Spoiler alert for the movie “Coco”.
The majority of 2017 was pretty shitty.
Two musicians whose music I grew up with committed suicide. (Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Trish Doan of Kittie).
I had spent all night of the first night of Kitsune Kon finishing up the Totoro costume that was planned so beautifully in my head, but was constructed into an amateur looking mess that was barely held together and I was too embarrassed to show it at the pre-judging for the cosplay contest.
It was another year of the weeds overtaking my community garden plot rather than the tomatoes and cucumbers I had planted for salsa and pickles.
And, as the Facebook memories reminded me, my great-grandmother died.
I don’t really know much about my great-grandmother, Doris. She lived on the other side of the state so we didn’t see her and great-grandpa all the time as kids, but I saw her enough to have memories of her farmhouse with the barn cats and apple trees. Like most of my family, I became cut off from her following my parent’s divorce.
After cutting my mother and her toxicity out of my life and re-connecting with my Dad, I began to see her again. By this point, she was into her 90’s and had been put into assisted living. Despite her age, her mind was still sharp and sound. When I first came to visit, my stepmom sweetly asked her if she knew who I was and great-grandma immediately said, “I know its Samantha!” I had only seen her once or twice in the past decade and she still remembered me as if I had been coming to see her this whole time.
I wasn’t able to visit often—maybe twice a year, which was still more than what I had done in the past ten years or so. Whenever I came to visit I always brought her a box of chocolates. She liked just about any chocolate, but I was told cherry cordials were her favorite so I would bring them when the stores were selling them around the holidays. The last time I had given a box of cordials to her, I thanked her for the envelope of money my great aunt had passed along to us. It was my understanding that my husband and I were some of the few relatives she gave money to for Christmas because we actually came to visit her. When I thanked her for the money and said she didn’t have to get us anything, I was expecting her to say “You’re welcome.” Instead, she said, “I like you!” She said it in a ‘matter of fact’ and ‘sweet old lady’ sort of way I can’t quite explain properly, but I thought it was funny so I burst into giggles!
I would joke that she would likely outlive all of us because she seemed to bounce right back from anything she became afflicted with. Once she had a terrible infection that nearly killed her because she didn’t want to be a bother to anyone by alerting them to her pain. So when I was told she was in the hospital for something minor—I don’t even remember what—I didn’t think anything of it and thought she would pull through. Then…she was gone. She went about as peaceful as anyone could go. Before she died, the pastor of her church came to visit her in the hospital and great-grandma admitted “I would like to live to 100, but I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
Nobody told me she had died until a couple days after. My grandma (dad’s step mom) works at the same store I do and she ran into me as I was clocking out for the day. She asked me if I had heard the news and then informed me my great-grandma had died. Part of me understands why nobody told me right away: the same week my great-grandmother went to the hospital, my dad’s biological mom had a stroke and things were a little dicey for a little bit so Dad was dealing with being her power of attorney over medical decisions she was unable to make herself. Part of me wonders if the real reason nobody told me right away was because sometimes my own family forgets I even exist due to not being present for over a decade.
I went to her funeral completely unaware that she had requested an open casket funeral. I haven’t been to many funerals, but the majority of them involved cremated remains. Viewing my great-grandmothers lifeless body dolled up in a pretty box was rather unsettling for me, which is why I stood towards the back and listened to my music on my earbuds in an attempt to calm down when we went to the gravesite to bury her. It didn’t help I felt like the oddball at the funeral with my teal blue hair and stoic demeanor while the “normal” people around me understandably and uncontrollably cried their eyes out.
We went back to the church and ate lunch afterwards. While we were eating, the conversation at my table turned to who got to see her right before she passed away. Everyone had either gone to see her when she in the hospital or saw her within her last couple of weeks.
Everyone…except me. It had been months since I had seen her as the last time we were there was just after Christmas. We had yet to come up to visit for the summer and she died before we could.
The couple of months after the funeral were rough. Maybe I didn’t cry at the funeral, but I certainly did when work dragged out the display pallet of cherry cordials for the holidays a few weeks later and was reminded how much she enjoyed them. I felt guilty and depressed for thinking she’d be fine and not going to the hospital to see her despite the lack of knowing she was actually dying. She wanted to live to 100 and I truly believed she would be able to.
A couple months later, “Coco” was released in theaters.
