‘Nebraska’ … Where Wishes (Could) Come True

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

A Note from Your Host: Caregivers know video! TVs often are on wherever we go. Of course, we may not have time to sit down and watch an entire movie, unless we plan ahead—and that’s the point of Benjamin Pratt’s column today. This highly praised new movie with Bruce Dern shares some serious insights. In 2014, we are inviting Ben to write a Caregivers column each month. In January, he wrote about footwashing as a wedding ritual.

Going to ‘Nebraska’


“NEBRASKA,” the film nominated for six Academy Awards, offers surprising wisdom and good modeling.

Bruce Dern in "Nebraska"

Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”

This bleak comedy in black and white reflects the dismal winter landscapes mirrored in the struggling, hard-tack characters. Woody Grant, an aging, family-neglecting alcoholic is found by police walking in Billings, Montana. David, his son, rescues his father whose destination is Lincoln, Nebraska.

Woody’s goal? He wants to collect a $1 million sweepstakes prize. David reads the sweepstakes letter and chides his father for mistaking a mail scam as a prize winner. Woody remains convinced. He still thinks he can collect the winnings, despite the naysaying of David and his wife’s acrid criticisms.

The misadventures of father and son en-route to Lincoln, their family and acquaintances, will get you clucking with disgust and laughter and an occasional tear in the corner of your eye. Woody’s extended family and former friends all latch onto his dream of $1 million and the vultures move in. But don’t worry—I’m not going to tell you the whole story. This is a movie best experienced, before reading about it. So, make a plan to see it! If you can’t wait, I suggest you read this excellent review by my friend, Ed McNulty.

I knew nothing about the story prior to entering the theater, as is my usual preference. What surprised me most when watching “Nebraska” was remembering the wisdom of Haim Ginott, the author of Between Parent and Child, a guide Judith and I turned to often when rearing our children. Ginott offered a unique combination of compassion and boundary setting; he showed respect for a child’s feelings while setting limitations on his/her behavior.

As I recall Ginott’s advice, it was: Grant them in wish what you cannot grant them in fact. For example, when our child wanted chocolate ice cream at bed time, I might have responded, “I know you really want ice cream now. I would like some too but I can’t because it might keep us from sleeping well.”

It is this gift of acknowledging the wish—but attempting to set boundaries—that David employs as he guided his prodigal father through the film. He listens to the feelings behind his father’s words, a fascinating reversal of roles but not one unfamiliar to us who care for aging parents.

David finally asks his father what he would do with the million dollars. “I’d buy a new truck and a new compressor,” says Woody. David, tenderly surprised, reminds his father he no longer has a driver’s license. Sober, somber Woody replies that he wants to leave something for his family when he passes. He wants these for them, not for himself.

He wants dignity at the end of his life. There we finally have the yearning, the feelings, the real wish stated. Behind the words is the ache of a man who knows he has failed to be who they needed and wanted him to be. He wants to leave them with a positive that he had never been able to give.

As I reflect on the movie and Ginott’s advice, I can see there’s real wisdom there for many of us: Sometimes, we can give them what they wish. But first, we need to slow down, listen, be present, carefully listen to the hope and ache behind the words.

Go, see this film. See if wishes come true.

Help your caregivers (and help yourself) with an Advance Care Directive

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Some of the toughest questions caregivers face arise when our loved ones are unable to talk with us in a meaningful way. The process known as Advance Care Planning (or “Advance Healthcare Directive”) helps us to talk about the kinds of medical procedures we want—and those we don’t want—as we near the end of life. If you are caring for a loved one, this is something you may want to undertake now. And, if you’re a veteran caregiver, then you know what can happen. You should complete one for yourself.

In 2014, we plan to share occasional short videos with our readers. Some excellent videos are being produced by healthcare providers, nonprofit groups and leading authors. We plan to bring you only the best we’ve spotted. You can help by recommending a good video. Stop by my Facebook page, where it’s easy to share ideas with me, anytime.

The hospital-system team that produced this video was coordinated by Drew Weil, a friend of our WeAreCaregivers project. When the video was recently released, Drew recommended it to us. He writes that his team felt compelled to make this particular video because, “A recent study by The Conversation Project found that most Americans know they should have a conversation about their healthcare—yet less than half of us have done so. When we do this, we leave decisions up to family members, loved ones, or doctors who may not know our wishes.”


IF you don’t see a video screen in your version of this column, try clicking on the headline to reload the column. If that fails on your device, then you can watch the video by going directly to YouTube.



The video provides a link to one website offering free materials for Advance Care Directives. Depending on where you are seeing today’s column, you will want to ask about this process in your own region. For our overseas readers: This Wikipedia article on Advance Care Directives explains some of the variation people find in these policies around the world.

Please share today’s column with friends! Use the blue-“f” Facebook buttons or the envelope-shaped email icons.

Worried? Got an empty jar? Remind yourself of this truth …

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

A note of thanks: Before I start today’s column—and the wonderful video that goes with it—I want to thank Kathy Macdonald for the four-part series on her journey as a cancer thriver. I also want to thank our growing readership for pitching in. As we move into the fall season of We Are Caregivers, please help us to reach new readers. If you have not done so already, get our free weekly email by clicking on the green “Subscribe” button, above. You can share favorite columns by clicking on the blue-“f” Facebook icon or the envelope-shaped email icon. Millions of Americans are full-time caregivers. Let’s help!


Mason glass jar with lidThere is nothing like a little time spent lying on a scanning machine to help me reevaluate my priorities. Acutely aware of the fact that the results of the scan could send my life spiraling off in a direction I prefer it not go, I assess everything.

What do you think about in the midst of such check ups?

I think: “I could have done a better job eating, working out, or spending time with God.”

Then the wagering begins: “If the results come back ‘clear’—I will do better. I promise.”

A few hours later—when I’ve hear the outcome and know that things still are going well, so no immediate changes are required—I reflect once again. It occurs to me that the way I spend my time is more important than anything else in my life. Time is irreplaceable.

What if the results had been different? I am quite sure that I wouldn’t have found myself saying: “I wish I had spent more time on things that are unfulfilling, on people who are negative, or in situations that don’t matter.”

No, I want to think about time differently.

On the evening after my scan, I went for a jog—which I don’t really enjoy—but even that jog held a new meaning. I was grateful that I could do it. Sure it was hard, but I was pain free and able.

All of this reminded me of the Lesson of the Jar. I found a YouTube version that I can share with you.

Hope you enjoy it!

NOTE: The person who posted this video did place a brief advertisement in the video. It’s short, you can click an “X” to close it—and frankly this is such a great version of the story that I recommend watching it. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, try clicking the headline to reload this column.