Lessons I Learned from A Man Called Otto

Two weeks ago, I decided to go to the movies and see the new film A Man Called Otto, starring Tom Hanks.  Hanks has the title role based on a Swedish film called A Man Called Ove.  I read many reviews and saw a mixed bag of comments, from disappointment in Tom Hanks; to dislike of the character he was portraying; to a few rave reviews of the depths of his ability to take on this role.  Since it piqued my curiosity, I decided I wanted to see it.  I knew it was about a widower, and I felt uncomfortable being in a public theatre because I knew, at one point, I would probably shed some tears and did not want to be seen crying.  What I discovered to my delight, was that even though it is a dark comedy, it captures what a grieving man encounters when he loses his spouse.  The audience cried and laughed, and I hope they learned something about what a widower endures.

I don’t want to give away the plot, and I hope I don’t, but I encourage you to view it because it teaches us a lot about grief and how it affects us.  I think the audience I watched it with understood at the end what this man endured and how it affected his personality, life choices, and how he interacted with others.

  Otto, the main character, is a man who has faced grief at least three times in his life.  The last one is the death of his wife.  He was her caregiver after an accident forced her to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.  He, at times, is overwhelmed with anger and frustration.  Minor, petty things cause him to become explosive and end his relationships with others.  Yes, he is a grumpy older man who is sometimes unbearable to those around him.  He is rude, insensitive, offensive, sarcastic, caustic, and filled with anger that forces him to run away from others and make some very poor decisions.

When he is about to make one of several horrible decisions, someone enters his life and forces him out of his misery.  He is pulled from his depths of despair and becomes a source of comfort to another.  Once he is forced outside his sorrow, misery, and despair, he can see the world differently.  When he lets people into his life, he changes and becomes a different person.  He looks at life a little differently and sees life from their perspective as one who has also faced some type of pain and sadness, prejudice or discrimination and offers advice or support and, yes, kindness to others.

It reminded me of how I initially acted when grief controlled too much of my life.  I believed that by working constantly, I could avoid facing the inevitable waves of grief.  I figured if I were exhausted and forced to keep up a never-ending work schedule, I would not have to worry about grief.  I wanted to be alone and avoid social interaction initially, only to realize I was depriving myself of the things my wife and I loved to do.  Socializing, going out to dinner, laughing, and enjoying the company of others are all part of the healing process.  Otto wanted to stop living and believed his life was over, and he could not go on.  People who entered his life with difficulties forced him to see the world differently.  Spoiler alert: The story, however, does have a happy ending, but it does teach an important lesson about grief and death.

When my wife died, half of me died.  I had to let go of that which I held for almost 30 years.  It did end my relationship but did not end the love I still carry for my wife until the end of my life.  I remember the simple words my wife told me before she passed; “She said you must go on; you have to live.” Yes, it brings tears to my eyes, but it also brings a smile, knowing that she wants me to keep moving forward and living my life as I hold her legacy alive.

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