Although I couldn’t stop laughing as I watched the Season Four finale of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, I was decidedly uncomfortable.
Seventy- something roommates, Grace and Frankie, played, respectively, by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, thanks to their well-meaning but selfish children, wind up in an assisted living facility, a place that may be appropriate for one or both of them in the future, perhaps even the near future, but not now.
I suppose the children seeing their mothers’ beach house in shambles, astonished that Grace, a savvy business exec for years, actually got conned out of thousands of dollars by an unscrupulous contractor; and grasping that Frankie had almost driven across the Mexican border with her infant grand-daughter in the back seat of the car, might lead them to think that the two women need help.
But, we, the audience, understand the extenuating circumstances in each of these comic but upsetting situations. We know that what occurred could have happened to younger people also, that both women were aware that they had messed up and knew what had to be done to fix things, and that if their children hadn’t become “parent police” each incident would have just been one more funny story.
However, the kids, convincing each other that their mothers are a danger to not only themselves, but others as well, gang up against the women, tricking them into believing that an assisted living set-up is the only reasonable solution for their state – the state of aging.
There but for the grace of God go I.
Those words momentarily crossed my mind. In health, outside interests, living style, dreams and desires, I am very much like the protagonists in this TV drama. And my children, the antagonists I suppose, are, like Grace and Frankie’s kids, busy in their own adult lives and only recently aware that I, Super Mom, having hung up my cape a while ago, am facing the scary and unpleasant physical, mental and social issues that accompany getting older.
Are they already plotting? No, of course not.
But what if they find out that sometimes I forget to shut the garage door, paid last month’s electric bill twice, and have five bottles of ketchup in my pantry ( all things to which I plead guilty)? Will my kids decide I am incapable of living on my own? Is the assisted living discussion in my near future?
The Netflix episode is sad. The women miss their home and their possessions. They miss the freedom to do as they please, go where they want, and get into predicaments that reaffirm they are still alive. They miss their romantic adventures. If their lovers, and each has one, want to see them, the ladies must “sign” out of the facility for the afternoon or evening.
Mostly, however, they are angry about their children’s subterfuge, the restrictive life offered to them by a facility that treats its residents like children, and the reality of their limitations and mortality.
So, what do they do?
Escape, of course.
Together they determine to take back control over their lives. They know what’s coming. They saw the future in the days spent in the assisted living. Despite the challenges of aging, they believe they have many good chapters left to live on the outside. They may go back to the assisted living for the last chapters of their lives, but not today.
I applaud them.
I thank Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin for leading us through a frightening time, for helping us see the humor in senior mishaps, and for reminding our children that they owe us honesty and, although it may be difficult, assurance that, not their convenience, but our emotional desires as well as our physical needs should be the primary consideration in any decisions they make for us.