I was super excited about “Coco” coming out that Thanksgiving. First off, I love animation and Pixar is one of my favorite animation studios. Secondly, it was being produced by one of my personal heroes, Darla K. Anderson. My tickets were pre-ordered the moment they went on sale.
I went to the theater on opening night with a box of tissues in hand. Each of Darla’s films have made me cry a little more than the last and the incinerator scene in her previous film, Toy Story 3, took me on quite the feels rollercoaster. I figured I’d come prepared. And, oh boy, did “Coco” take me on a ride. I was fairly misty eyed throughout the whole film and was ugly crying through the last half hour of the film, especially in the last ten minutes or so. By the end of the credits, my lap was covered with crumpled tissues like a teenage boy who discovered Porn Hub for the first time. I cried on the ride home. I cried while I tried to sleep. My eyes were so puffy and worn out that my coworkers asked if I was hung over.
Like most Pixar films, I went in thinking it was going to be this cute family film and it ended up Falcon Punching me in the feelings. What I wasn’t expecting was to find it so relatable. It certainly wasn’t the first Pixar film to do so, but “Coco” as a whole rocked me to my core in many ways. Miguel playing the guitar in his secret place while watching his hero’s work mirrored my own experiences growing up where I would sit in front of the TV in my bedroom—my safe space from the emotional and mental abuse my mother put me through—and soaked in every frame of whatever animated film I was watching to keep me from killing myself. Hector leaving his family and later wanting to see his daughter again was not too dissimilar to my father leaving our family (although for different reasons) and feeling regretful that our father-daughter relationship was non-existent for years because of it as I hadn’t known the reasons why he left.
But the thing that got to me the most was the idea of being forgotten by and estranged from your loved ones. Hector, who is estranged and nearly forgotten by his own living family, explains to Miguel, “When there’s no one left in the living world that remembers you, you disappear from this world. We call it the ‘final death’. …Our memories…they have to be passed down by those who knew us in life through the stories they tell about us.”
So when my frustrated husband asked me on the car ride home from the movie why I was so incredibly emotional, I bawled, “I don’t want to be forgotten!”
I feel that I’m often forgotten about by most of my family and friends. I don’t think being excluded is done intentionally or maliciously, but rather I don’t exactly come to mind when people are planning events or informing people of bad news. The holidays after Halloween are always so hard for me mostly because they are focused on family and I don’t have strong bonds with mine. “Coco” greatly intensified those feelings.
“How would anyone remember me when I’m gone when they don’t even remember me while I’m alive?” I wondered.
As much as “Coco” intensified existing feelings, it later helped to work out and settle those feelings.
In mid-October of that same year, I was running late for work and feeling like garbage. I’m rushing to get my hairnet on when I see a photo sitting on my counter. I can only see the corner of it, but I see it’s on high quality paper so I assume it’s a photo for a cake order and I’m certain it’s a professional photo someone didn’t get the copyright release for. I walk over to my counter to get a good look at it…and I see the spray of orange petals circling around Miguel while strumming a white guitar. And it was autographed. I probably let out the loudest gasp I’ve ever done. A co-worker told me, “She said this would make you happy.”
The “she” in question was Lulu. Remember how former Pixar producer, Darla K Anderson, is one of my heroes? Lulu, who I met when I was about 12, is her sister. A couple weeks prior, Lulu had come into my workplace to tell me she had been on a cruise with the staff that worked on the movie and got Darla and Anthony Gonzalez (voice of Miguel) to sign a picture for me. When she said “picture”, I thought a Polaroid or something printed from a Walmart photo lab. I was not expecting a very nice, professional quality print that I’m almost certain is a promotional art or something only available to Pixar staff as I’ve not been able to find this particular print anywhere.
Coco may present this grim idea that you disappear for good when there’s no one left to remember you, but it also presents the idea that you only need one person that remembers you. The print serves as a reminder that one person who I didn’t even have much of a bond with somehow thought of me when she had no reason to and went out of her way to get me this beautiful gift with my hero’s autograph. Then I remember all the other people in my life that do think of me. The great grandmother that had a newspaper clipping of our wedding photo included in the photographs of people who were important to her. The father and step mom who have pictures of me hanging in the hallway with all the other photos of their loved ones. Friends who want selfies with me after seeing them for the first time in forever. Coworkers who greet me by name when I shop in the store on my day off.
Sometimes I’ll stare at the print hanging on the bedroom wall next to my bed on my worst days when I’m feeling like no one would notice if I would disappear. And suddenly I don’t feel like I’m forgotten.