does not determine who follows these models.
“Some men might find themselves quick to tears when they’re grieving and wonder ‘what’s wrong with me.’ Likewise, some women might not cry easily and tend to intellectualize their grief. There is no ‘wrong’ way to grieve. Your body will tell you… and it may even confuse you.
“The two hours that we spent together with the film and discussion was such an intimate and important gathering. I realized that larger group discussions like this about grief are of such value and importance to the community at large. I shared a thought from a recent book that I read that in order to heal we need ‘a loving touch, a compassionate community, a safe place and ritual.’ We had all of those today… and I believe it made a difference.”
Thank you to Leo Baeck Temple for their hospitality and for organizing an event where we actually were invited to talk openly and publicly about a taboo subject in our culture: Grief.
A special thank you to Susan Nimoy for so openly sharing her amazingly creative talents and film, Eve, and her intimate journey through her personal grief into healing.