Save 20% off! Join our newsletter and get 20% off right away!

Amour, Amour and the Indignity of Illness

The French film “Amour, Amour” is one movie that hits close to home. The film which depicts how an elderly couple suffers as one of them bears a debilitating illness is not so dissimilar to the sadness and desperation my family experiences as my mother confronts an illness that began with a broken leg. Like Anne, the central figure in the film whose paralysed side left her increasingly dependent on her husband, my mother’s dislocated thigh bone has confined her to bed and subsequent ailments like stroke and pneumonia have reduced her to a life of dependence.

Illness and physical decline have wrenched from these women some of the most precious thing in their lives – their independence and dignity.
Amour, Amour honestly portrays the oppressive nature of illness in older people. Michael Haneke, the film director depicts this in scene after scene of pain and frustration. There are scenes showing Anne’s difficulty in managing even the slightest movement or her inability to express herself coherently. For older people, it is easy to think there is no such thing as getting better and that only decrepitude awaits.

As when George, Anne’s husband, told their daughter: “Anne’s condition can never get better, it will inevitably worsen until everything finally ceases.”
The physical suffering for Anne is all the more harsh because she is a proud and accomplished woman. Yet a debilitating stroke threatens to bring degradation into her contented life. She lost her ability to function independently. Her husband, who is not that physically strong anymore, has to assist her through her slow descent into helplessness.

Like Anne, my mother is a proud woman. Up to the time of her accident, at age 84 she was still managing her small household. She cooked the meals, cleaned the house and even washed clothes by hand. When she had the accident, she was forced to stay in a hospital where she was dependent on others; a dependency that subsequently grew more intense when she also suffered a mild heart attack. Her immunity broke down. She contracted a urinary tract infection and pneumonia. The doctors inserted drips in her body to support her. A tube was passed through her mouth so she could be fed. They also inserted a catheter to collect her urine.
As I watch my mother at night, all I can see is a shadow of the tireless lady I used to know. From the nurturing person who loved to look after those around her, she has now become the recipient of other people’s charitable acts. She is fed, washed and even cleaned by the nurses. When I was in the hospital for a few days, I managed to do some of these things for her. I could see that she preferred her daughters to wash her or change her nappies. It was something that any proud individual wouldn’t want strangers to do. Yet most of the time, the nurses had to perform this function, especially as my mother had suffered fecal impaction, the piling up of stool in the stomach due to a prolonged supine position.

Nurses had to digitally assist her in the process of evacuation. It is emotionally challenging for me to watch her in pain and humiliation. My sense of guilt from my helplessness to ease her suffering is aggravated by living so far away and being unable to care for her in the long term.
There is a scene in the film where George begs his wife Anne to drink some water.
“Please drink so you can get better,” he begs.
Anne just looks at him but won’t open her mouth. In the end, he forces the water into her mouth. She immediately spits this water back in his face. He, in turn, reflexively slaps her in frustration. It is one poignant scene that honestly shows how the burdensome situation affects both the sick and the carer.
My mother too, refuses to eat and drink.
“Enough,” she always says after a teaspoon of soup.
“It’s like your mother has a death wish,” the doctor told me one day. ‘She refuses to eat. She has now become malnourished on top of all the other ailments she has.’
The words of this doctor reverberated in my head after watching the movie Amour, Amour. Anne is like my mother. She is my mother. And I could understand why my mother refuses to eat and drink. In her quiet desperation, she wants to end a life that slowly wrenches away from her any trace of joy and dignity. She wants to slip away to spare herself the indignity of illness and to spare her loved ones from witnessing its loss.