A few weeks after I watched my father die, I saw Amour. I almost wrote, “I made the mistake of seeing.” I only saw it because my fiancee, a francophile who didn’t know much about it either, chose it from the three options at the movie theater. Had I known a little more, I might have anticipated the cloying sentiment of something like The Notebook. A forbidden romance and a happy marriage. Peaceful simultaneous deaths for the loving couple. Amour has no flashbacks. We catch glimpses of the retired couple’s long life together only through brief comments from the daughter and a photo album Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) scans.
It has been a few weeks since I watched my father die, so, right now, I feel like something of an expert on what death looks like. I know this kind of expertise is individual (it depends on the circumstances of the dying witnessed) and it partially fades, and it is expertise that all but the most stubborn among us must one day gain. In our last phone conversation, we discussed the weather. He was frustrated that he no longer had an appetite.
Anne’s daughter says as a child she was comforted by the sound of her parents making love. Once Anne is wheelchair bound, her husband Georges must take over the domestic chores, possibly for the first time in his life. He is clumsy. He doesn’t quite know where the salt is kept. When he washes the dishes, he fails to rinse them.
It has been a few weeks since I watched my father die. The day after we last spoke, he slipped into what the nurses called an “active dying phase,” a phrase that struck me as a little silly, another bureaucratic oxymoron, but which I now see the logic of. I flew home. He never woke enough for another lengthy conversation, though he responded “yes” or “no” when my mother asked if he was in pain. If “yes,” which almost always was the answer, she gave him two more drops of morphine. He started sweating heavily.
After Anne’s first stroke, she couldn’t pour a cup of tea. Another stroke makes her wet the bed. Except for some piano playing embedded in the script, Amour has no music. Salière is translated as salt cellar. It has been a few weeks since I watched my father die. He no longer answered the one question that still mattered: “Are you in pain?” We gave him morphine when we thought to ask. We changed his diaper. I passed the time staring at his neck, observing with pride as his heart raced and raced and raced. My mother spoke to him often. She would be alright. She would feed his cat even though she hated it.
As I watched Anne die, I searched for signs of Riva. When surgery left Anne half-paralyzed, I hoped to see Riva’s fingers wiggle. After the last stroke took Anne’s speech, I wanted Riva to betray, through a knowing glance, the syntax underneath the gibberish. My father slept, or seemed to, and snored heavily, as he always had. Then the snoring became a shallow gurgle. We gave him two more drops of morphine. We changed his diaper. We gave him a suppository for the fever.
It’s been a few weeks since my father died. No one asks me anymore how I’m “holding up,” for which I’m grateful. When someone tells me they are sorry for my loss, my grief flares like a spoiled child. I calmly take him by the hand and guide him to his bedroom. I close the door. I sip my coffee and pretend to read the newspaper as he screams to be let out. As I watched Anne die, I looked for Riva. I could not find her.